Epicenter of Humanity: The playing surface

January, 18, 2011
1/18/11
5:45
PM ET
There is an important fact to remember this week as the grass surface at Soldier Field comes under the scrutiny that accompanies an NFC Championship Game. There was considerable discussion last spring about replacing the grass with a more durable infill surface such as FieldTurf.

[+] EnlargeSeattle's Marshawn Lynch
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe grass at Soldier Field is usually a mess by the end of the football season.
As Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune reported at the time, the Chicago Park District -- which operates the stadium -- was interested in making the conversion. The Bears were not, even though the District likely would have paid for the project.
Pompei: "One of the complicating factors is the Bears still are awaiting results of a league study on injuries incurred on infill playing surfaces. They are concerned because preliminary findings have suggested lower leg injuries occur at a higher rate on infill."

Most players would tell you they prefer to play on grass than artificial turf, presuming the grass is in decent shape. As we all know, Chicago uses Soldier Field as a year-round venue. The grass takes a pounding, which combines with the winter weather to produce an annual mess by the end of the football season.

I don't know how to measure whether torn-up grass is safer than well-maintained infill surfaces. But as we discussed Monday, I have to believe that at least part of this debate comes down to competitive advantage. The Bears have played nine games at Soldier Field this season and should know how to deal with it better than any opponent, even if it is a familiar division rival like the Green Bay Packers.

The Packers play on a hyrbid surface at Lambeau Field known as DD GrassMaster, which is grass reinforced with man-made fibers. Packers players made it clear last week that they prefer playing on fast surfaces, ideally in a dome. Monday, receiver Greg Jennings said Soldier Field has "probably the worst" playing surface in the NFL. "But you can't allow that to affect the way you play," Jennings added. "The grass, the surface, how hard it is, how soft it is, what have you, it really it plays only so much into the game if you allow it to."

That's easier said than done. I don't think the Soldier Field grass ultimately will impact who wins Sunday. But put it this way: If the Bears thought they were better off playing on FieldTurf, they would have added it last spring. The field is in the exact shape that they want it.

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