Justin Tucker had missed two field goals coming into yesterday’s game: a 50-yarder against Cincinnati in Week 3 and a 51-yard try in Week 5 against the Browns. But the way Tucker’s 45-yard attempt missed yesterday (his first failed attempt from less than 50 yards after 37 consecutive makes, by the way) caught everyone’s attention, because his plant foot sunk into a wide square of turf and rolled it up like a bathmat.
OH WOW. Watch the hole that caves in under Tucker’s plant foot. How does that happen in an NFL stadium? https://t.co/tWzxC3Fevx
— Doug Samuels (@CoachSamz) October 19, 2015
— HuffPost Sports (@HuffPostSports) October 19, 2015
It’s borderline insane when you think about it. Imagine a floorboard popping up and tripping Steph Curry as he drives the lane. Or Yoenis Cespedes getting stuck in a divot at Citi Field as he pursues a sinking liner. These things would never happen, of course. Major League Baseball fields and NBA arena courts are close to pristine (during the regular season anyway, as the Warriors and Lakers could tell you after this past weekend).
Professional football is probably the sport that damages grass most easily, since men wearing cleats who weigh anything from 180 to 360 pounds cut, stomp, and get tackled on the turf dozens of times each game. And Levi’s Stadium isn’t the only field with grass that has shown signs of wear and tear. Heinz Field, FedEx Field, Soldier Field and Lambeau Stadium (during the playoffs, at least) come to mind. The Raiders and their opponents are forced to play on infield dirt in games held at the Coliseum during the first month of each season. But none of those fields are as new as Levi’s, which undoubtedly has the worst grass in North American professional sports. It’s not just patchy or unattractive, it’s dangerous.
That’s why Jim Harbaugh pulled his players off the field during an open practice last year, it’s why Jim Tomsula moved what was supposed to be an open practice to the designated practice fields a year later (after Mike Davis took a scary spill during a practice in early August), and it’s why Jerry Jones expressed concern before the Cowboys came to Santa Clara for a preseason game (he later apologized, even though it made sense for him to be worried).
We aren’t quite at a situation comparable to what used to occur with AstroTurf, when players like Mike Sherrard would suffer debilitating non-contact injuries simply because the turf acted like velcro. But even with the turf looking significantly better than it did during the preseason to the naked eye, yesterday’s incident showed that a foot-inhaling monster lies just beneath the surface. And if someone gets hurt, the mocking tweets and articles from across the nation are going to get a lot louder and angrier. For their part, the Ravens didn’t make it an issue.
Harbaugh says no consideration of formal complaint to NFL about field conditions that led to Justin Tucker’s missed fg. — Childs Walker (@ChildsWalker) October 19, 2015
Maybe the NFL has issued an edict after Jones popped off to all coaches and executives: Shut up about the turf at Levi’s, since that’s where we’re holding Super Bowl 50. It’s not like Harbaugh to keep quiet about anything that could’ve given an unfair edge to his opponent … but the Ravens made plenty of mistakes yesterday, so blaming the turf after falling to 1-5 wouldn’t be the greatest look.
“I never experienced anything quite like that,” Tucker said. “The foot just dug so deep into the ground. It really is no excuse though because we’ve made kicks where I’ve totally fallen down.”
Tucker won’t soon forget his first visit to Levi’s Stadium. As part of the halftime entertainment, three paratroopers landed on the Ravens’ half of the field, which caused Tucker to adjust his routine. He spent as much time looking in the sky to avoid getting hit as he did focusing on the goal posts.
“There were indeed people coming out of the sky, literally,” he said. “We still had plenty of kicks. There is really nothing to point to, other than myself needing to come through for my teammates and our coaching staff at a critical point in the game.”
This should come as a surprise to no one, but the 49ers aren’t interested in discussing the turf.
The Super Bowl concerns are probably invalid, since the NFL will take control of the field in the weeks leading up to that game. However, what’s going to happen in just three days, when the 49ers and Seahawks play on the same field? How about Marshawn Lynch, Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush, three running backs all expected to play through leg injuries in that game? Maybe no one gets swallowed into a sinkhole or suffers an unnecessary injury due to the grass, but it’s amazing that we’re still talking about this “crappy turf” almost a season and a half after Levi’s opened.