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Players concerned about frozen TCF Bank surface

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Bears players have voiced concerns about the dangers of playing Monday night’s game against the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium, but they’re preparing to do so just the same.

‘‘If you’re going to preach player safety, you would think they would put you in the best conditions to be safe,” Bears safety Chris Harris said. “I don’t think an icy field is the best conditions.”

Barring something unforeseen, the league and the Vikings plan to play the game originally scheduled for the Metrodome at the stadium used by the University of Minnesota football team. TCF Bank Stadium, however, was winterized after the Golden Gophers’ season ended and does not have coils beneath the artificial turf that would prevent the field from freezing.

Groundskeepers from the Bears and Vikings are working together to prepare the surface with input from league and university officials as well as representatives from the stadium’s turf manufacturer.

As soon as about five feet of snow is completely removed from the playing surface, which officials said would be completed by noon today, heaters will be used to warm the field. A thermal tarp will cover it until game time. The St. Paul Pioneer Press has reported that chemicals also will be used to thaw the turf.

Complicating matters is a forecast calling for frigid conditions leading up to game time, when wind chills of 18-below are forecast.

‘‘The biggest concern that players have is that we want to make sure the surface is not going to create more risk than there already is in the game, especially with the NFL right now being in such a forefront for player safety,” Bears kicker and players union representative Robbie Gould said. ‘‘Obviously, playing on a frozen field will create a little more risk for players.”

League and team officials will ­inspect the field later today and are expected to deem it “playable.”

“If it passes the NFL’s inspection, nothing to complain about,” Bears cornerback Charles Tillman said. “If not, I don’t think it’s smart for the Minnesota players or for us.”

Several Bears players mentioned the potential irony of playing on a frozen field during a season in which player safety has been a dominant theme.

Several high-profile players, including Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, have suffered concussions this season. The Associated Press reports that concussions are up 20 percent from 2009, which is likely the result of players and teams taking symptoms of concussions more seriously.

The league is also in the midst of a highly controversial campaign to reduce head injuries by fining players for helmet-to-helmet hits.

“At the end of the day, you have to be safe,” Harris said. “With the NFL cracking down on player safety, fining people $50,000, $75,000 for hits because they want the game to be safer, I don’t think it’s very safe to play on a frozen field.

“It’s kind of like going outside and me trying to run in cleats and cut on a parking lot. You want to talk about player safety — Aaron Rodgers got a concussion inside a dome. Imagine a quarterback ­going down and hitting his head on that surface [at Minnesota], what it would do.”

Gould said players will not protest the league’s decision with the NFL Players Association, but many of his teammates remain leery.

When asked if he trusted the NFL’s judgment on the issue, Harris laughed derisively and said, “No comment.”

“You don’t have a choice,” he said. “They tell you what to do in the NFL. It’s pretty much a dictatorship. It’s sad, but that’s the way it goes. We don’t have a voice as far as what we feel is safe. It’s unfortunate.”

Contributing: Sean Jensen



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