The Baltimore Ravens have become the latest in the long line of NFL teams to switch to natural grass.
For 13 years the Ravens have been playing on artificial turf. But after years of a few key people pushing for grass and the players favoring the switch, a natural grass field was installed at M&T Bank Stadium.
One of the prominent voices behind the switch to natural grass was Head Groundskeeper Don Follett. Follett started his career when he took on a work study job back in 1972 at Arizona State University. It was here, working on the football and baseball fields, that Follett fell in love with the industry. He changed his major to agriculture and the rest was history.
The stadium was originally built with a natural grass field, but in 2001 they needed to switch to artificial turf because of issues with shade and grass growing problems.
“I was hired here after that took place,” says Follett. “So when I interviewed for this job, I told them someday, I would like to, if you guys would entertain the idea of putting real grass back into your stadium because I think real football should be played on real grass.”
It took him 10-11 years of talking to players, staff and the coaches and a big push from the players to get everyone on board. The NFL Players Association surveyed the players and 95 percent of the players stated they wanted to play and practice on natural grass.
The recently installed grass field is made of a Bermuda variety known as Tifway 419, and it was grown by Carolina Green Sod in North Carolina. The new playing surface measures out to 80,000 square feet. It took 12 truckloads to get the sod from North Carolina to Baltimore, Md. And just to keep all his bases covered, Follett keeps a field and half on reserve with Carolina Green.
From November to December, parts of the field at M&T Bank Stadium only sees three hours of sunlight. For real grass, that presents a significant problem.
When asked by the players if having a grass field in the current stadium conditions was even possible, Follett was certain that there was a way. And he was right. The solution is grow light technology developed by a company from the Netherlands, called Stadium Grow Lighting (SGL).
The light units, which can withstand all types of weather conditions, will be rolled out onto the field to provide light during those darker months. According to SGL’s website, each unit can be set with a timer and can be moved by 1-2 people.
You may have heard of SGL before. The Green Bay Packers, among others, are currently using this technology to keep their natural grass green throughout their brutal winters.
Maintaining the Field
The field requires day-to-day maintenance, with fertilizer applications every two weeks and insecticide treatments when necessary. Not to mention, it needs to be cut everyday.
The track around the field, where carts frequently drive, and the patch where the goal post is set have remained artificial turf.
Some of the popular weeds that plague the field are crabgrass, goose grass and at least 200 weeds in Maryland to attack the field.
“We’re in the Mid-Atlantic,” said Follett. ” We have everything here.”
One thing Follett stressed was that this wasn’t a one-man project. It takes his whole crew, three at the M&T Bank Stadium and five at the practice field, to make this all work.
Check out Follett’s full interview, here.