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Local Sports

Toma is Super Bowl turf guru

The Pressbox

Turf is up.

Sunday will be Super Bowl history. Sure, the two teams — Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks — bring a lot to the table. But, it’s the arena of the event that is historic.

This year’s Super Bowl is being played outside in a cold-weather stadium, which is a first. There was the 1972 game, Super Bowl VI, played at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. That year the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins kicked off when it was 39 degrees.

The Broncos and Seahawks are playing at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey Sunday. Snow, cold temperatures will be in the mix for this year’s NFL championship contest.

Speaking of the turf, I know one of the best turf guys in the world. No kidding. George Toma, who was the head groundskeeper for Kansas City’s Truman Sports Complex — Arrowhead Stadium and then Royals Stadium. Even artificial turf needs attention, Toma always said, and he was there to supervise the change for both stadiums to natural grass.

I met Toma when I was at Kansas State University in the KSU Marching Band. The Pride of Wildcat Land performed a halftime show in the outfield at a Kansas City Royals’ playoff game in the 1970s. The band always performed at one Kansas City Chiefs’ football game each year. Phil Hewett, director of the KSU band, became quite good friends with Toma, which meant all of us knew him also.

Toma is considered the guru of Super Bowl turf. He has worked every Super Bowl since the first one in 1967. Sunday is Toma’s 85th birthday and he has been working along side the team to have the MetLife Stadium field, which is an artificial playing surface, in prime shape no matter the weather conditions.

Crews have been practicing this week the removal of massive snow from the stadium in New Jersey. Toma and his son Ryan Toma are working with NFL Super Bowl field director Ed Mangan and the crews.

Ryan Toma talked about the “dry run” of snow removal this week. He was quoted as saying, “Now, if it snows on Super Sunday, we’ll be ready and we’ll know what to do,” Ryan said. “Wait a minute, let me re-phrase that. I meant to say when it snows on Super Sunday — and you know it will snow — we will be ready for it.”

I struck up a passing friendship with Toma once I began covering the Royals and Chiefs as a sports writer and photographer. We’d say hello and talk a bit. The first time I was on the sideline at a Chiefs’ game, he came up to me and told me to be careful “these guys don’t stop for anybody.”

Toma officially retired from full-time work in 1999. He continues to work as a consultant for sports facilities and their groundskeepers around the United States. In 2001, Toma, also referred to as the “God of Sod,” was presented with the Pioneer Award for innovative contributions to professional football by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Toma underwent an aortic valve replacement in June, and after five weeks in a Kansas City hospital and months of cardiac rehab, he is back in his familiar role of overseeing the preparations for the NFL’s premier event.

MetLife Stadium’s playing surface has been kept warm and dry under a giant tarp. There is a drainage system but not a heating system underneath it. With Toma on the job, the teams will have the best possible playing surface conditions.

As for Super Bowl XLVIII, which team will win — Denver or Seattle? Not sure. I’m not sure which I’m cheering for yet either.

HERE AT HOME IN IOWA, the weather outside has been up and down while action in the gyms been heating up. Postseason play for high school winter sports is right around the corner. Look for a story on all area postseason action in the Daily News later this week.

Newton’s boys swimming team wraps up regular-season competition this week with two home meets, tonight and Thursday. The Cardinals have next week to tune-up for the regional meet on Feb. 8. The state meet is Feb. 15.

Newton and Pella Christian’s bowling teams work toward regional action Feb. 18. Newton hosts a regional at Cardinal Lanes.

Wrestling teams at Colfax-Mingo, Lynnville-Sully, Collins-Maxwell/Baxter and Prairie City-Monroe have Class 1A and 2A sectional tournaments Feb. 8. District tournaments are Feb. 15. Speaking of district wrestling tournaments, Newton hosts a Class 3A district tournament Feb. 15.

Basketball regional and substate pairings for the girls’ teams were announced this week. The district and substate assignments for boys’ teams are set.

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