Ultimately, trainers and doctors have come to realize that doomsayers like Csonka were right: The cumulative effect of playing on turf is lethal to careers. How much the deterioration of older players is accelerated nobody knows, but "it definitely shortens careers," says Georgia trainer Warren Morris. Guard Curt Marsh of the Raiders lays much of it on "the pounding you take. After a game on grass, you start feeling all right about Thursday. After a turf game, you're not well until Sunday." If then.
Redskins linebacker Pete Cronan says he "loved the turf when I was young," but now he suffers from chronic bursitis in his knees, sore elbows and sore shoulders. Pro Bowler Art Still of the Chiefs has tendinitis in both knees and says, "[The turf] just eats 'em up." Tight end Doug Cosbie of the Cowboys has developed such painful tendinitis in his knees that when he gimps around the practice field cornerback Everson Walls calls him Fred Sanford.
What made football so blind to such pain and destruction for so long? The answer is obvious. The game's administrators were taken in by a series of extravagant claims about artificial turf—all those overwhelmingly good things that were supposed to outweigh all the little-bitty bad ones. Some of the claims that sounded so outlandish aren't made anymore. Manufacturers do not say, as they once did, that turf reduces injuries. They dare not, says Garrick. As for the claim about turfs lasting a lifetime, they don't suggest that anymore, either.
There are other well-amplified "advantages" that, in a harsher light, now seem as dubious. This one, for example: "Artificial turf makes players run faster." Well, of course it does. It is as hard and fast as an indoor track. Receivers and running backs love to get that extra step, of course. But where is the edge, asks Paterno, when the turf makes the other guy a step faster, too? Moreover, asks Kansas City cornerback Albert Lewis, where is the edge when you're "shooting around the field...faster than a pinball," and the potential for self-destruction is that much greater?
Physics doesn't change. Force still equals mass times acceleration. In the end, the main thing a "faster field" accomplishes is that it makes for more violent collisions. Football definitely does not need more violent collisions.
Everyone knew, too, that carpeted asphalt had to be hotter than real grass. But they didn't know how much hotter or how much more hazardous that heat would be. Studies suggest that the temperatures on synthetic fields in Texas can be as much as 30� higher than in the air three feet above them. Dallas Cowboy players complain regularly that you can fry an egg on the turf at Texas Stadium. "It's smoking hot," says Walls. "You can feel it come up into your uniform and up the shoulder pads, and it gets trapped inside your helmet." The Cowboys' Randy White goes through two pairs of shoes on a hot day. Extreme heat and 17 pounds of playing gear do awful things to men's bodies—especially bodies already pumped up by unnatural weight gain. Says San Diego trainer Ric McDonald, "Players become weary more quickly, and that makes them more susceptible to injuries."
Most studies, says Garrick, now show that the "worst combination" for injuries is synthetic turf and hot weather—fields get grabbier. But what about cold and rain and mud and snow? Players say that on a sloppy day or an icy day they are still better off on grass. On wet grass, there is more slipping and skidding, but less torque. Says Redskins trainer Tyer, "On grass, a day of rain is a day without pain."
There is one more pretext about artificial turf that may now demand revaluation. To wit: once down, the carpets reduce upkeep. Once in place, they would not have to be replaced for a long time. They are nearly indestructible.
They most assuredly aren't. Arkansas put in AstroTurf in 1969. The school is now on its fourth carpet. Boston College has tried three different brands of turf surface at Alumni Stadium in 14 years. It now has SuperTurf, which replaced AstroTurf, which replaced Poly-Turf.
The University of Florida plowed up its beautiful grass field in 1971 in favor of AstroTurf ("to keep up with the Joneses," says assistant athletic director Norm Carlson). It has had to reorder twice since then, the first time because the humidity rotted the padding and caused the seams to split.