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Saturday, August 6, 2011
Pondering a turf conversion at Soldier Field

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

In 2006, concern about the playing surface at Gillette Stadium led to an emergency decision to replace the grass with an artificial infill surface. The New England Patriots announced the decision on Nov. 15, 2006, and 11 days later the new surface was ready for a game against, ironically, the Chicago Bears.

Now the Bears are close to finding themselves in a similar situation. The Chicago Park District has pledged to have the grass at Soldier Field rehabilitated in time for the Bears' Aug. 13 preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills. But how many problems must be encountered before the Bears consider an immediate conversion?

The cancellation of Friday night's Family Night practice clearly raised the stakes of this long-simmering issue . Saturday, Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher told reporters that the situation was "a joke" and renewed his plea for an infill surface.

"I don't understand why we don't have FieldTurf yet," Urlacher said. "We're a fast team, we play fast on FieldTurf. The injury issues aren't as bad as they used to be. They've gone down a lot in the last few years with the way they've made the turf and stuff. I don't understand it. Use our speed. We can run, let us go out there and run."

Urlacher's reasoning strikes at two points the Bears have made in favor of keeping the grass: That it provides a home-field advantage and also that safety research on infill surfaces is inconclusive. More than anything, artificial turf would provide the consistent and professional playing surface that Soldier Field currently lacks.

New Bears chairman George McCaskey is facing the first big decision of his tenure. The Park District clearly struggles to maintain the Bears' surface of choice. One of his best players has been publicly torching it for months. And now more than 10,000 fans -- and some of the Bears' customers -- have been affected as well. Will McCaskey take it under advisement, or is he prepared to act swiftly and solve this problem once and for all?