New FieldTurf at ND Stadium overdue, but welcome

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Contrary to popular belief, Knute Rockne hasn’t rolled over in his grave just yet.

Swung by Highland Cemetery on Tuesday just to make sure, though.

In fact, betcha dimes to donuts ol’ Rock would have been pretty pleased about what’s happening to Notre Dame Stadium right now.

The installation of FieldTurf — in place of the venerable but stubborn grass that has been sodded, re-sodded, and sodded again, while turning various shades of brown in recent years — is a tangible sign that the university and its football program are committed to joining the 21st century.

Even if it is 14 years behind schedule.

This isn’t your grandfather’s artificial turf. This isn’t the “carpet on cement” stuff that used to make places like the old RCA Dome in Indianapolis and cookie-cutter baseball stadiums like the old parks in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia knee injuries waiting to happen.

Rockne was an innovator. Whatever would make his football team faster, or at least appear faster, was worth a try.

Current Irish coach Brian Kelly might have a little of the spirit of Rockne, down deep inside. This was a dream of his when he first arrived – five years from concept to reality.

This proves that Kelly’s input carries a significant amount of weight when it comes to upper-echelon decisions. That’s what getting to a national championship game can do for a guy.

In recent years, it was difficult for Notre Dame to keep apologizing for its playing surface. Hasty mid-season re-sod jobs never make for quality footing. The new surface will put sod squads — the guys who run out onto the field during timeouts mashing down clumps and filling divots — permanently out of business.

Those fellows will have to buy tickets now.

History certainly has its place with the Notre Dame football program. When images of the Four Horsemen, Rockne, Gipp, Leahy, Parseghian, and the rest are conjured, no mention of grass is ever made. The closest proximity of a relationship between turf and legend was Lou Holtz’s habit of squatting and plucking blades of grass.

All Lou would have to yank now would be rubber pellets.

As the large bundles of synthetic fiber are unfurled and then stitched together, it’s hardly a reason for Irish fans to mourn a dear, departed friend.

It’s grass, folks.

While other venues with a similar climate have been successful keeping turf lush and green in November, for some reason, that just didn’t happen at Notre Dame. It never took long for the most iconic stadium in college football to have a surface brown and patchy.

Painting dirt green is never a good solution. Touchdown Jesus likely hid his eyes.

Of course, what sort of job would Rudy have gotten if the field had been turf back then? Fortune, a fictional former player who came to be Rudy’s boss on the grounds crew, probably could have handled maintenance himself.

“Sorry kid, I’ve got no jobs.”

Just think how that story would have changed. Rudy probably would have gone broke, hitchhiked back to Joliet, got his old job back in the mill, and picked bar fights with his brother.

Hardly enough to merit a screenplay. A Notre Dame icon may never have happened.

Maybe grass does have a place in history.

For the record, the turf being spread on the irrigation-dressed surface now is green. Boring ol’ green.

If Notre Dame was going to make a statement, why not really make a statement?

If Boise State could have a blue field, why couldn’t Notre Dame have a gold field? Now there’s an idea. Talk about an intimidation factor. Just think how an opponent would feel trotting onto a gold field outlined in blue.

If they’re going to honk off purists and traditionalists anyway, might as well go the whole nine yards and play the game on a sea of gold.

Betcha dimes to donuts Rockne would have at least given it a thought.

Now, about that JumboTron….


Crews install FieldTurf at Notre Dame Stadium on Tuesday, July 22, 2014, in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN
Crews install FieldTurf on Tuesday at Notre Dame Stadium. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)