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Throwback Thursday: April 1988

January 30, 2014 -  By
Cover: Landscape Management April 1988

Cover: Landscape Management April 1988

If Super Bowl turf were a human it’d be the most high-maintenance celebrity in Hollywood—my equivalent of choice would be Kanye West, but that’s based on disdain (no, not because he bashed Taylor Swift onstage at the MTV Video Music Awards).

It wasn’t until I discovered the April 1988 issue of Landscape Management that I realized how much depth there is to maintaining an athletic field—let alone one for millions of TV viewers.

Titled “Super turf” by then-Managing Editor Heide Aungst, this cover story from the issue is my favorite article to come across in our archives so far. After reading it, my thoughts will be equally with the grounds crew, Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos on Sunday for Super Bowl XLVIII, held at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Aungst documented George Toma’s 25-day mission to turn dirt to turf at Jack Murphy Stadium (now named Qualcomm Stadium) in San Diego, for Super Bowl XXII, which the Broncos, coincidentally, also played in, but against the Washington Redskins. This year’s game marks the NFL Athletic Field Manager’s 48th Super Bowl to be involved with.

And while his use of decoy pigeons to maintain the turf made headlines in the L.A. Times in 1988, Aungst name-dropped more industry-related products Toma used then, including:

  • Warren’s TerraBond;
  • Turf Vac;
  • Parker Sweeper;
  • Rogers Aero Blade Seeder;
  • Core Master aerfier; and
  • John Deere greensmower.

Toma and his 12-man crew used 2,000 pounds of ryegrass seed to overseed the dormant Bermudagrass that cloaked the field. The mixture was concocted by Toma’s son Chip Toma, who described the recipe as “a pinch of this, a dash of that—about half a shovel-full of Milorganite, a big shovel of pre-germinated Ph.D., then Turface” in Lesco and Scotts spreaders.

Within six days the ryegrass grew 1½ inch. Thus by the seventh day, the crew was mowing and it continued to mow every other day up until the game.

In that time frame, George Toma took over as the protector of the turf, bossing around ABC news crews to get off the field and only allowing halftime entertainers to wear socks on the field.

“This is a groundkeeper’s nightmare,” George Toma said. “I think we counted 600-plus wheels going over this place…2,000 performers.” That year, Chubby Checker headlined the halftime show and was joined by The Rockettes as well as 88 grand pianos rolled onto the field.

Despite George Toma’s efforts, the field became bruised and rutted from wheels on moveable stages and the pianos. As a fix, the crew hand-swept rutted areas and patched them the next day. For the game he and his crew were situated on the sidelines with photographers, ready to replace divots as needed.

“I’ve never seen 25-day–old grass hold up this well,” George Toma said at the end of the night, admiring his masterpiece that would later be torn up by a motocross event. With that, he told his crew, “I’m proud of you guys”—surely more positive feedback than the Broncos got at the end of the game.

The Redskins beat the Broncos 42-10 in 1988. Fingers crossed for the team to fare better Sunday. Kick off is at 6:30 p.m. EST.

About the Author:

Former Associate Editor Sarah Pfledderer is a West Coast-based contributing editor for Landscape Management.

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