Field of Dreams

5-14-01, 5:50 p.m.

Updated: 5-15-01, 12:25 a.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

The field the Bengals have been dreaming about gets the blue-ribbon treatment when it arrives Tuesday night at Paul Brown Stadium in a motorcade.

A convoy of about 30 refrigerated trucks is scheduled to drop off the Kentucky bluegrass in strips 42 inches wide and 50 feet long in time for workers to start laying sod Wednesday morning.

Stadium groundskeeper Doug Bradley figures the field, which begins Tuesday sleeping 10 minutes north of Philadelphia in Pen Grove, N.J., should be in place by Saturday. Bradley will oversee the cutting and moving of the grass into the trucks.

This may be Cincinnati's most scrutinized patch of grass since the last airport expansion. Gone is the Bermuda turf field that became the target of the NFL late last season, when cold weather and soft grass combined to ignite complaints from Bengals and foes alike.

The club is under the impression it is no longer facing a fine from the league for the condition of the field in the home finale, and is taking precautions to make sure the new field doesn't undergo the same duress.

In fact, youth football probably gets on the field days before the Bengals do in the Aug. 25 preseason home opener against Buffalo. Troy Blackburn, the club's director of business development, said it seeks to schedule community events earlier in the year as well as decrease traffic in an effort to get the new field entrenched.

"We're looking to accelerate the timing of youth football," Blackburn said, "so we don't damage the field the way it was damaged last year at a point in time it can't recover. The field just doesn't grow much at the end of November and in December. We're still trying to support events and have the events, but try to do it in the time of year it gives the field a better chance of survival."

The Bengals had to go with the more fragile Bermuda grass last year after the durable bluegrass field died in a drought. Blackburn said the Bengals wouldn't be able to repeat the volume of last year's weekend of Nov. 10-12, when youth games were played on the field.

"We'll certainly have to reduce the schedule from what we did last year, when there 30 plus games on the field," Blackburn said.

"We have been advised by people in the industry that when a new field goes down, we should be somewhat careful of it this year while it's still growing in," Blackburn said. "Otherwise, we run the risk of having to re-sod the field."

The early schedule is particularly rigorous for a young field. Following the youth events are the Bengals' two pre-season games Aug 25 and Aug. 30, the regular-season home opener Sept. 9, and a college game Sept. 15, the Riverfront Classic.

Bradley had hoped to have the field in by February. But the contractor, S.W. Franks of Cleveland, is making the call, as well as footing the bill.

"The weather should pretty much be perfect for laying it down," Bradley said. "It sounds like it's going to be nice and cool. They didn't want to move it in February or March because they didn't want to harvest it in winter dormancy. The key is the temperature at night."

Bradley is looking for cool nights in May and June because the field does best when the temperature is below 68 degrees. He should be OK because the average May temperature in Cincinnati is 64 degrees with the average low 53 degrees. The average June temperature is 72 degrees, but 61 for a low.

"It should be able to survive the heat of July and August," Bradley said.

WHAT'S NEXT? If the Bengals don't go after a veteran cornerback with what they have left under the salary cap (figure anywhere from $700,000 to $1 million according to numbers published nationally), then look for them to make a run at extending linebackers Steve Foley and/or Adrian Ross, both headed to free agency next year.

It's probably too early for them to run at the centerpieces of the defense in linebackers Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons. Both are first-round picks from 1998. Both have two more seasons until free agency. And both no longer have their rookie agents.

Simmons is represented by Boomer Esiason's last agent, New Jersey-based Jerrold Colton, while Spikes stayed in his hometown of Atlanta and went with Hadley Engelhard.

Engelhard, of So So Def Sports Management, specializes in getting his clients involved in entertainment and marketing and he thinks the charismatic Spikes can go a long way. He's going the magazine route next month, when he's one of Ebony's most eligible bachelors. Spikes also makes an appearance in a few weeks on BET.

WILLIAMS SURGERY: After getting a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews, Bengals fullback Nick Williams plans to have knee surgery on his torn anterior cruciate ligament. Andrews is scheduled to do the surgery May 22 in Birmingham, Ala.

"I would have had the doctors in Cincinnati do it, but it just works out better because I live in Atlanta and I'm going to need help getting around for awhile," Williams said. "Birmingham's only about a 90-minute flight from Atlanta, so that will be more convenient."

A best case is that Williams is shelved until the season's halfway point. There is some hope he could be back in time for the second half of the season.

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