LAS VEGAS — For each of the first 57 Super Bowls, George Thoma was hired by the NFL to prepare the stadium. This period earned him the nicknames “The Godfather” and “The Fool God.”
But his latest work was not the best. Players for the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles slid continuously throughout Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, and members of each team criticized the playing surface afterward.
Super Bowl turf: 'I'm not going to lie: It's the worst field I've ever played on'
Thoma shared their sentiments — but blamed the NFL. He claimed that then-NFL field director Ed Mangan sanded the field too late and soaked it in water without letting it dry properly before installing it on the Wednesday before the game.
“And he didn't care about it” Toma told ESPN last year. “He won't listen to anyone.”
Toma, 95, retired last year, so Super Bowl LVIII between the Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas will be the first without him. The NFL also replaced Mangan as field manager and hired Nick Pappas last March to prepare the playing surface. This job always comes with a lot of pressure, but there is a high level of scrutiny this year considering what happened last year.
Like State Farm Stadium, Allegiant Stadium is a domed stadium that uses a field tray that enables the Raiders to play on natural turf. Using artificial turf would be more convenient, but owner Mark Davis insisted on natural turf because that is what the majority of NFL players prefer. The NFLPA revealed on Wednesday that it surveyed nearly 1,700 players asking whether they preferred to play on grass or turf.
“Ninety-two percent prefer to play on high-quality turf,” said Lloyd Howell, executive director of the NFL. “If you look over a period of time at injury rates, lower extremity, soft tissue injuries, on the majority of grass courts, (they have) a lower injury rate.”
But the NFL backed away from that idea. NFL Executive Vice President of Health and Safety Jeff Miller said Wednesday that there is little difference between injury rates on grass and turf fields in 2023.
“In 2023, the differential injury rate between artificial fields and natural fields was 0.001 per 1,000 plays,” Miller said. “There are grass fields that have lower injury rates than artificial fields and there are artificial fields that have lower injury rates than grass fields. We believe that through a lot of the work that Nick is doing and our researchers are doing, we can get those numbers down on both. We want more consistent fields, We want the players to have a better experience on the field and we want to eliminate as many injuries as possible.
Pappas and his crew were on location in Las Vegas this week with “The Beast.” Field testing machine Which replicates the forces that players generate with their cleats.
“The forces that this unit puts on represent an NFL athlete,” Pappas said. “And it can actually test the interaction between the cleat surface when the cleat goes into the ground and whether it's doing a rotational rotation or a translational slide. So, we track that and look at it to give us an idea of how the natural turf surface is performing.”
The turf for this year's Super Bowl was grown on a sod farm in Northern California before being transported to Las Vegas.
“Nick Pappas would visit the turf farm even while the turf was growing to make sure he saw it from when he was very young and looked after it and appreciated how this surface performed,” Miller said. “So when we finally move him and get him into the Super Bowl time frame, he knows what needs to be done to make sure the top dressing is handled, that he understands how it's going to play, and it's given enough time to mature so he's ready for Sunday.”
The NFL says it has a “great team maintaining” the Super Bowl turf
Pappas has been in Las Vegas for the past few weeks preparing the field. It was recently installed in the field tray outside Allegiant Stadium that allows it to get direct sunlight. Heavy rain fell in Las Vegas from Sunday into Tuesday, so the field had to be properly drained before it was moved to Allegiant Stadium on Tuesday for rehearsals for the pregame and halftime shows.
The field tray was placed directly back outside on Tuesday night so that it would again be exposed to direct sunlight on Wednesday. On Thursday, the stadium tray was returned to Allegiant Stadium for good.
“The rain over the last couple of days affected the way they chose to address it,” Miller said. “Obviously they want to be careful about halftime practices and things to make sure they have time to fix the field after people have been running and getting back on it so it performs as well as it can.”
When asked if the previous rain was a concern, Miller did not seem concerned.
“We have a lot of confidence in our field managers. Rain is a good thing for the grass, traditionally. It may be an anomaly for people who live in Las Vegas, but for the rest of the world, rain is good for things that grow. This is something our field manager will take into account during preparation.”
After the field tray was put in place Thursday, it passed all NFL standards before being covered with a tarp. But in the end, that's not what matters. It will all depend on how he performs on Sunday.
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(Photo: Matt York/Associated Press)
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