When the Chiefs and the Eagles take to the field at State Farm Stadium Feb. 12 for the Super Bowl, they will be playing on some super grass.
Which makes sense, really – the super grass used for the Super Bowl will be viewed by roughly 100 million people in over 180 countries and territories. Every detail in the Super Bowl is painstakingly crafted, grass included.
How the tough turf is grown, how it gets to the Super Bowl stadium, and how “the Sodfather” and other groundskeepers ensure it looks perfect makes for a super story.
Growing Super Bowl Grass
To have the best grass for Super Bowl Sunday, the process of growing it begins 18-24 months in advance. (Not-so-super sod typically takes 12-14 months to go from seed to harvest.)
Depending on where the championship game is being played, the grass is typically grown in Alabama, Georgia, or California. This year it’s been grown locally –– just outside Phoenix.
Creating the perfect turf is an intricate and detailed process. The grass, usually a Bermuda hybrid, is grown on a plastic base with very little soil and sand, allowing the roots to intertwine and strengthen the base. This makes it easier to transport and transplant.
When we’re talking about 100,000 square feet of sod (give or take 10,000), moving it from farm to field is no easy task. It’s rolled, wrapped, and loaded into 30 or so refrigerated trucks that move it to its new location.
|51||2017||Hellas Construction to install its Matrix Turf with Helix Technology.|
|55||2021||x (Tifway 419 Bermuda)|
|56||2022||Hellas Construction's synthetic Matrix® Turf|
|57||2023||x (Tahoma 31 Bermuda)|
Keeping Grass Green Before Game Time
So, how does the grass always look immaculate for Super Bowl Sunday? About a week before the big game, the previous grass is torn out, the foundation is leveled with a laser, and the new grass arrives and is laid out.
The new turf needs time to adjust and acclimate to its new environment, and the groundskeepers need time to make sure it’s impeccable.
George Toma, aka “The Sodfather,” longtime groundskeeper who has worked every Super Bowl since 1967, told TODAY.com: “The most important part of the sod is the soil it’s grown on and the root system of it.”
This year, Toma has been in Glendale, Arizona, for weeks supervising field conditions at State Farm Stadium.
Growing Super Bowl grass is obviously a challenge because people expect both aesthetics and performance, which is supremely difficult to perfect.
Doug Lipscomb, co-owner of Bent Oak Farms in Foley, Alabama, which has supplied the turf for several Super Bowl games, told Al.com: “A lot of fields look good and play bad. A lot look bad and play well. It’s kind of hard to put everything in one package.”
Bent Oak, which most recently supplied the Super Bowl grass in 2021, is, of course, keeping its proprietary formula a secret.
Caring for Super Bowl Grass
West Coast Turf, meanwhile, has provided the grass for nine Super Bowl games, including this year. Last year, the game was played on artificial turf, but they supplied the grass for two practice fields. The grass, called Tahoma 31 Bermuda grass, is a drought-tolerant hybrid bermudagrass.
The grass gets super care. It has its own blankets, rain tarps, special diet … whatever it takes to keep it perfect, that’s what West Coast provides.
West Coast Turf also supplies grass for six MLB fields, six NFL fields, 14 professional training facilities, five professional soccer fields, and countless golf courses, high school, elementary, and college fields.
What Happens to the Grass After the Game?
It would be a shame to think that over 2 acres of glorious grass would be torn out and trashed after being run around on for just a few hours.
Sure, that grass gets a good pounding from the 22 250-pound men pummeling it for four hours (not to mention the half-time show stages and props), but tough turf was made for that, right?
So, what happens to that grass after the Super Bowl champions are crowned? Super Bowl fields are taken out, strip by strip, and repurposed. In 2020, for example, the super sod was repurposed for use on a track at a horse farm and as a filler in a plant nursery.
What Happens to Artificial Turf After the Game?
After the Super Bowl, the artificial turf gets a makeover so it’s ready for the next sports event. The field is cleaned of all the unique markings for each game and then the artificial turf is repainted for the next one. This video shows how it’s done.
Occasionally, the end zones will be replaced, but the main field’s turf stays the same.
Turf Battle: Natural Grass or Artificial Turf
Artificial turf is becoming more popular with the NFL, with 14 of 30 stadiums currently using synthetic turf. Artificial turf certainly has its benefits: It’s environmentally friendly because it doesn’t need to be watered, and it doesn’t require pesticides or fertilizers.
It’s also safer for players in many ways. If it’s raining, artificial turf is less slippery than grass, and there’s no mud. It’s stronger and more durable, so divots and holes are almost nonexistent. It also has shock absorption and anti-reflective qualities.
But what do NFL players think of faux grass?
When the National Football League Players Association surveyed its members on the turf battle between artificial and natural grass, 70% of NFL players said they preferred to play on grass. They even created the hashtag #fliptheturf after L.A. Rams star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. tore his ACL in the second quarter of last year’s Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium. No-contact lower body injuries seem to occur more frequently on artificial turf.
At LawnStarter, we side with the players. You can’t beat walking on real, living grass whether it’s on a stadium with roughly 100,000 watching, or at home in your backyard in your bare feet. The feeling is, well, super.
Writer Alex Birkett contributed to this story.