Soldier Field playing surface coming under fire from players again

Written By Sun-Times Wire Posted: 09/07/2009, 07:05am

The Soldier Field playing surface looked lousy last Thursday night when the Bears hosted the Cleveland Browns in the preseason finale, and the view from high above the turf in the press box was not deceiving.

It looked bad from the players’ perspective, too, but that is nothing new.

Veteran tight end Desmond Clark, entering his seventh year playing home games at Soldier Field, was critical of the field in his blog in an entry titled “Our field is terrible.”

“Let me get all of my negative energy out first. Did you guys take a good look at our field. If you did you had to be disgusted. Lets take a look at some of the things before I make my statement about how I feel. Just assume you didnt read the title of this blog. Last week we played on a field that was immaculate in Denver. We have only played one game at Soldier Field. We are basically the biggest market in the league and I say that because New York is split between two teams. Green Bay has a nice playing surface. It was not always this way until the last couple of years when they revamped it by adding a synthetic grass that is woven in with the real grass. Some of our opponents comments: “yall play on a cow pasture” “this is the [worst] field in the league” “what the hell is going on with this field”. These are a few comments that come to mind. What the hell is the park distict of Chi cgo doing when it comes to taking care of this field. They have to resod the whole field before we play Pittsburgh, which will lead to loose turf. Basically, to some it up in a sentence, we have one of the worst fields in the NFL and there are no excuses why the Chicago Bears, of all teams, should have to play on such a bad surface. Thank God preseason is over and here we come Green Bay. Sunday night football, couldnt think of a greater way to start the season”

I say this is nothing new because Bears players hammered the Soldier Field playing surface last year. In a bi-annual survey conducted by the NFL Players Association, 52 Bears players responded and they ranked Soldier Field as the worst natural grass surface in the league. Overall, the leaguewide survey conducted during team meetings between September and November named Soldier Field the fourth-worst grass playing field, ahead of only Pittsburgh, Oakland and Miami.

The 52 players were asked what they attribute the condition of their home game field to. Here is how the responses broke down, according to information provided by the NFLPA:

21 (40.4 percent) replied the grounds crew, which is a joint operation between the team and the Chicago Park District, which runs the stadium.

5 (9.6 percent) replied the stadium manager, which would be the park district.

18 (34.6 percent) replied ownership.

2 (3.8 percent) replied all of the above.

6 (11.5 percent) replied not applicable.

It is significant to point out that the players believe strongly in the work of the club’s head groundskeeper Ken Mrock and assistant head groundskeeper John Berta. They scored high marks in the survey as 81.6 percent of the responders to the question said they “strongly valued” the work of their grounds crew on the game field and practice fields at Halas Hall.

A tripleheader of prep games was played on the field the weekend before the meeting with the Browns. Still, it was surprising that three games would create obvious patches in the surface, and it was evident the crew that painted the field originally put the “C” at the 50-yard line in the wrong spot. A source said after the game Thursday that the field would be re-sodded well before the Sept. 20 home opener vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers. Still, the field came under fire late last season when the Bears played three home games in December. That was when it was cold out. Guess what? The Bears have three December home games again this season, and four from Nov. 22 on.

The issue the players are concerned about is safety. They don’t want to be playing on a field where footing is an issue. If the survey is an indication, and players would know best, the situation is getting worse after a decent beginning following the reconstruction of the stadium.

Where Soldier Field ranked in NFLPA survey

2008 4th worst grass field
2006 5th worst grass field
2004 18th worst field (there was no distinction between turf and grass prior to 2006)
2002 15th worst field (Memorial Stadium in Champaign)
2000 7th worst
1998 7th worst
1996 9th worst
1994 6th worst