Most NFL fans don't think about all of the long hours that go into making a professional football game happen. The truth is, there are hundreds of support staff and thousands of man hours that go into prepping and working a game each week. Out of everything that needs work, though, the field itself is by far the most important. That's why the Philadelphia Eagles need the best grounds crew possible in order to make sure the team is able to perform at one hundred percent every Sunday.
Leading that crew is Director of Grounds Tony Leonard. Tony, a long-time member of the Sports Turf Managers Association, has been with the Eagles for the past fourteen years, after graduating from Penn State with a degree in Turf Grass Science.
"Most of [my class] became golf course superintendents," he said, "I took the road less traveled to sports fields. It turned out to be a good choice. You're part of the NFL and you're part of football, which growing up, I loved. I think the challenge that it presents is unique, in a way. It's more year-round now and I think every day and every year, it's a different set of challenges."
One of those challenges is keeping the field in top condition as the season progresses, when the warm August and September weather is replaced by the cold and snow. To combat this, the Eagles have implemented a system which no other NFL team has tried before: completely switching the field from Bermuda grass to Kentucky bluegrass in November.
"We try to get the best of both worlds," said Leonard, "Philadelphia is historically known to have hot, humid summers. Bermuda grass grows very well at that time, but the bluegrass will decline. So, instead of starting the season out with a weak grass, we bring in a strong grass, such as Bermuda grass, to play on. Then in the fall, when the Bermuda grass begins to decline, that's when we sod the field with the bluegrass."
"Our number one goal is to keep the players safe. We always put a field in that we know is going to be safe. We work with our sod farms to maintain the field at the farms as if it were here. So, we do the same maintenance practices that we would do here on the field at the sod farms. That way, when the sod does come in, it's going to be a safe, playable surface."
The sod itself is shipped in from farms in Charlotte, NC and Hamilton, NJ in one-ton rolls. It is approximately an inch and a half to two inches thick, which prevents it from shifting under the players' feet. A stable playing surface is especially important in preventing injuries like the one to Jadeveon Clowney of the Houston Texans, who tore his meniscus supposedly because of the uneven turf at NRG Stadium. Those same poor turf conditions were also blamed for Wes Welker's torn ACL in 2010.
"I think [other teams] have taken notice to how we do things," said Leonard, "Each stadium is different. We're all in different climates, we all have different issues, but this is what works best for us. If another team decides to adopt that same practice, I think it'll work."
Of course, no interview of an Eagles staff member would be complete without an opinion question on the team. When asked how he thinks the Eagles will do for the rest of the year, Leonard replied, "Great. I think Coach [Chip Kelly] has the team rallied. I think he has a great group of guys. Things are going well now and we're all in this thing together. We're all pulling to get two playoff games here this year."