5-29-04, 10:30 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
With hundreds of tons of crushed stones raked across the bowl, the Paul Brown Stadium field's facelift has moved into its second stage with the transformation from natural grass to FieldTurf set to be completed by June 30 when the carpet is installed in the third and final phase.
With the arrival of a synthetic surface, the options have widened for more high school and college games, including the possibility of hosting this year's Ohio Division I prep playoff regional double-header on the weekend of Nov. 13, as well as future college bowl games.
Getting a look Friday at the field in transition were NFL TV boss Dick Maxwell and top producers from ESPN and ABC as they prep for PBS' first two prime-time games ever in the first two months of the season. Jo Ann Ralstin, the Bengals director of technology, led a tour of the equipment that is going to help beam the Sept .19 Sunday night home opener against the Dolphins and the Oct. 25 Monday night game against the Broncos nationwide.
The cameras are going to catch a field on which the Bengals believe is going to be the league's most compelling and dynamic logos. The leaping tiger at midfield and end zones streaked with orange and black stripes,
along with the block-lettered word "Bengals," are going to be permanently cut into the carpet during the final phase. That stretch could begin as soon as late next week.
"We've gone from a green oasis to the Sahara Desert, and now it looks like a New England beach," said Bill Connelly, the Bengals business manager. "Eventually, it's going to look like a green oasis because it's going to look just like grass."
After ripping out the grass with its clay and sand mix, the crushed stones are now being smoothed out to provide a base and good drainage for the carpeting. When PBS decided to keep its heating system intact, it joined the Ravens' M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore as the only synthetic fields in North America that have such a system.
That call was made after reviewing the events of last Dec. 7, when the Bengals played the Ravens at M&T and the Giants played the Redskins at their place in The Meadowlands on synthetic surfaces.
"The weather on the East Coast was pretty much the same that day. Cold and wintry," said Bob Bedinghaus, the PBS manager. "But when we played in Baltimore, the heat made the field seem like it was a beautiful fall day. The Giants' field was harder and not as consistent."
After the crushed stones are in place, more than 40 rolls of carpet, each 180 feet long and 15 feet wide, are going to be rolled out and sewn together. The carpet consists of 2.5-inch pieces of synthetic fiber that is tuft through polyurethane backing every three-quarters of an inch.
"It's the same process that they use for carpeting that's in your home where they tuft yarn," Bedinghaus said.
After it is stretched out, a combination of frozen crushed rubber and sand known as "in-fill," is pushed into the carpet with giant brooms. That layer should take up an inch and three-quarters, leaving three- quarters of an inch of fiber on top of the field.
All of which means the Bengals can literally play any game at any time, day or night. For instance, there is no way PBS could host college's Ohio Classic on Sept. 18 and then open the Bengals' home schedule against the Dolphins the next night on a grass field.
And there's no way the stadium could host three prep games on Sept. 5, one of which pits likely Ohio pre-season No. 1 Colerain against Anderson High School in what Bedinghaus hopes is the first of an annual Labor Day weekend staple. Combined with the other estimated 150 yearly stadium events that range from wedding receptions, high school proms, charity events, walks and road races, PBS has a calendar much bigger than the "just-10-days-a-year," once feared.
"Other events have already played a big role here, and the surface opens up the building to even more of our community," Bedinghaus said.
Other possible future events without needing to replace the surface could include concerts, as well as large festival-type gatherings. The stadium did look into hosting the Army-Navy game, but it didn't happen because the series has such strong roots in the Baltimore-Philadelphia corridor.
With the University of Cincinnati's move to the Big East, Bedinghaus could see some of those games at PBS if UC is willing. He also thinks there is a chance the stadium could host a bowl game or a college conference championship game, although he knows it's a long-shot because of the climate.
"But it wouldn't be because of the facility," Bedinghaus said.