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Worn down, Patriots surrender their turf

FOXBOROUGH -- Two days after the Patriots and Jets tore up the muddy Gillette Stadium playing field, team officials took the matter one step further: They had the entire field torn up for good.

Utilizing a two-week window between home games, owner Robert Kraft and president Jonathan Kraft moved quickly to replace the natural grass field with a synthetic surface, FieldTurf. The surface is expected to be ready for Nov. 26, the date of the next home game, against the Bears.

Mounds of dirt were hauled out of the stadium yesterday, as the sound of beeping trucks and tractors, and workers communicating on site, created a busy atmosphere on an otherwise quiet day at the stadium.

Team officials deferred comment until today on the change, which had been under consideration for months, although there was a feeling among high-ranking Patriots officials that every option had been explored before moving away from grass. The team had resodded the field each of the last four years, and while the preference was to stick with the natural surface, the sloppy conditions Sunday reinforced their growing belief that the best option was to install synthetic grass.

A spokesman from the NFL had previously stated that the league prohibited teams from changing the playing surface in the middle of the season, but that proved to be incorrect.

NFL vice president of public relations Greg Aiello said yesterday that the league's Competition Committee had suggested that policy as a possible rule, but it was never adopted. Aiello added that the Patriots' change was a team decision, not a league mandate.

"It was a club decision, we were notified, and we understand the Patriots' concerns," Aiello said. "We'll continue to monitor the field conditions at Gillette Stadium."

The Patriots had resodded a significant portion of the middle of the field and both end zones prior to their Nov. 5 game against the Colts. The new sod showed significant wear after that game and after Sunday's contest, in which quarterback Tom Brady lost his footing several times. Asked about the field conditions after Sunday's loss, nose tackle Vince Wilfork described it simply as "terrible."

The Krafts had considered installing a synthetic surface when Gillette Stadium opened in 2002, but expressed a preference for natural grass. A special drainage and heating system was installed beneath the surface in hopes of extending the life of the grass.

But Jonathan Kraft said recently that one unanticipated aspect made the grass field difficult to maintain.

"We knew having a very busy, multipurpose stadium, in the Northeast, would make it difficult to keep a natural grass surface in place," he told the Globe last month. "We spent a lot of time, money, and energy researching a system to do this, and we developed a system under that field, and spent millions of dollars on it.

"But unfortunately, the amount of sunlight the field gets after August isn't enough, because the stadium is tall. So the grass doesn't have a chance to recover after being used aggressively in April straight through January. No matter how good the system is underneath it, no one perfected a way to replace Mother Nature unless you go to an artificial surface. We haven't wanted to do that historically."

The decision continues a pattern in the NFL, especially in the Northeast, as Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium and Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., were recently converted to synthetic surfaces.

In all, 13 other NFL teams have synthetic playing surfaces, nine of which are FieldTurf.

The decision was met favorably by the NFL Players Association, which has held player surveys on field conditions in recent years. In the most recent survey in 2004, the Gillette Stadium field ranked 21st out of 31 NFL fields.

"We think it's important, and a really good sign that we see all NFL teams taking playing surfaces very seriously, and for the New England Patriots to take this position," said NFLPA spokesman Carl Francis. "I think it's a positive step toward player safety and health."

Last October, linebacker Rosevelt Colvin told the Globe he'd prefer playing on FieldTurf.

"I'd love for Mr. Kraft to put FieldTurf in the stadium, but I doubt he would do that," Colvin said at the time. "Just because the way football is around here. Hard-working people. Sloppy, muddy games. Snowy games. That's football. That's old-school football. I think that's one of the things people out here enjoy -- although I still would love [turf]."

One added benefit to the switch: Brady is 19-1 on artificial surfaces.

Mike Reiss can be reached at

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