As the countdown continues to this year's training camp at Lehigh, the Daily News and Eagletarian have gone back to look at some of our favorite or most interesting events and storylines of training camps and the preseason during the Andy Reid Era. Each weekday for the next two weeks, we will count them down, leading to No. 1.
NO. 5: VET TURF CANCELS PRESEASON GAME
RAG RUG: RUG WAS PULLED OUT FROM UNDER THIS ONE
Published: Aug. 14, 2001
By MARCUS HAYES, Daily News Sports Writer
SOMEWHERE, Santa Claus is snickering.
St. Nick has been booed and hissed and snowballed by Eagles fans. Last night, for the first time in league history, a game was postponed because the brand-new fake field was deemed unsafe by the league at the behest of its players.
Even in light of other recent debacles at Veterans Stadium - a railing collapse, elevator breakdowns (another one last night), clock malfunctions and the like - this should make him jolly.
The Eagles' preseason opener against the Ravens was called off because the cutout swatches of artificial NeXturf swelled in the night. The cutouts cover the area around the bases, which, when the Phillies play, are a clay/dirt mixture.
NeXturf never was tested for high-moisture situations, its maker said. It also never has been converted in one day.
The city experienced problems with seepage with the old turf after heavy rains. The cutouts were not covered with tarpaulins overnight Sunday.
Apparently, Sunday night's rains, combined with yesterday's steamy temperatures, caused the damp clay under the cutouts to heave and rise like so much bread in an oven; at one point there was a 3-inch rise from the regular field to the apex of the cutouts. The clay under the carpets was a mushy, messy mass that bubbled and rutted when stepped on or driven over by the team's powered carts.
Players openly reminisced for the days of the asphalt-hard turf that struck fear into opponents.
"The old stuff was hard and crappy," said one Eagle as he warmed up, "but at least it was crappy everywhere. "
The league will announce its plans today on whether the game will be played, but Eagles officials last night said they doubted it would; it's only an exhibition, for one, and both teams play too many games in too few days.
Cancellation would cost the team between $5 million and $10 million in lost revenue, said perturbed team president Joe Banner. The Eagles hope to announce the decision on how to refund tickets by the end of business today.
Bob Allison, the executive vice president of Southwest Recreation Industries, which manufactures NeXturf, contended that the game could be played on the surface. So did Mike DiMuzio, the Phillies' director of stadium operations, who oversaw the conversion. So did several city officials, including Joe Martz, the city managing director.
The Phillies are in charge of smoothing the dirt on the cutout sites; NeXturf is in charge of laying the turf; and the city is in charge of painting the lines, which was not done until just before game time.
Those entities contended that the field was playable. The players, coaches and the NFL disagreed.
"This is an embarrassment for our city, for our franchise, that we, as players, have to be put in these kinds of conditions," said cornerback Troy Vincent, an Eagle since 1996. "It was just way too risky for us as players to be playing on that surface. "
How could this happen? How could a situation be so ineptly handled?
Nobody's saying . . . for sure. But certainly, as Eagles coach Andy Reid determined, "Somebody didn't do their job. "
Here's how, according to several concerned parties, the grass disaster came to pass:
Sunday night, Monday morning, Monday afternoon: The NFL contacts the city, which owns the stadium, to voice concerns that the first-ever conversion of NeXturf from baseball to football was going badly. The city responds that the field will be fine by game time.
Monday afternoon: Despite the history of bad episodes, no one from the Eagles inspects the field.
Monday, 5:30 p.m.: Players arrive at the Vet for their first gander at the new stuff. They remark that the area around the cutouts is inconsistent underfoot and that the seams where the cutouts meet the regular turf are, like the old AstroTurf, raised and dangerous. (The same company makes both AstroTurf and NeXturf.)
5:45: Reid inspects the field. He returns to the locker room, displeased; his star running back, Duce Staley, is returning from a foot injury to this stuff?
6:05: Former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski, now an ESPN reporter, walks along the field chatting with Ravens coach Brian Billick - who stumbled on a 3-inch gutter around one of the cutouts. Billick, who already has lost two starters to injury this preseason, fumes that his players will not play on the field as is.
6:15: The grounds crew frantically tries to smooth and solidify the area under the cutouts. The game is pushed back from a 7:35 start to 8:05.
6:46: Kicker David Akers notes that the untouched cutout surface is much shaggier than the weather-worn, player-pounded surface that the Phils have played on. "I need a molded cleat for the [shaggy] stuff," Akers said, "and a wet-weather shoe for the rest of it. " Wonder if players will be allowed to change shoes as the play progresses?
7:00: The teams take the field to warm up.
7:23: Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa and Vincent, the teams' representatives from the players' union, confer with Reid on the sideline. The trio then exits the field via the Eagles' tunnel.
7:26: Vincent and Siragusa return to the field and confer with the officials, complaining about the field.
7:28: The conference moves to the west end zone.
7:29: Vincent, Siragusa and referee Tom White head to White's dressing room.
7:32: Reid and Billick join them.
7:33: DiMuzio heads to the meeting, too.
7:36: Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, steamed, heads for the meeting - but not before saying, "In the new stadium we maintain and operate everything. We got that in writing."
7:41: The teams return to their locker rooms (for good).
8:00: Anthony Vail, the Eagles' facilities manager, exits the big meeting, deposits a few whispers around the sidelines and disappears.
8:03: The Ravens' equipment crew starts emptying water coolers on the sideline and packing the Ravens' gear.
8:04: The 45,000 fans emit one large, groaning boo. "I hope," said one sideline staffer, "that they throw soft things."
8:05: The Eagles' equipment crew begins to dismantle their sideline.
8:09: An announcement booms: "Tonight's game has been temporarily suspended."
8:15: A rowdy fan in the 500 level throws a couple of half-empty plastic beer bottles onto the field. The police arrive to subdue him - and are barraged by a shower of bottles themselves.
8:24: Another announcement: The game officially has been postponed.
8:28: DiMuzio, Allison, stadium director Greg Grillone, Eagles groundskeeper Tony Stewart (who does not work at the Vet) and Martz convene at the third-base cutout. They will stand there with four or five other guys in a small circle for almost an hour, yakking on cell phones (with each other?), looking at the ground, putting their chins in their hands. At one point they will peel back the turf; they will stand on the stuff underneath it; they will roll it back.
8:53: The Daily News pulls a nail from the carpet at the sideline. The head was protruding about a quarter-inch from the turf.
9:21: The meeting at third base ends. The NeXturf contingent repairs to the bowels of the Vet for its own meeting.
9:25: Grillone exits the field, makes for the press elevator – and finds it stuck between the first and second floors. He secures a huge key and tries to open the doors. You can tell he's done this before.
9:30: Reid and Banner join Stewart on the field. Reid, who is a large man, looks peeved enough to eat a small child. Banner, who is a small man, moves to the other side of the group.
9:32: Reid moves toward the west end zone and demonstrates how a player fielding a kick might stumble backward over the seam.
9:37: Reid mimics a grounds crew member tamping dirt, suggesting, no doubt, that some tamping should have been done.
10:22: Allison, Martz and Grillone convene for a press conference. At it, Allison, who apparently lacks neurons on the soles of his feet, calls the field a "smooth, playable surface. "
Martz contended that "the best thing to do is get professionals in here and tell us what's wrong. "
He said that with two NeXturf employees at his elbow.
12:07 a.m. this morning: Allison, Stewart, DiMuzio, Grillone, Phillies president Dave Montgomery are among the dozen experts now on the turf. They have rolled back the rug over the pitcher's mound. They are standing there; some are stomping; some have their arms crossed; some have their hands on their hips.
They had arrived at no solution . . . but, as Martz assured everyone last night, "The bottom line is, we're going to rectify this problem. We'll stay here all night. "
We'll trust them on that.