Pats plan to re-sod Gillette turf

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – Blame it on Mick Jagger, 300-pound linemen or 150-pound soccer players. While you’re at it, throw in the weatherman.

A 100-yard long strip between the hash marks of the Patriots field is a mess, a slippery mixture of sand, green dye and dirt. It has so little grass – even unfertilized suburban lawns have more – that the team plans to re-sod the section between the yard number markings before its next home game Nov. 5.

“We talked to the Patriots, let’s just put it that way,” said Tim Davey, the NFL’s director of game operations department. “We’re expecting the field to be up to NFL standards.”

The conversation occurred after last Sunday’s victory by New England in which Miami’s Olindo Mare had a 40-yard field goal attempt blocked when his plant foot skidded on the loose surface and he ended up on his back.

The Patriots may very well have re-sodded even without the league’s input. After all, their rookie kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, also had a field goal try blocked when his plant foot slipped two weeks earlier in a loss to Denver.

Those misses – and the varied green shades of the field – didn’t make for very good television.

“We will do what we can to improve it,” Patriots spokesman Stacey James said Saturday. “We were looking into all options and continue to look into all options.”

The Kraft family, owner of the Patriots and Gillette Stadium, opened the field for the 2002 season as a multi-purpose venue. The New England Revolution of MLS and the Rolling Stones also have played there. Athletes who dodge divots and shorten their strides to stay upright aren’t satisfied.

“It’s kind of like you go to the beach,” said Patriots fullback Heath Evans, who kicked up puffs of sand as he ran during the game. “We’re not happy with it and I’m sure opposing teams aren’t happy with it.”

Davey said New England is one of the toughest NFL venues in which to grow grass in autumn. That, combined with all those events, presented a challenge to the Patriots, he said.

On Saturday night, the Revolution had their 17th home game since April 30. The Patriots played two exhibition games there in August and, so far, three regular-season games before facing Indianapolis in three weeks. There was a Kenny Chesney concert July 16 and a Rolling Stones show Sept. 20.

And early last week, filming began on the field for “The Game Plan,” a movie with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kyra Sedgwick.

Any major repairs might have been undone by all that activity. So the center of the field was in bad shape for the season opener against Buffalo.

“A field like that, starting off on Sept. 10th, worn like that, something’s wrong,” Davey said in a telephone interview.

On Sept. 30, Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis faced a penalty kick by the Colorado Rapids that hit “a bad piece of ground” and went in.

“It was the same side that the Rolling Stones stage was on,” Reis said. “But, as businessmen, the Krafts have to do that, and I’m sure the Rolling Stones have made them more money than we probably did all year.”

Actually, maintaining a natural grass field may be much costlier than installing an artificial surface which needs less upkeep. The 40,000 square feet of sod the Boston Red Sox brought in at 85 cents a square foot cost $34,000 to fix the outfield that was torn up during a Rolling Stones concert in August 2005.

The Patriots also re-sodded the center strip before their first home playoff game in January 2004.

“It’s not an easy thing” to maintain a grass field, James said, but the Krafts prefer that surface and an outdoor environment, a throwback to the days before various artificial surfaces were used.

The Rolling Stones also performed at the Meadowlands, home to the New York Giants and Jets, a week after their Foxborough show. But that has an artificial surface that stayed green.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who searches for the most minute edge over an opponent, said he doesn’t think his team has an advantage because it’s used to the field.

“The field is in terrible condition. I don’t think anybody in this organization is happy about it,” he said. “It’s October. It’s not like it’s peak growing season here in New England.”

The area between the hash marks is used less in soccer than in football with heavy linemen digging in their cleats for traction.

“I’m probably the heaviest guy on the field,” Reis said. “So if the soccer players were affecting the field that much then there would be a little cutout right in front of the goal where I was standing most of the time and you don’t see that. It’s just right down in between the hash marks.”

During a break in filming for “The Game Plan” last Wednesday, members of the crew ran up and down the field throwing passes and doing more damage.

“They’ll be done by Oct. 25, I’ve been told,” Davey said. “That’s when they’re going to start redoing the field.”

Originally, the shooting was scheduled for the summer while the Patriots were in training camp. But it was delayed when The Rock ruptured an Achilles’ tendon last June.

Once the new sod is down, Davey said, the Patriots shouldn’t practice there too early, something they did after the early 2004 re-sodding.

“I couldn’t stop them,” he said.

As if the Rock and the Rolling Stones weren’t enough, he also must work with the MLS schedule. The Revolution would play on the field once after the re-sodding in the Eastern Conference final if they have the best record of the two teams that reach it.

The date?

Nov. 4, the day before the Patriots next home game.

“The hope is that they’re going to sod it properly,” Davey said. “It should hold up.”

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