When the Bengals and the Rams take to the field at SoFi Stadium Feb. 13 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.
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 (Tifway 419)|
|TOTAL||24||32 (will be 33 with the 57th game included)*|
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.”
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 eight Super Bowl games. This year West Coast is supplying the grass for two practice fields. The grass, Tifway II, is a drought-tolerant hybrid bermudagrass that is the same variety typically used for the main field.
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.
When John Marman, West Coast Turf vice president of sales and marketing, watches a game on TV that’s being played on the company’s grass, it doesn’t matter who’s ahead or behind. “I root for the grass,” Marman told ESPN.
West Coast Turf 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.
Why is West Coast supplying the grass for the practice fields but not the game day turf? SoFi Stadium has Matrix Turf.
Artificial turf, especially the new and improved types, like Hellas Construction’s synthetic Matrix Turf system, which is what Super Bowl LVI will be played on, will last for at least 10 years before needing to be replaced.
Artificial Turf or Natural Grass in the National Spotlight
Even if the game is played on artificial turf, Toma and his crews have a lot of work to do. “Our job is to give the players good conditions to play on and the best field for TV,” he told American Profile.
Aside from the main field, Toma and his crew have multiple natural-grass practice fields to care for. And the artificial turf needs care, too. It’s not just the football game the groundskeepers are worried about; it’s also the rehearsals, pre-game, half-time show, and post-game celebrations.
Any sort of unlevel area –- a divot, an indentation, a bump –- could cause a significant injury to a player.
Toma believes that the cheapest insurance for an athlete, from the little kid sitting in that kindergarten chair all the way up to the Super Bowl and Major Leagues, is having a safe playing field. That’s what he aims to provide, whether it’s on artificial or natural turf.
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, which means players’ ankles and knees are less likely to be injured. It also has shock absorption and anti-reflective qualities.
But what do NFL players think of faux grass?
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.