Ravens vs. Eagles in Vet Embarrassment

In 2001, the Ravens got ready to play the Ravens in a preseason tilt. The teams got to the stadium, got dressed, and then nothing happened. The team had to cancel a preseason game because the already terrible Vet turf was even worse than usual, and the Ravens refused to play on it. Thus set off a series of unfortunate events, and a condemnation of the field from Joe Banner.

Some disappointed fans, among the estimated 45,000 in attendance, smashed will-call windows and other areas outside the 30-year-old stadium. Six people were arrested for unruly behavior, and that was just one problem.

The press elevator then got stuck between the first and second level while a news conference took place. There were no injuries, but 18 people waited 41 minutes to be let out….

…”It was completely unanimous from everybody’s perspective,” Eagles president Joe Banner said. “The field is not suitable to playing.

“We’re disappointed. We’ve been going through this for years. It’s not acceptable. The conditions this team is forced to play in is absolutely unacceptable and an embarrassment to the city of Philadelphia.”

In fact, the Eagles were hoping that the Vet was going to be nicer in 2001 than it was the year before. It was the first facility to ever get Nextturf installed. Unfortunately, therein lied the problem. Since it was rather new, the people installing it didn’t realize that it was tough to fit it properly over the segments of the field that were also used for baseball, and that’s why they had to cancel the game. Before the Nextturf, the field had been even worse. This from a 2000 article in the Orlando Sentinel.

No official body count has been kept regarding the injury toll that the infamous turf at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium has taken on NFL players over the years.

Perhaps the most tragic victim was Chicago Bears wide receiver Wendell Davis. In 1993, Davis leaped to catch a pass and landed awkwardly on the hard surface. Davis ruptured tendons in both knees on the play.

Bucs secondary coach Herman Edwards played nine seasons (1977-85) with the Eagles and never missed a game. He considers himself fortunate.

“It’s like this,” Edwards said, banging his foot on Tampa Bay’s concrete locker-room floor. “Only green.”

Actually, it’s worse these days. Stadium maintenance personnel erred last week in failing to cover the field in the days before Philadelphia closed the regular season against the Cincinnati Bengals. When an ice storm froze the field, workers treated it with calcium chloride solutions normally used to de-ice roads. The treatment left an oily residue that made the field even more slippery.

“It was on the players’ shoes, on their bodies, on their hands,” Reid said. “They couldn’t lick their fingers unless they wanted to taste that stuff. Plus, it was water resistant.”

It is somewhat amusing that some Philadelphia sports fans could never understand why the Eagles never built a winning sports franchise, at the same time they played at the most despicable stadium in sports history, as if the two weren’t interrelated. As for the Wendell Davis injury, SI wrote about it in 1993. Pretty gruesome.

Chicago bear wide receiver Wendell Davis looked over his shoulder into the blue sky above Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium on Oct. 10 and saw the football spiraling toward him. Davis, in full gallop, had Eagle cornerback Mark McMillian right with him, and the pass was a bit under-thrown. Davis figured he would have to stop, turn and outjump McMillian for the ball.

At the precise moment that Davis planted his feet to jump for the ball, his turf shoes dug into the AstroTurf and held solid, as though they were nailed to the carpet. Davis felt something snap simultaneously in both knees, and he flopped to the artificial turf as if he’d been shot. He began screaming in pain. He tried to move his legs but couldn’t. When the trainers and team doctor reached him and straightened both legs, Davis looked down to see why it felt as if someone were stabbing him in both knees with knives.

“I saw the doctor trying to find my kneecaps,” Davis said last week from his hospital bed in Chicago. “They found my kneecaps up in my thighs.”

It’s so interesting to me that while it is considered common knowledge today that artificial turf is horrific in terms of injury, less than 20 years ago, people were saying that the evidence was far from conclusive (from the same article).

Says Greg Grillone, the stadium director at Veterans Stadium, “It’s not practical to have a grass field. I haven’t seen evidence that AstroTurf is responsible for injuries. But with all the injuries this year, it does make you scratch your head.”

There is simply no question that the green concrete at the Vet was a tangible cause of increased injury, making Grillone sound like Bob Dole refusing to acknowledge the health risks of tobacco smoke. But even as fewer and fewer pro teams play on it, it is still a very lively business, and there have been incredible advancements in making it safer and more “realistic”. In fact, with giant chunks of sod flying up in the air whenever the Bears play a home game, there are plenty of folks in Chicago clamoring for artificial turf. It would eliminate the sod problem. There are no chunks of grass, it’s obviously much easier to maintain in harsh winters, and there are some studies that the newer stuff causes fewer injuries. The Packers actually play on a turf field, though you wouldn’t know it to look at it. There is, technically, no more “frozen tundra at Lambeau Field”. So while thankfully the green concrete is no longer en vogue, it is interesting to note that artificial turf is poised to make a comeback.