Steelers players lobby against artificial turf
PITTSBURGH -- There is nothing artificial about the Pittsburgh Steelers' feelings. They love their home-field advantage, even if it means playing on the NFL's worst field.
Two days after slogging their way to a 3-0, last-minute victory over Miami on as miserable a playing field as the NFL has seen in years, the Steelers were lobbying hard Wednesday to retain their grass field.
All that was missing in the players' keep-the-grass campaign was a poster displaying a swatch of artificial turf with a slash mark across it.
"I think everybody wants to keep the grass," wide receiver Hines Ward said.
The Heinz Field grass routinely deteriorates over a long season during which at least 10 Steelers games and 12 college and high school games are played there. Monday's mess was the result of a newly installed layer of sod, installed only the day before, becoming saturated with nearly 1½ inches of rain in a short time.
The players are worried Monday's nationally televised field fiasco will cause the league to pressure the Steelers into putting down artificial turf. An NFL operations official is staying in town this week to monitor the field conditions ahead of Sunday's game against Cincinnati.
"We've still got the dryers out," linebacker James Farrior said. "But if it rains again (Sunday), who knows what will happen?"
Team president Art Rooney II said the Steelers will weigh all options, including the newest-generation artificial turf. That's what has his players concerned.
"I need the grass. I like the mud. I like the sloppiness," cornerback Ike Taylor said. "I'm used to it, Mr. Rooney, can we please keep the grass? I don't want no FieldTurf. It's bad on your knees."
The Steelers have FieldTurf in their indoor practice building, which they use more frequently as the weather deteriorates late each season. Several players said it would be too much to practice several times a week on artificial turf and then go play on it.
Ward and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger don't want the Steelers to lose the home field advantage they have in November and December, when teams accustomed to a fast artificial field must adjust to Heinz Field's ragged grass.
They might have an argument: The Steelers are 45-20-1 in November and December the last seven seasons.
"Everybody wants to see the field looking pretty," Ward said. "But that (grass) gives us a home field advantage. You've got to learn how to play on it. For us, there's a lot more injuries on turf."
Steelers safety Troy Polamalu (knee) and wide receiver Santonio Holmes (sprained ankle) were hurt playing on artificial turf Nov. 18 against the Jets.
"I think every player would rather play on grass," Roethlisberger said. "The field we have is our advantage because we know what it is and we are used to it. Other teams aren't as prepared for it."
The Bengals (4-7) are accustomed to practicing on less-than-superb grass at their practice site, which may prove helpful in preparing for their annual trip to Pittsburgh. They have won there the last two seasons, and could become the first opposing team to win three in a row at Heinz Field.
Willie Parker is one of the few Steelers players who wouldn't mind switching to turf, but his response was predictable. The team's fastest player, Parker said artificial turf is a help to skill position players who rely on their speed.
"But, you know, Steelers football is the grass, the mud, the messed-up field and there's a lot of advantages to that," Parker said. "Right now, we've got to use that to our advantage."
Left tackle Marvel Smith, out with a sore back, was unhappy he didn't get to play in the NFL's unofficial Mud Bowl.
"It looked like it was fun," he said. "Like a little kid playing in the mud."
Neither Holmes nor Polamalu practiced Wednesday. ... Holmes on the possibility the Steelers will look past the Bengals to their Dec. 9 game at unbeaten New England: "I don't think I have heard anybody talk about that, at all." ... Smith doesn't know yet if he will be ready by Sunday.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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