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Ensuring the Grass Is Always Greener

Rose Bowl turf specialists, charged with making the playing field appear lush and healthy, are in a 'chase for perfection' despite the downpour.

January 03, 2006|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

As the person ultimately responsible for making sure the Rose Bowl field is as close as possible to perfect, turf superintendent Will Schnell wants to bring Texas players to their knees.

He'd like to see USC players kneeling too.

Because the highest praise Schnell and his staff can receive is when the Rose Bowl participants need to check to see if the grass is real. This is the one place in Los Angeles where "It looks fake" is a compliment.

"We shoot for the pool-table effect," Schnell said.

What they don't shoot for is the swimming-pool effect, and that's why he and his staff covered the 2 1/2 -acre field Friday evening with a new $60,000 tarp that they planned to remove early this morning, weather permitting. The two-hour process of removing the nine-piece tarp and efficiently disposing of accumulated rainwater was to have begun at 3 a.m. Then, the painting crew was to have begun touching up the field around dawn, hoping to finish around noon. All the painting was done previously but the touch-up will make the playing surface look better in person and on TV.

Schnell and his crew are getting help from the grounds crews of the Dodgers and Cleveland Browns, both former employers of Schnell, and the Home Depot Center.

"It's a chase for perfection," Darryl Dunn, the stadium's general manager, said Monday. "And with all this rain, it's all hands on deck."

The forecast for game day calls for clear skies and temperatures in the 60s. But on Monday, rain fell on the Rose Parade for the first time in half a century, with wind damaging banners around the stadium and knocking over temporary concession stands. The weather forced stadium officials to make changes on the fly, changes that could affect how people get to the game.

Parking will be most affected. In normal weather conditions, Brookside Golf Course can accommodate about 22,000 cars. Last year, because of rain before the game, there was room for only 8,000. The situation could be slightly better this year, Dunn said, but a significant number of spaces will be unavailable. Dunn urged spectators to use public transportation or to carpool, and to arrive several hours before kickoff.

Texas is scheduled to have a walk-through practice at the stadium today. The goal of the grounds crew is to mow the field once more on game day.

"Our field helps brand us," Dunn said. "We want the athletes and the TV announcers to compliment it, and we want the crowd to be wowed."

To achieve that effect, dozens of workers have spent the last six weeks refining the Augusta of football fields. Schnell declined to be interviewed unless the work of his staff was recognized ("I'm nothing without them."), and much of the support work -- keeping paint buckets filled, making sure hoses don't drag through the artwork, etc. -- is done by volunteers from the Pasadena Jaycees.

Despite the rain, Schnell and his staff say this has a chance to be the best Rose Bowl field ever. The turf, which cost more than $100,000, was grown in Palm Springs by the same company that provides the NFL with some of its Super Bowl fields.

On the evening of Nov. 12, shortly after UCLA had played its final home game of the season, the Rose Bowl grounds crew began cutting out the old turf. The new sod was rolled in and given time to take root. As long as it can be mowed before the game, it will be five-eighths of an inch long at kickoff and should look as manicured as a fairway at the U.S. Open.

"A lot of the players say it looks like carpet or artificial turf," said Miguel Yepez, who supervises the paint crew. "I've seen guys get down and kiss the field."

Getting the grass to look just right is only half the battle. The real precision is in the painting. At least three coats are applied before a typical Rose Bowl game. Under the south end of the stadium are hundreds of paint canisters with colors named "Michigan Blue" and "Wisconsin Red." There are also jugs of "Green Bay Green," used for a camera commercial shot at the stadium, and "Raiders Silver," used in a beer ad.

And, of course, there's "USC Cardinal" and "Texas Burnt Orange."

To make sure the color was precise, Longhorn officials sent a Texas jersey so Rose Bowl painters could lay it on the field and match it to the grass. The school said last year's orange was a tad light.

The north end zone is burnt orange with white lettering, and a 12-foot-wide orange border extends to the 25-yard line.

At the south side, the USC end zone is cardinal with gold lettering. There's a matching 12-foot-wide cardinal border to the other 25.

"For me," painter Martin Rodriguez said, "it's a work of art."

For Schnell, the moment of truth is not when the players have their walk-through on the day before the game, or even when the game starts.

"It's when I get a call from my parents in Missouri," he said, "and they tell me the field looks good on TV."



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