Flynn's Focus

January 17 – Some fields are better than others, but Philadelphia's playing surface is considered one of the worst in the National Football League. What do the Bucs think about the NexTurf inside Veterans Stadium? Do the Bucs feel the playing surface for Sunday's NFC Championship showdown could affect the outcome of the game? Find out the answers to these questions and more in this installment of Flynn's Focus.

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If you watched last Saturday's Falcons-Eagles game in person or on television, you probably couldn't help but notice how many Falcons players slipped on the Philadelphia's playing surface.

Whether it's the team I'm rooting for or not, as a football fan, I never want to see a player that's running a good route slip and fall before he even has a chance to haul in a pass from the quarterback. I don't care to see a defender that has great coverage slip and/or fall and a allow a completion due to lousy field conditions, either. I watched entirely way too many Falcons defenders and receivers get tackled by the NexTurf inside Veterans Stadium last Saturday night and I can't help but wonder if the Bucs might have the same types of problems this Sunday.

So, are the Bucs worried? After watching the game film from last Saturday night's game, most of the Bucs players agreed with my observations and shared my concerns about Philly's field surface.

"It's horrible," Bucs running back Michael Pittman said of the NexTurf inside Veterans Stadium. "It's absolutely horrible. I'm not making that out to be an excuse, but it's bad. It's a hard field. It's flat and if you see game film you'll probably notice some glossy spots on the field. That's because the field turf is completely flat. If you see Seattle or Chicago's field, those are nice, soft grass turfs. I don't know if they don't take care of their field or what, but it's not the nicest field to play on."

Pittman obviously speaks from experience. He played on this form of artificial turf twice as an Arizona Cardinal in 2001 and once this season when the Bucs played the Eagles on October 20, 2002.

To make matters worse, the field surface can become even more difficult to play on when Mother Nature doesn't cooperate.

"It's a artificial surface and it's not grass, so it really doesn't give too much," Pittman said of the turf. "Hopefully it won't rain or something because that could make it a little worse and could make it a little slick. But other than that, they've got to play on the field like we have to."

Sunday's forecast in Philadelphia is calling for a game-time temperature of 28 degrees with partly cloudy skies and a slight chance of rain and/or snow.

This, of course, does not bode well for the Bucs, who are not used to playing on NexTurf. But the Bucs, who will depart for Philadelphia from Raymond James Stadium on Friday at 3:00 p.m., will get to test the field out Saturday when they hold a walkthrough practice at Veterans Stadium.

"The thing I like that Coach Gruden is doing is we're going up there a day early," said Tampa Bay cornerback Dwight Smith. "All of us guys can get out there and get our footing together and find out what shoes we want to play in."

Veterans Stadium used to have Astroturf as its field surface, but that too was regarded by Eagles players and the rest of the league as one of the worst playing surfaces in the league. So, prior to the start of the 2001 season, the groundskeepers ripped up the Astroturf and replaced it with NexTurf.

It was a great concept, but as it turns out, the NexTurf did not prove to be much of an upgrade. No wonder they're building a new stadium. The players for both teams have to constantly worry about keeping their footing, but are injuries a concern, too?

"You don't go into the game thinking you're going to get hurt at all," said Pittman. "But that's not the safest field to play on. I think it's one of the worst fields to play on in the league. But at the same time, we're not thinking about that. We're thinking about winning this game. Those guys have to play on the same field we have to play on, so we just need to go out there and get the job done."

While the playing surface is unsafe and tough to play on, some players feel they're better off not thinking about it.

"It's pretty bad," Smith said of the playing surface. "But if you get caught up with saying it's bad, then it's going to treat you like it's bad. I've never had a problem with getting my footing out there."

Perhaps I'm more concerned about the playing surface inside Veterans Stadium than the Bucs players are. In fact, I can say that complete confidence. After all, I have never played football on the NexTurf inside Veterans Stadium. The Bucs players have, however, played on Philly's NexTurf three times and two of them were in the playoffs.

If the Bucs feel the playing surface will not play a role in determining the outcome of Sunday's NFC Championship Game, I have to believe them. But if Bucs players sport the same cleats the Atlanta Falcons players wore in Philadelphia last Saturday night, this game could quickly turn into an Icecapades exhibition for the Pewter Pirates.

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Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/

This story is intended to be read only by Club Insiders only and Sharing of the Club content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.

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