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Steelers Heinz Field going hybrid

Grass-fiber mix gets call for new surface

Friday, March 28, 2003

By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The turf is greener in Denver, says Steelers President Dan Rooney.

DD GrassMaster selected for
Heinz Field


So he's decided to install the same type of playing surface -- a hybrid that combines real grass with synthetic fibers -- at Heinz Field.

Starting Monday, the worn grass surface at the stadium will be torn up and replaced by a product from Europe called DD GrassMaster.

Since Heinz Field opened in August 2001, the all-grass playing surface has taken a pounding in late summer and fall, during games played by the Steelers, University of Pittsburgh Panthers and some high school football teams.

The first -- and only other -- National Football League team to use the grass-polypropylene mixture was the Denver Broncos. Rooney visited the Broncos' stadium, Invesco Field at Mile High, which opened the same month as Heinz Field, and was impressed with the surface.

Rooney has always liked natural grass but was forced to replace the chewed-up Heinz Field playing surface three times last year. The Steelers faced some embarrassing moments on national TV in October when announcers commented on the poor condition of the field, as some players slipped on the sand under the worn-out grass.

"Heinz Field is a first-class facility that accommodates multiple teams and activities," said Rooney. "We want the playing surface to equal the standards of the rest of the facility."

Rooney doesn't regret his decision to allow college and high school teams to play at the stadium but decided he needed a tougher playing field.

"Given the challenges of maintaining the traditional grass surfaces in the Northeast and the amount of activity on the field, we felt this new hybrid surface would be the best route," he said.

The Steelers will pay $700,000 for the turf and installation, which will be completed later this spring. Preseason Steelers games start in August.

The Sports & Exhibition Authority, a city-county agency, owns the football stadium, but the Steelers manage it. The stadium cost $280.8 million. The Steelers contributed $123 million, with another $75 million coming from the state and the rest from a bond issue floated by the authority and paid off mainly with Allegheny County sales tax revenue.

According to a news release from the Steelers, DD GrassMaster is a combination of Kentucky bluegrasses -- natural grass -- reinforced with polypropylene fibers that are sewn into the sod every three-fourths of an inch. On Denver's field, there are 17 million green synthetic fibers stitched 7 inches down through the sod. Those fibers extend half an inch above the sod.

The "sand-based stabilization product was developed in Holland by Desso DLW Sports Systems in the late 1980s and has been installed in playing surfaces since 1992," the Steelers said in the release. "To date, it has been installed on more than 160 fields."

Heinz Field general manager Jimmy Sacco was in charge of the search for a new surface.

The Steelers basically had three choices: Continue with natural grass and replace it on a regular basis; switch to a newer type of all-synthetic field, which has softer fibers than old-style AstroTurf and rubberized padding to ease an athlete's fall; or go with a hybrid of natural and synthetic.

Ross Kurcab, turf manager at Denver's $400 million Invesco Field, said the hybrid surface there "can take four to five times the amount of wear that a grass field can take."

He said the surface has been used for 10 or 12 years on soccer and rugby fields in Europe with good results. Each time the Broncos score, he said, a rider on a horse gallops down the playing field "and even that doesn't chew up the turf."

Besides Denver, the hybrid field is used in the United States by the minor league Binghamton (N.Y.) Mets.

Marc Boehm, Pitt athletic director, said the Steelers "have done an outstanding job researching what would be the best playing surface option for our teams at Heinz Field."

He called the DD GrassMaster system "a revolutionary turf that has tremendous durability. It is a proven system not only nationally, but also in Europe. I know the system will be of great benefit for the Panthers, Steelers and our local high school teams."

Tom Barnes can be reached at tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.

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