Home Field Advantage

Southern Cal Trojans LenDale White and Reggie Bush couldn t help noticing the tall turf on Notre Dame s field.  Perhaps the Irish were saluting the lush green heaths of the Emerald Isle, but when the pair of speedy running backs arrived for pre-game walk-through before their matchup with the Fighting Irish in mid-October, they found their cleats disappearing in the bluegrass. 

Now, no one is suggesting that the storied Fighting Irish would intentionally grow the grass long or wet down the turf before facing speedier teams like USC and Tennessee, but if, hypothetically,  they did, it would merely be another trick in a long line of attempts by sports teams to gain a little extra home field advantage.


Baseball groundskeepers long ago perfected the art of adjusting the playing field to the home team s strengths and weaknesses.  Growing infield grass high to help a good bunting team or wetting the basepaths to slow speedy opponents are all part of the game.  Eccentric baseball showman and impresario Bill Veeck set the bar high when purchased the then-minor league Milwaukee Brewers in 1941.  He sought to gain as much of a home field advantage for his club as he could.  In addition to flooding the infield and adjusting the grass height, Veeck even went as far as to install a movable outfield fence which he would use against long ball-hitting opponents.  Only when he tried to move the fences between innings, did he receive backlash for his efforts.


The Minnesota Twins may have used the indoor conditions at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome to help propel them to two World Series wins. A former superintendent at the Metrodome, Dick Ericson, admitted he tried to help the Twins by adjusting the ventilation system during the late innings of close games in an attempt to get baseballs to carry farther.  "If they were down two runs and you're still hoping for them to have the advantage, you'd want to be blowing all the air out and up as much as you can,'' Ericson later told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "I don't feel guilty. ... It's your home-field advantage. Every stadium has got one.''


Ericson, who worked at the Metrodome from the time the Twins began play there in 1982 until he retired in 1995, said he would turn on fans behind home plate and adjust the air conditioning. The Twins won the World Series in 1987 and 1991.  They topped the St. Louis Cardinals four games to three, with no road team winning a game, in 1987.  Ericson said the fans were blowing out when Kirby Puckett hit his dramatic 11th-inning, game-ending home run in Game 6 of the 1991 series against the Atlanta Braves, but he said he thought the ball was hit hard enough to go out without help from the ventilation system.


Even basketball teams can help create home field advantage. In the 1984 NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers were battling the Boston Celtics.  The Celtics, playing in one-of-a kind Boston Garden faced a Laker team unprepared for the 97 degree indoor temperature. The Boston Garden, which had no air conditioning at all, was miserably hot for Game 5 in early June.  Celtic players played and practiced in heat in expectation of the Sunday scorcher.  Laker coach Pat Riley demanded that the visitors locker room be fitted with air conditioning for his team.  Celtics President Red Auerbach impishly complied with the letter of the request, placing several A/C units in the locker room.  Auerbach, chewing on one of his signature cigars, said he couldn t help it if there were no electrical outlets for the units.  The Celtics Larry Bird eventually led his team to an seventh game win in LA.


Manipulation of the home advantage isn t foreign to college football.  At Iowa, former Hawkeye coach Hayden Fry had the visitors locker room at Kinnick Stadium decorated completely in pink.  Fry used the locker room as a psychological ploy against his Big 10 opponents.  The pink locker room; with pink walls, carpet, lockers, even toilets; has been an Iowa tradition for almost thirty years.  The famed pink décor has recently come under fire from feminist and gay protesters who claim the negative association of pink as weak is demeaning to them.


The Tennessee Vols seem to have lost their home field mojo in recent years.  Home losses to Miami, Florida (twice), Georgia (three times), Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina and Notre Dame since the 1998 National Championship year have tarnished the Volunteers former stellar home record.  How can the Vols reclaim some of the Neyland mystique?  Other than pink locker rooms (word is that Shula and Meyer actually like pink) are there any tricks or ploys that could be called upon to aid the Big Orange in protecting the house?


Tilting playing field


It would be a Herculeaan task for the College of Engineering, but a slightly tilting Shields-Watkins could definitely aid the Vols running game.  We all know how hard it is to stop a tailback who runs down hill.  What if he were actually running downhill?  The tilting field might also help to compensate for overthrown passes or understretched arms by receivers.  In this case we really don t want a level playing field.


Giant fan


No, not that fat guy in Section O who takes up three seat widths, but a rotary fan.  Placing a fan behind the goal post might have kept South Carolina kicker Josh Brown s fourth quarter FG from clearing the crossbar, leaving the Vols with a 15-13 squeaker.


Petros Chili and chips


Complimentary all-you-can-eat Petros and Smokey dogs for the visiting team pre-game.  All Smokey dogs sold in Neyland Stadium were personally cooked by General Neyland himself during the 1952 off-season.


Pre-game pep talk for visiting teams


Tennessee could offer a personal visit from Ralph Nader or Ben Stein to the visitors for a pre-game speech.  Fifteen minutes from either of those guys


should sap anyone of his aggression.


More cheerleaders and pom-pon squad members


While this plan may not succeed in distracting the opposition, it could at least be a pleasant diversion for Vol fans when things aren t going well on the field.


Any other ideas for a home field upper-hand are welcome.

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