Anyone with functioning eyesight could see that the turf at the Super Bowl wasn’t up to championship standards.
On Monday, the NFL’s longtime chief groundskeeper agreed. And he laid out pointed accusations of who’s to blame.
George Toma aka “The Sodfather” spoke with ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss on Monday about the slippery conditions at the Super Bowl that repeatedly caused players to lose their footing in the highest-stakes game of the season. He blamed the NFL and its field director Ed Mangan for mismanaging the turf.
“So, what he does, he waters the hell out of it and puts it right into the stadium and that’s it,” Toma said of Mangan. “Never sees sunlight again. He can’t do that.”
Toma, 94, is the NFL’s resident turf guru. He’s overseen or advised turf preparation for all 57 Super Bowls. For most of those games, he was the head groundskeeper. He’s taken on an emeritus role in recent years and served as a consultant to Mangan ahead of this year’s game that saw the Kansas City Chiefs defeat the Philadelphia Eagles.
The field setup at the site of this year’s Super Bowl is one of the most unique in sports. Arizona’s State Farm Stadium is a dome with a retractable tray that contains the natural grass field. Groundskeepers are able to roll the field outside the stadium for sunlight exposure as they see fit.
Per Toma, Mangan watered the field in the days leading up to the Super Bowl then rolled it directly back into the stadium without extended sun exposure to dry it out. He told ESPN that the field then “had a rotten smell” after a tarp was laid on it to protect it from halftime and pregame show rehearsals.
Mangan has not publicly responded to Toma’s account. The NFL released a statement the Monday after the Super Bowl claiming that the field met league standards.
“The State Farm Stadium field surface met the required standards for the maintenance of natural surfaces, as per NFL policy,” the statement reads. “The natural grass surface was tested throughout Super Bowl week and was in compliance with all mandatory NFL practices.”
Per Toma, Mangan made other mistakes.
“He sanded it two weeks too late,” Toma told ESPN. “He had only one sanding. He should have had two or three sandings, but he didn’t do s***. And that was it. And not only that, he didn’t take care of it. He wouldn’t listen to anybody.”
Toma’s claims mark a dramatic shift in tone from his pre-Super Bowl interviews. On Feb. 7 — five days before the game — Toma told Fox 4 Kansas City that the field was one of the best that he’d ever seen.
“The second-best turf that we’ve had in 57 Super Bowls,” Toma said.
It’s not clear from Toma’s interview with ESPN if his opinion of the field and its caretaking changed in the days between his interview with Fox 4 and the game — or if this is strictly a postgame assessment. But it is clear that the field was an issue during football’s biggest game — so much so that it’s still a topic of discussion more than two weeks later.