Twenty-eight Bears players were asked whether they would prefer Soldier Field’s grass surface be replaced with artificial turf, an artificial/natural hybrid or left as is. Here are the results:
12 Leave it alone
7 Artificial turf
2 Don’t care
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
While the Bears have gained respect during their five-game winning streak, the reputation of the field they play on also has been gaining traction — or losing it.
It’s the same old sod story heading into Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots. Talk to players around the league or those inside the Bears’ locker room, and they’ll tell you the playing surface at Soldier Field is the worst in the league.
“You know, the turf is what it is,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “With our speed, we’d like to get something a little bit tighter. We probably have one of the worst fields in the league at this point. We did last year, as well. We’ve got to deal with it, and our guys know it. They’re aware of how to cut and how to move on it, so we’ve just got to go out there and play.”
Soldier Field may be the league’s worst, but that doesn’t mean Bears players want the team or park district to do anything about it. On the contrary, the majority of Bears players, when asked whether they’d prefer to play home games on natural grass, artificial turf or an artificial/natural hybrid surface, said they’d keep the field as is.
“I like it the way it is because we know what we’re dealing with,” safety Chris Harris said. “It gives us an advantage. We know the conditions. Both teams play on it, but we’re more aware.”
That advantage could surface again when the Patriots visit. Although the field has been resodded since the Bears’ last home game, the Patriots’ precision offense relies on quick cuts by diminutive receiver Wes Welker and running back Danny Woodhead, which could be difficult given the field conditions and a forecast that calls for possible near-blizzard conditions.
“I’ve heard it’s not in that great of shape and they’ve resodded it, so you’ve got to just get there, get used to the field conditions and just be sure you’re ready for them and whatever conditions you’re playing in,” Welker said.
The long-running argument that the Bears under Lovie Smith are built for a faster track has never been more compelling. From top to bottom, this might be the fastest team in the league.
Mike Martz’s offense relies on receivers making cuts that will put them where Cutler expects them to be.
Johnny Knox and Devin Hester rank among the fastest receivers in the league. Kick returner Danieal Manning and running backs Matt Forte and Chester Taylor rely on speed and quickness to make big plays.
“Granted, I’m biased, but I like to stick my foot in the ground and change directions,” said tight end Greg Olsen, who prefers artificial turf.
Sure footing is even more important on defense, where Smith’s scheme requires smaller, quicker players who rely on a first-step advantage.
As compelling as those arguments might be, there’s no debating the Bears have enjoyed an obvious home-field advantage in recent games.
Receivers slipping contributed to two Brett Favre interceptions in a 27-13 win Nov. 14 over the Vikings. In a 31-26 victory over the Eagles two weeks later, cornerback Joselio Hanson slipped when Knox made an inside-out move. Knox used his own nifty footwork to get inside the right pylon for a 20-yard touchdown.
Quarterback Michael Vick, who one Bears player said wore turf shoes instead of cleats, also slipped on at least one occasion, with the result favoring the Bears.
“You see a lot of guys on other teams falling,” Bears receiver Earl Bennett said. “We slip in practice, but come game time we know what to do to stay up.”
Nobody is expecting changes at Soldier Field any time soon. Team president Ted Phillips has said he’s awaiting ongoing studies on player safety before making any decisions. The park district maintains the stadium as a multipurpose venue, and other events require grass fields. That the Prep Bowl was held there before the Eagles game contributed to the field being torn up for that game, but the tradition of high school football at Soldier Field predates the Bears by nearly a half-century.
Hybrid surfaces such as the one at Lambeau Field aren’t practical at such a busy venue, which means the status quo may be the best — and only — alternative.
“Leave it the way it is,” linebacker Nick Roach said. “It messes them up more than it messes us up.”