By Teresa Varley
After much discussion and reviewing the options available, the Steelers decided that the playing surface at Heinz Field will remain natural grass.
One of the key factors in the decision was that the Steelers players preferred playing on grass over any type of artificial turf.
"Our players and coaches, and the whole staff here, everybody had a chance to participate in the discussion and everyone was in favor of sticking with the grass," said Steelers president Art Rooney, II.
"I think if you ask every player in the league the simple question 'would you rather play on grass or artificial?' it would be predominantly grass. The artificial I think is something they're willing to live with in most cases and they rate some surfaces better than others, but the majority of them definitely want to practice on grass and prefer playing the games on grass. It's been that way for a long time in my experience."
The initial plan is to continue to use DD GrassMaster, a form of natural grass that they have used since 2003. Denver, Green Bay and Philadelphia all currently use GrassMaster as well. The GrassMaster at Heinz Field would need to be redone this off-season, something the Steelers are planning on.
"We'll do what we've done the last few years, which is to do a fairly major reseeding of it," said Rooney. "We don't do it every year, but this year because we brought in the sod and laid it on top of it, we have to go back and reseed it.
"Last year, I have to say I thought it was the best it's ever been."
Heinz Field will continue to be used by the University of Pittsburgh and WPIAL high school playoff games will be played there in November. Last year the Steelers re-sod the field following the high school playoffs, just two days before they played on Monday Night Football. A torrential downpour two days later made for less than desirable playing conditions when the Steelers hosted the Miami Dolphins.
The team did ask the NFL to schedule them on the road that weekend, something they were unable to do last year.
"They send out a survey every year to all of the teams and say tell us where the problems are if you have conflicts," said Rooney. "We always tell them we don't want a game that weekend. Last year they called us and talked to us and said it will screw the schedule up if we can't put you at home that weekend. We said we'll live with it but we don't want to do it on a regular basis. They know that's not a weekend that we want to be home. Normally they have been able to schedule around that.
"I forget what the alternative was they had for us last year if we didn't play that weekend, but it was something where we were going to have a strange set of games. We understand it's difficult to put the schedule together. A lot of teams have different situations they have to work around. More often than not they have managed to not schedule us at home that weekend and we made the same request this year."
The team might re-sod the field following the high school playoffs again this year, with the hope of being on the road that weekend and allowing a longer turnaround time until it's used again.
"I think the piece of it we have to analyze is whether we do the same thing we did last year after the high school games in terms of brining in the sod," said Rooney. "Even though the first game was not a success in terms of how it worked out, we think it is a viable option to bring in the new turf after the high school playoff season.
"That is a piece of the puzzle we are looking at the best way to do that. Our people feel like we learned some lessons and we can do a better job with a little bit more time in between games. We will look at that. I think things can go better than they did this year from the standpoint of schedule and other items."