GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Nick Pappas said tending to natural grass in the middle of the Sonoran Desert requires a little art, a little science and a little intuition.
It also requires a whole lot of modern machinery.
The NFL’s players have made it no secret they prefer playing on natural grass as opposed to synthetic turf. They’ll get their wish in Super Bowl 57 — thanks to Pappas and his small group of field specialists who are getting the surface ready at State Farm Stadium for Sunday’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles.
“For this one, obviously, we’re giving it a little extra care,” said Pappas, who is one of the NFL’s field surface directors. “We’ve got a lot of groundskeepers here for about a month, putting eyes on it, putting hands on it, working on it all day, every day, getting it ready for game day.”
The home field of the Arizona Cardinals is unique in that the grass is on a giant, rolling track. Every day, the entire field is rolled outside of the retractable roof stadium, where it can get unobstructed access to Arizona’s abundant sunshine. Then it can be rolled back inside for the chilly winter nights.
It’s quite a process: The stadium’s website says the grass is on a “single 40-inch deep tray measuring 234 feet wide and 403 feet long. Rolling on 546 steel wheels which rest on 13 railroad-like tracks, the field travels the 740 feet inside or out of the stadium in approximately 70 minutes at the push of a button.”
Only one of the NFL’s other venues has a similar setup — Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas which is the site of Super Bowl 58 next year.
The Super Bowl’s field looked immaculate on Tuesday morning, with thick, lush grass, the NFL logo painted in the center and team logos in each of the end zones. This particular batch of turf — which has a Bermuda grass base that includes rye grass overseed — started growing at a local sod farm in May 2021.
“It’s a long process to get it as heavy, thick and dense as we’ve been talking about,” Pappas said. “We’ve got to make sure it takes its time, cures and gets ready.”
Some of the NFL’s players — including Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers — have said that they would like for the league to switch to natural grass in all of its venues.
Fourteen of the league’s 30 stadiums still use a version of synthetic turf. The Hellas Matrix Turf used in Dallas, Houston and Los Angeles is widely considered the best. It’s created using a textured and twisted monofilament fiber.
But there’s nothing quite like grass.
“I prefer natural grass,” Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid said in November. “I’ve listened to all the studies, density studies, I’ve seen all the different compounds they’ve put in there. I still like grass.”
So does Pappas, though he’s worked with all kinds of surfaces during his time in turf management. This will be his fourth Super Bowl and he also helped the NFL manage its fields for international games this season played in London, Munich and Mexico City.
The Super Bowl presents some unique challenges, particularly with the extravagant halftime show. This year, nine-time Grammy Award winner Rihanna will take center stage. The yearly mid-game performance is essentially a minor miracle, with operations crews setting up and taking down a made-for-TV concert in about 30 minutes.
That’s a lot of moving parts that could potentially tear up Pappas’ field.
But the field surface director said it’s just part of the NFL’s biggest event, and there are rehearsals so everyone knows what to expect.
“I sleep pretty well, all in all, because of the fact that we’re disciplined,” Pappas said. “We have a large team here. We’re doing everything we can every day.
“We’re doing a lot of testing, getting a lot of data and making data-based decisions on how we’re managing the field.”