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Soldier Field Ready to Rumble

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Soldier Field Ready to Rumble

A groundskeeper touches up the paint on the Chicago Bears logo at Soldier Field on Jan. 21, 2011.

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Sept. 29, 2003: Soldier Field is reopened after a complete rebuild. In the past, it's hosted auto racing, demolition derbies, rodeos and a multitude of other events.

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There is a controversy in football circles as old as astroturf.

Nearly every player will tell you they prefer natural grass. It’s softer and much more forgiving than the artificial stuff, which means fewer bone-jarring landings, and hopefully, fewer injuries.

"Give us grass," they will say.

Except in the dead of winter.

"They want natural grass, so we have natural grass," said John Nolan, the head groundskeeper at Soldier Field.  "We feel we are maintaining it the best it can be, for the conditions and the time of year."

As the nation’s focus turns to the fabled playing surface at Soldier Field, some players have openly questioned whether it will be a factor in Sunday’s championship.

"You’re going to slip at certain times during the game," said the Bears' Brian Urlacher.  "That’s just the way it’s going to be."

The ground crew at Soldier Field maintains the field is actually in excellent shape.

"You know, it’s a northern city, it’s January," said stadium chief Tim LeFevour.  "We are one of only four stadiums left in the National Football League that are northern, open air, that have grass."

"I understand what the players say. They want the best surface. But if they really realized what they have here, they would appreciate it more," he added.

Ground crews on Friday afternoon were putting the finishing touches on the turf, including touch-ups of the field logos which required the addition of alcohol to the paint. That kept it from turning to ice the second it was applied.

Mother Nature gets a bit of high-tech help underground as well. The entire playing surface is heated by some 40 miles of pipes laid eight inches below ground.

"It’s a glycol, anti-freeze system," Nolan explained.  "The reason we heat the ground is so the footing is as good as it can be, and will dry it out as much as possible."

In a cavernous chamber in the stadium’s northeast corner, three giant boilers heat the fluid to over 90 degrees. Then it’s pumped through the tubing system just below root level.

The end result is a field which is still soft and malleable, even in near-zero conditions.

"That’s exactly what you want for a player," LeFevour said.  "Not too much give, but just enough where it’s firm, so they get good footing for Sunday."

Win or lose, the Bears will be well represented at the Super Bowl in Dallas, two weeks from Sunday.  LeFevour and his crew have been tapped by the league to help with stadium preperations at the big game every year for the last 18 years.

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