It's the day after
the NFL Pro Bowl and George Toma is standing on one of his canvases. This
particular painting, commissioned by Pete Rozelle, covers the sun-washed floor
of Aloha Stadium in the hills above Pearl Harbor, on the island of Oahu. While
Toma watches, a dozen wiry Japanese-Americans jockey motorized brushes over his
work and train powerful hoses on the artificial turf. Red paint laps at the
soles of Toma's sneakers.
The workmen are
scrubbing off the conference logos that Toma stencils on all Pro Bowl and Super
Bowl fields. Behind him, another member of the grounds crew is erasing the yard
lines and hash marks. Outside, women are diligently sweeping the stadium
parking lot—with hand brooms. Toma is in his element: surrounded by hard
workers and perfectionists.
in many places has hit the bottom of the barrel," he says. "It's not
like 20 or 30 years ago. A lot of ground crews don't have pride."
Why is that?
groundkeeper's dirt," says Toma, who invariably leaves the "s" out
of his-profession. "If someone in the front office needs a new typewriter,
fine, but if the groundkeeper needs a new grass cutter, he can't get it. Until
something happens!" He begins jabbing a forefinger in the air. "The
owners have a doubleheader sold out and it's raining. They get jumpy. Suddenly
they want to do anything. They'll rent a helicopter at $250 or $300 an hour to
dry off the field! But they won't spend money on the sunny day for good
Toma stares at the
paint swirling around his feet. "The groundkeeper," he repeats, "is
the dirt of the organization."
The question is:
What organization? This day Toma is wearing a Kansas City Chiefs sport shirt
and a National Football League hat, but his regular paycheck is authorized by
Ewing Kauffman, owner of the Kansas City Royals baseball club. Other franchises
burdened with dead grass, rocky infields, bubbles in the carpet or standing
water in the outfield rent his skills as an athletic turf troubleshooter. In
fact, San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein is trying to woo Toma to Bagdad by
Toma is still
basking in the glory of his late-season rescue of the Super Bowl champion San
Francisco 49ers, who were trying to play football in Candlestick Park on grass
that would have been perfect, if it had only had roots. Two weeks of record
rainfall had caused disastrous mudslides in northern California. The 49ers'
field was a sodden, sloppy mess when Toma arrived on the scene. "When I
left San Francisco, the ground crew showered me with gifts," Toma says,
beaming. "I got a plaque from the city. They called me the Sod
Something in that
triumph has inspired wanderlust in the 53-year-old turfmeister. "People
think I make a fortune, but there's no money in it," Toma says. "I'm
not the highest paid ground-keeper in the major leagues."
He begins to walk
upheld, his feet making squishing noises on the soggy Aloha Stadium turf.
"I don't want to leave Kansas City, but I may have to."