Martz's greatest show will have to be on grass in Chicago

If Mike Martz’s arrival in Chicago leads to a reincarnation of the Greatest Shown on Turf, the offense will have to get a new name. It will have to be called the Greatest Shown on Natural Grass.

That is because the Bears have made a decision not to switch to an artificial surface at Soldier Field, something that has been discussed in the past year. Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune reports that team president Ted Phillips recently met with Chicago Park District general superintendent Tim Mitchell and instructed him the team is not ready to make a change.

"The Chicago Bears will always put a premium on player safety," Phillips said in a statement to the Tribune. "Each year we will continue to discuss the pros and cons of grass and infill surfaces, and then make a decision."

The Bears say they are waiting a completed league study to look at injuries incurred by players on infill playing surfaces. The park district, which owns and operates the stadium, was interested in a change despite a busy summer schedule.

What is interesting is that the Bears players aren’t too sure about the safety of the grass surface the team has been playing on. In the most recent biennial survey by the NFLPA, 52 Bears players surveyed ranked Soldier Field as the worst natural grass surface in the league. Overall, NFL players ranked it as the fourth-worst natural grass surface, ahead of only Pittsburgh, Oakland and Miami. The Bears players were asked what they believed contributed to the shoddy surface. More than 40 percent responded the grounds crew, a joint venture between the park district and the team. More than 34 percent replied ownership, meaning the McCaskey family.

There was a tripleheader of prep games at Soldier Field before the team’s final preseason game last summer. The field was in terrible shape and tight end Desmond Clark came out and said so, ripping a game surface in September.

“What the hell is the park district of Chiacgo doing when it comes to taking care of this field,” Clark wrote on his blog. “They have to re-sod the whole field before we play Pittsburgh, which will lead to loose turf. Basically, to sum it up in a sentence, we have one of the worst fields in the NFL and there are no excuses why the Chicago Bears, of all teams, should have to play on such a bad surface.”

The park district would foot the bill in a switch to an infill surface such as FieldTurf or AstroPlay and it would cost less than $2 million to make the switch. When you consider the cost of re-sodding the field as often as the park district has done in recent years, a switch to a synthetic surface would be more cost effective in a short matter of time. But if the Bears then wanted to change the playing surface again, they could potentially be on the hook.

A busy summer of events at the stadium may provide an even greater challenge for the park district. Keeping high school teams off the field might be one place to start considering their games don’t generate revenue to justify tearing up the surface like a major concert would.

In the meantime, Martz will have to plan a high-scoring offense on what could be a slick grass surface at times.

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