Complaints about the hybrid natural/artificial grass surface at the Linc are once again coming to a head:
Lincoln Financial Field might be a great place to watch a game, but it isn't a great place to play one. Players association president Troy Vincent said the consensus of the league's players is that the DD Grassmaster fields at the Linc and Pittsburgh's Heinz Field are the worst playing surfaces in the league.
"Philly and Pittsburgh, take your pick," said Vincent, a former Eagles cornerback. "They're the two worst fields to play on. Sloppy, muddy. And it wasn't just the skill-position guys saying that. It was the interior-play guys saying that the surface was pretty tough to play on."
Both fields had to be re-sodded during the season.
Gene Upshaw said he'd like to see both the Eagles and Steelers switch to FieldTurf, which is what the Seattle Seahawks have at Qwest Field. In a survey of players 2 years ago, Qwest was overwhelmingly voted the league's best playing surface.
There are two issues here, and the first one is easier to handle. The Linc's turf is fine. It's not the surface -- it's the use.
The DD Grassmaster field the Eagles have isn't just used in Pittsburgh, it's also in place in Green Bay, Denver and a whole bunch of other places worldwide. It's basically a normal grass field, reinforced with plastic fibers, as described on the company's website:
DD GrassMaster is a revolutionary invention, whereby the natural grass surface and root system are stabilized by synthetic fibers. The fibers act like indestructible grass blades, protecting the natural grass and thus preventing divots and mud holes... The surface is a 100% natural grass field. The amount of artificial grass fibers added is approximately 3%.
So why use it? Here's the advantage (and it's all economic):
The annual DD GrassMaster field use amounts to approximately 850-900 hours. In comparison, a normal natural grass field can handle only 300 hours per year. On some heavily used pitches in The Netherlands, the DD GrassMaster surface is used for over 700 games per year. This equals about 1,300 hours of use in one year.
And there you go. What this means is that the Eagles can have a natural grass field for their teams (which they like) but then also schedule more non-Eagles events to bring in additional revenue.
Whenever there's a problem with one of these fields, you'll always read some variation of: "The field is fine, but we had a concert on Wednesday, a college game yesterday and then only 24 hours to get things patched up." That Monday night game Pittsburgh played earlier this year where the field was such a mess? Here's your problem:
The day before the game, team officials opted for an emergency lying of sod after the stadium hosted the WPIAL high school playoffs and a University of Pittsburgh game, leaving the field a mess.
The sod had been in place less than a day, put down hurriedly after five high school and college games last weekend chewed up the old turf. While the grass was new and plush, installing it atop the old field meant it didn't drain as well.
Um yeah, I think that would be an issue. Teams are overusing this surface, treating it like it's artificial when really it needs time to recover. Especially because the type of use you see with a football game is very different (concentrated/centralized) than with a soccer game on the same field somewhere else in the world.
Schedule fewer events and the field will be fine. Of course, then the Eagles would make less money.
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The second issue goes to the heart of the larger turf/grass debate. Not to get too far afield here, but I think it's fair to say that where you stand on this issue is a good indicator of how you see the world. The people who aren't willing to put up with some mucky field issues generally have a "progressive" mindset towards things. Everything can always be made better and if we just keep looking for the newest technology and the most perfect solutions, we'll be able to have a world/field without imperfections.
The grass people would argue instead that there's value in the traditional way of doing things; a uniform field across all stadiums scrubs out some of the regional variations that make things more interesting (this is the NFC BEAST, after all); and that if you think teams are just making turf decisions to suit their playing style then you'll need to explain the grass / west coast offense fit here in Philly.
Keep the grass.