By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Well, it’s that time of the year again.
Time to gripe about the state of Soldier Field’s turf. Time to groan about how the Chicago Bears have not – and seemingly will not – replace the stadium’s natural grass surface with a synthetic one. And time to ask once again if the team will reconsider their position on the issue.
Because it seems all wet to me.
On Sunday night, as the rain poured down at Soldier Field, the Bears and the Texans slipped and slogged their way to a 13-6 final score as ugly as an offensive lineman’s backside. Now, of course, there’s nothing that can be done about a rainstorm in Chicago – you know, without a retractable roof facility (don’t get me started) – but plenty can be done to give the players better footing at Soldier Field, no matter the Windy City elements.
And I’m not the only one who thinks so.
In January 2011, as complaints about Soldier Field’s slippery sod were running roughshod about town, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and linebacker Brian Urlacher both chimed in, calling their home field “one of the worst in the league” and its footing “horrible.”
The criticisms prompted Soldier Field general manager Tim Lefebvre to go on the radio to counter that he would be fine with installing synthetic turf at the stadium. But it’s the Bears who aren’t.
“It’s a confusing message because you hear from Cutler and Urlacher and yet the Bears tell us the majority of players still want to play on grass,” Lefebvre said at the time. “These are your two team leaders. I think they need to sit down with the coaching staff and Bears administration, and if that’s truly how they feel, and other players feel that way, they should have a discussion about changing to synthetic.”
Apparently, that discussion never happened. Or, like the Bears’ offense on Sunday night, it didn’t go anywhere. Because, seven months later after the Bears had to cancel their Family Fest at Soldier Field in August due to an under-watered and unsafe playing surface, Urlacher again spouted off about Soldier Field’s turf.
“I don’t understand why they don’t have FieldTurf, yet,” the Bears’ defensive leader complained. “We’re a fast team. We play fast on FieldTurf. The injury issues aren’t as bad as they used to be (with artificial turf). They’ve gone down a lot in the last few years with the way they made the turf and stuff. So I don’t understand it.”
Neither do I. And, again, I’m not the only one who thinks so.
On Sunday night while the Bears were losing to the Texans, I tweeted that Soldier Field needs FieldTurf and received many replies echoing the same feelings. Reader Tom Priestley even urged me to write about the topic again, saying: “We need to do whatever it takes to get it installed ASAP … We need a real grassroots effort, pun intended.”
I appreciated Tom’s clever line, as well as his line of thinking. But I’m still struggling to understand the Bears’ thoughts.
In August 2011, after the Family Fest debacle, team chairman George McCaskey said, “Our primary concern is player safety. We want to prolong careers. We want our guys to be available on a week-to-week basis. The evaluation is ongoing. Every year we take a look at it. Our considered opinion is that right now, the best surface for our team, primarily considering player safety, is a natural grass field.””
I get that, and I don’t totally dismiss it. However, we’re also nearly 20 years’ worth of advancements removed from 1993 when Bears wideout Wendell Davis famously blew out both of his knees on a deep route and a bad seam in the AstroTurf at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium.
These days, the Packers, Broncos, Eagles, Giants, Jets, Cowboys, Saints, Bills, Falcons, Ravens, Patriots, Seahawks, Rams, Lions, Colts, Bengals and Vikings all play on synthetic surfaces. And I can’t say that I’ve noticed them experiencing exorbitantly more injuries than other teams. I’d personally like to see the Bears install Desso GrassMaster – the natural grass and synthetic mix used in Green Bay, Philadelphia and Denver – that could provide the best of both surface worlds.
Now, in a perfect world – with perfect weather – the Bears could play all their games on natural grass. But the world isn’t perfect. And neither is Soldier Field’s current surface.
It’s time for a change.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.