Lambeau Field Gets New Playing Surface

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From the draft room at Lambeau Field this weekend, GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman and the rest of Green Bay's personnel staff will look to upgrade the Packers' roster via the 69th NFL Draft, which gets under way Saturday at 10 a.m. CT.

But the Packers' player base isn't the only foundation getting an upgrade at Lambeau Field this weekend. The stadium's playing surface is, too.

For the first time since May 2002, all 87,000 square feet of Lambeau Field's playing surface is being treated with a brand new layer of sod.

The Packers' turf crew began removing the old service weeks ago. The installation of the new sod began early Friday morning and could carry into Sunday.

"Last spring we just replaced the sod down the middle of the field and in the south end zone; everything else we just re-seeded," fields manager Allen Johnson said. "Then we re-sodded the center of the field again twice during the season, which is pretty common.

"Considering all the bad weather we had last year, it held up pretty well. But it was just time to start fresh."

The sod being installed this year is nearly identical to the blend the team ordered in 2002. Once again, it's provided by Tuckahoe Turf Farms of Hammonton, N.J., a family-run business more than three decades old that harvests grasses on more than 700 acres of land.

A Kentucky bluegrass hybrid, the sod is sand-based as opposed to clay-based. And according to Johnson, that sandy foundation has more to do with the durability of the stadium sod than the grass itself.

"We used to use a local sod that had more silt in the soil," Johnson said. "That made it slippery when it got wet. The sod we use now has a higher percentage of sand than silt and clay. That tends to keep it from tearing up quite as easily as the mud-based sods."

The only problem with sand-based sods is that they aren't always available.

Each year, Johnson makes enough room in his budget to completely re-sod Lambeau Field prior to the season and to re-sod the center of the field twice during the season.

Depending on the weather each year, sometimes the late-year treatments aren't necessary. But when Johnson does resurface the center of the field, he uses a Bermuda grass that has a higher percentage of mud in its soil.

"Later in the year, it's hard to find sod farms with cool-season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass that aren't frozen," Johnson said. "The Bermuda is easier to find. We order ours out of Turfgrass America in Taft, Tenn. It works really well. The only reason we don't use it earlier in the year is because of a higher risk of rain. And rain and mud-based soils don't mix well."

In 2003, the weather gods didn't do any favors for the Packers' turf team.

Rain poured throughout the Packers' final preseason game against the Tennessee Titans, even forcing a two-hour-plus delay due to lightning storms. It rained again for the team's second home game of the year against the Detroit Lions, against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night in Week 10 and against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 12.

"Despite all of that we had a pretty good year," said Johnson, now in his seventh year with the turf team. "Going into the preseason, the field was as beautiful and as dense as I've seen it. We got unlucky with the Tennessee game, but we heard that players from both teams were amazed by how well the field held up, so that was nice."

Although the resurfacing of the field will end this weekend, the process of preparing the stadium surface will be just beginning.

In the next week or so, Johnson and his assistant, Derek Paris, will aerate the field, puncturing holes down into the hard soil to stimulate root growth. Johnson said that process makes the sod "heavy" and less likely to tear up.

A few weeks later, the surface will be aerated again. This time, it will also be blanketed with less than a half-inch of sand. Johnson said that process helps to compress the thatch and makes the surface "tight" for better footing.

In early May, the surface will be top-dressed again. By the beginning of June, the aeration process will resume, this time plugging holes even deeper into the soil. Johnson said that's likely to happen as many as six times so that by the time the heat of summer rolls around in July, they can more or less just let the grass grow.

"At that point we just keep an eye out for potential disease and keep feeding and watering the grass," Johnson said. "Soon enough, they're playing on it again."

And then the players acquired in this weekend's draft will have a stage on which to perform.

Lambeau Field Quick Hits:

Surface size: 87,000 square feet.

Field layers: The Kentucky bluegrass surface grows on top of a 3-5 inch soil foundation, which is plugged with sand-filled holes. Beneath the soil base is 8 inches of USGA (United States Golf Association) sand, known for its stability and drainage. Beneath that is a heating pipe network above a 4-inch base of pea gravel and a drainage blanket.

Soil Warming System: The first soil warming system was installed by Vince Lombardi for the 1967 season. It failed famously in the NFL Championship game that year, better known as the 'Ice Bowl,' although some believe Lombardi intentionally turned off the system before the game. Lombardi's original system lasted until 1997, when it was replaced with the current one, which includes more than 30 miles of radiant heating pipe, maintaining a root-zone temperature of 70-plus degrees during Green Bay's harsh winter months.

Replacement Zones: Fields manager Allen Johnson budgets to replace the sod down the center of Lambeau Field -- where it gets the most wear and tear -- two times during the season. However, if weather cooperates he'll do it only once.

Looking ahead at the 2004 season, Johnson's best window to re-sod a portion of the field would be after the home game against the Dallas Cowboys, October 24. Following that game, the Packers play at the Washington Redskins and then have a bye before coming home to play the Minnesota Vikings.

But Johnson hopes that the field will still be in good shape by then, so it's more likely that the first treatment wouldn't happen until after the Minnesota game (Nov. 14), or after the St. Louis Rams contest (Nov. 29).

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