Friday, January 24, 2014
9 Days: Streakers, riverboats and duct tape
By Jane McManus
Legendary groundskeeper George Toma (under tarp) will celebrate his 85th birthday at SBNY.
Each day from now until Feb. 2, ESPNNewYork.com will take you inside the challenge of staging the most unpredictable NFL title game ever. There are nine days until the Super Bowl.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Last week, before the snow fell, veteran groundskeeper George Toma was inspecting the turf for Super Bowl XLVIII. It’s something he has done since the very first Super Bowl, and he will celebrate his 85th birthday with 80,000 fans in East Rutherford on Feb. 2.
He's lucky to be here. On Aug. 5 he underwent open heart surgery, and there were complications. But after months of rehab, he's back on the field. Toma formally retired in 1999 but still comes back each year to help prepare for the Super Bowl. We caught up with him to talk about what he has learned in the past 48 years.
Toma is also beloved on the baseball diamond. Here, he's pictured with a vaguely familiar Yankee.
Q: What's the biggest change for you since Super Bowl I?
A: I think the biggest change that you would see is in those days I went by myself and we only had a three-by-four trunk of equipment but now we have three tractor-trailers full of equipment. The first Super Bowl we had one band and two people in jet suits and they flew up to the 50-yard line and shook hands. And that was the first one.
The halftime show is so big now and they have to get that stage done in so many minutes, and my heart goes to those people that have to get that stage done.
We would take duct tape and put it on our hands and we’d go on our hands and knees on the field to pick any lint or anything off it. It's the little extra that we do.
Q: Have they advanced the technology from duct tape?
A: They’ve got these lint things now, but duct tape works better.
Q: What’s the weirdest halftime mishap over the years?
A: In New Orleans they had one of those steam-up, Southern paddleboats as a prop for the halftime show and they couldn't get it off because it couldn't fit under the goalpost. But we didn’t waste any time, we had ladders and got to work.
Q: How did you get the paddleboat out?
A: We got the goalpost down and put it back up.
Q. Any other challenges?
A: In the early days we had streakers, you know? But we had blankets over the field so they couldn’t get more than three feet away from us.
Come back daily for more on the issues, logistics and personalities surrounding Super Bowl XLVIII.