Super Bowl 50’s most pampered VIP might not be one of its halftime performers or millionaire visitors but the turf where the showdown between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos will be decided.
While most television viewers will give scarcely a thought to the playing surface at Levi’s Stadium, the process of ensuring the grass is of an appropriate quality for football’s biggest occasion has been underway for more than 18 months.
The NFL hired West Coast Turf, based in Livingston, Calif., for the task of growing and installing the field.
“It gets the real superstar treatment,” John Marman, vice president of sales and marketing for West Coast Turf, told USA TODAY Sports. “It pretty much consumes your every thought, making sure it is prepared and looked after and kept in exactly the right way.”
The Super Bowl turf was grown at the company’s primary base, 117 miles east of Santa Clara, and the grass and the surrounding weather conditions were monitored at all times. Impending rain would often lead to a gigantic tarpaulin being erected to cover the entire surface. A rare Californian chill caused the crew to use special blankets to cover the grass, designed to allow moisture in while retaining warmth.
“That is very pampered grass,” West Coast Turf spokesman Greg Dunn said. “It has someone making observations and decisions on its welfare seven days a week.
“And it has to be good enough to withstand not only a football game with heavy impact but also the people and equipment used in the halftime show.”
Within moments of the San Francisco 49ers completing their final regular-season game Jan. 3, the team moved in, removing the old surface and preparing the ground for a fresh installation.
To see an installation in process, as USA TODAY Sports was able to do at a training field in San Jose last week, is quite remarkable. Giant trucks carrying bags of turf, meshed and sealed in temperature-controlled bags, arrive a few minutes apart. As they drop off the product, a well-oiled team of 14 installers swiftly lays it into place. While the turf is unfurled from separate rolls, a compression machine effectively knits the different portions together so tightly you can’t press a car key between the gaps.
While good aesthetics are a plus, Dunn said the chief mandate his company received from the NFL involved safety.
“The new safety protocols, they want the field being just as good as it can be,” Dunn said. “The fields that I grew up watching in the NFL would be worn out at the end of the year. Now that’s not acceptable in today’s NFL.
“Look is not the most important thing; safety and playability is the No. 1 factor they are looking for. Typically when you see a scuff or a slip on a field, it is not from a (planted foot) with the cleat going down, it is when the foot is on its side and it kind of slides across the surface.”
For the Super Bowl, a special team of field experts is formed. But few of them hail from a football background, a process intended to avoid giving one team a particular advantage if its franchise qualifies for the Super Bowl.
Ed Mangan, head of the Super Bowl field crew for the 27th time this year, is the field director for the Atlanta Braves as his day job. The installation went seamlessly this year, with the only hiccup being the Broncos logo was accidentally painted on both end zones before being removed. Even so, the job of a field director is a nervous one.
“Everything,” Mangan said, when asked about what factors he obsessed over the most. “But especially the weather.”
by Martin Rogers, original author and USA Today the original publisher. Reprinted with permission.