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Local recounts aiding behind-the-scenes field work at Super Bowl XXV

Friday, February 1, 2013

As Super Bowl XLVII approaches, Joe Gonyaw of Dyersburg recalls aiding turf specialists in Tampa Stadium in 1991 when a last-minute mishap had officials rebuilding the field the night before Super Bowl XXV. Gonyaw holds a framed, handwritten letter from 'sod god' and legendary Super Bowl groundskeeper George Toma thanking him for his efforts.
Football fans across the country are preparing for this weekend's big game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens. Local spectators are choosing sides, talking trash, and making pivotal decisions on what to serve on game day.

But even as teams were still vying for a chance to enter the New Orleans Superdome to compete in Super Bowl XLVII, turf specialists were preparing the field for the final showdown of the 2012 football season.

Preparing athletic turf is something Joe Gonyaw of Dyersburg knows a lot about.

In fact, when Gonyaw picked up the Jan. 27 issue of American Profile magazine, he found a familiar face. Gonyaw saw an old friend in an article featuring legendary groundskeeper George Toma. Nicknamed the "god of sod," Toma has helped prepare the field for every Super Bowl since the event first debuted in 1967.

Gonyaw met Toma when he worked as a sports turf contractor in Florida. At the time, Gonyaw was contracted with the University of Tampa to build its baseball, soccer and football fields.

"(I met George) when I became his subcontractor to rebuild (the turf of) the Kansas City Royals training camp in Florida in 1991," said Gonyaw. "That's where we met. That same year, George ran into a particular problem that they talked about in this article."

The article recounts how a mishap just before the 1991 Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla. had turf specialists repairing a mammoth indentation created on the field by a stage in rehearsals on the day before the big game. To repair the damage in time for the Super Bowl to begin, the crew removed sod 3 inches deep from the damaged area and transplanted 1,000 square-foot sections borrowed from the soccer field at the University of Tampa.

"I made the grass they used to replace it," said Gonyaw. "We literally laid sod on Saturday night before the Sunday game. Those 300-pound gorillas playing on new sod -- the way they kick and move -- and it stayed put. That usually doesn't happen with sod. You have to be able to anchor it."

Gonyaw has framed a handwritten letter from Toma, dated Feb. 21, 1991, thanking him for his assistance with the turf at Super Bowl XXV.

"I am extremely grateful to you for all courtesies and favors you have honored me with," reads Toma's letter. "It gives me a fine feeling to be able to express my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to you. ... It is always in this turf business a distinct pleasure and honor to be associated with men -- such as you -- who thrive to make one's work much easier and more enjoyable. ... With many, many thanks, Joe, and deepest appreciation to you for your help at Super Bowl XXV."

With his framed letter, Gonyaw keeps a copy of a letter to Toma from Paul Tagliabue, who served as commissioner of the National Football League from 1989 until 2006.

The printed letter from Tagliabue thanks Toma and "his team" for their "extraordinary efforts in preparing the fields at the Super Bowl and the Pro Bowl" in 1991. On Gonyaw's copy, Toma drew an arrow from the word "team" and hand-wrote "Joe Gonyaw."

"There are things people don't think of that they do to prepare the field," said Gonyaw. "They start four to six weeks ahead of the game to prepare the field. There is very unique equipment that they use in the preparation of it, as well as thousands of man-hours."

Gonyaw served as a golf course and athletic field contractor from 1989 until 2007. He studied his craft under Dr. Wayne Mixon and Dr. Ed Kajihiro for a combined total of eight years. He relocated to Dyersburg in 2008 and has been employed with TennLawn for just over a year.

"Professional athletics require a certain degree of expertise. I have never been one to toot my own horn," said Gonyaw. "I have worked on over 200 high school ball fields, 12 universities and built 27 golf courses."

He smiles.

"I've been in the dirt a lot."

Information for this article was also obtained from Carol Stuart's article in American Profile magazine, nfl.com and wikipedia.

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Nice to know we have a expert turfman in town!!!

-- Posted by Candyman on Fri, Feb 1, 2013, at 2:36 PM

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