Stadium preens for big day
New turf, more seats, goings-on in the bowels of the stadium: These are but a few of the preparations for Jan. 28.
|[Times photo: Chris Schneider]
Workers remove the grass from Raymond James Stadium Wednesday. The right tractor driven by Gene Moster, pulls a machine called a profiler which removes the top 1 and 1/2 inch of grass and dirt and shoots it into a trailer pulled by the other tractor, left, which is driven by Derek Howatt. Walking, in striped shirt, is Tim Kirkman. Joe Motz, in green jacket, is president of the Motz Group, the company in charge of the resodding.
By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 4, 2001
TAMPA -- George Toma won't forget watching cleats chew up the grass, and the National Football League emblem, during the 1989 Super Bowl in Miami.
It felt like his heart was being trampled.
Bad maintenance had left the soil dry and weak. Toma, the NFL's turf consultant, made a vow: Never again.
"As long as I live, never will the NFL shield ever be disgraced," said Toma, 71, watching from the stands at Raymond James Stadium on Wednesday morning as workers stripped the existing grass so it can be replaced for Super Bowl XXXV.
This week, grounds workers will install 100,000 square feet of new Bermuda grass from nearby "turf farms." The project, expected to be complete by next week, is just one of the innumerable preparations under way for the Jan. 28 game.
Another is the installation of 6,300 new seats, which will boost the stadium's capacity to about 72,000. The Bucs' pirate ship above the north end zone will stay, but the tiki hut and dock will be removed to accommodate 2,500 seats. Over the south end zone, picnic tables and palms have been removed so 3,800 seats can be put in.
Wednesday, workers were sanding the goal posts and giving them a new coat of fluorescent yellow. Facilities for the NFL Experience, and a Super Bowl corporate village, are being built.
"There's just a ton of changes going on under the stadium that no one will ever see," said Barbara Casey, spokeswoman for the Tampa Sports Authority. She said an audio compound is being built under the east stands for the halftime and pregame shows, and the NFL is using all available space to store the tons of equipment needed for the game.
Hundreds of workers, from the stadium, NFL and league-contracted ones, will contribute to the effort between now and game day. Toma, the turf consultant, said the playing field will be laser-graded after it is stripped. As an extra measure to test the grading, men will stand on either side of the field connected by a string tied to their feet, and walk forward simultaneously.
Toma has worked all 34 previous Super Bowls. In the 1960s, when the game was just getting under way, Toma remembers going to the stadium with a single trunk for the job.
Now, he arrives with trailer trucks of equipment, three massive canvases to protect the field, airless spray-guns, inflatable snakes and owls to scare off the seed-gobbling pigeons, and, among other things, plywood templates for the numbers on the field.
It is Toma's job to make sure the field is safe and aesthetically pleasing. Even after the grass goes in, he expects thousands of people to tread upon it in preparation for the show's entertainment, not to mention a 22-ton stage being wheeled on and off.
That can make for emergencies. Toma said that on the night before the 1991 Super Bowl game in Tampa, with halftime and pregame rehearsals having worn the turf in the center, he and his crew cut up 1,000 square feet of Bermuda grass from the soccer field at the University of Tampa and hauled it over for transplant.
"Sometimes our boys will take a fork that you eat with and touch up places that need to be touched up," Toma said. "My men are angels. Every blade of grass out there has an angel whispering to it, 'Grow, grow, grow.' "
- Times staff writer Christopher Goffard can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Workers have begun to transform Raymond James Stadium for Super Bowl XXXV. Some of the changes include:
Installing 100,000 square feet of new Bermuda grass.
Removing the tiki hut and dock above the north end zone and the picnic tables and palms near the south end zone -- in order to add 6,300 new seats.
Sanding and painting the goalposts.
* * *
The Times' Super Bowl XXXV site
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