Ron Wolfley's Ode to Mother Gridiron
by Ron Wolfley
There are many things about the Cardinals new home that make me want to be twenty-three again. Strike that, my friends. There are many things about life that make me want to be twenty-three again, especially when I look at Cardinals Stadium. If only one could reset the clock, buckle it up once more, pop the mouth-guard in and call the opponent names – hoping to get punched in the face in front of an official. Those joyous, magical days of personal attacks and personal fouls are greatly missed.
Speaking of great, Cardinals Stadium is the crown-jewel of the National Football League
, my friends. There is nothing like it in the world of football, the envy of all who call the Blood-Sport business. And don’t talk to me about other “state-of-the-art” Stadiums, either. Although Hunt Construction is involved in building other facilities around the country, complete with super-pillars, high-tech electronics and a retractable roof, the similarities end with the architecture and playability of Cardinals Stadium. For example: Reliant Stadium looks like an airplane hangar and Cardinals Stadium looks like a Picasso. Other stadiums sport Field-Turf (which has the consistency of Paul Calvisi’s hair) and Cardinals Stadium has Real-Turf (which has the consistency of…grass).
You can talk about the design of Cardinals Stadium, the sight-lines, the scoreboard, the shimmering panels, the retractable roof, the AC and Sportsman’s Park all you want – and for good reasons, I might add – but the feature I like best is the playing surface: natural grass, baby!
The fact it’s in a massive cookie tray (Betty Crocker Field? Alert the sales staff!), wheeled into the theatre of battle, is a major bonus. It reminds me of all things ancient, like gladiators rolled in on chariots, waiting for Cesar to take his seat so they could start the hacking. Although it wasn’t much fun for the hacked, the hacker became legend – victorious in competition. And football legends, today’s gladiators, will compete on the grassy plain of The National Football League’s le Coliseum. With ten-NFL games a year (not counting playoffs), Super Bowls, Fiesta Bowls and BCS Championship games scheduled to play in Cardinals Stadium, the Basin of the Sun will see some of the greatest players to ever knock another man on his butt. Make no mistake, you of the Dirty Bird Clan, they will come and great deeds will happen inside The Mother-Ship. Hopefully, for Cardinal fans, some of these legendary acts are performed by Cardinal players.
Although I have been accused of being dramatic and theatrical from time-to-time (who, me?), give me this moment to release my joy for the Great Green Plain:
The grassy field, Mother Gridiron, yearns for cleat-covered feet to play, to compete, to battle for her approval – caring little for any damage her presence may cause. She is alive. She will grow again and be whole, waiting for the next twenty-two. She is an open field as clearly marked as her demands. Her game – this game of football – loves the wretched, strokes the vile and comforts the fierce. They know her touch, hear her voice and call her by name. Like a new-born baby nursing, she cradles the French Uppercut, nourishes Rib-Shots, and gives warmth to the dreaded Hand-to-the-Face. She is a gentle consenter and a brutal dissident. She is beautiful and terrible, the mother of mayhem. She is the open field calling her sons.
My sincerest apologies but…man, I love grass! There’s nothing like playing the game of football on grade-A, high maintenance, freshly-cut grass. Give me an open field, a man in a helmet holding a cut of pigskin, three-hours of daylight and I’ll give you flying teeth, dirty hands, bloody faces and enough smiles to fill a stadium. The call of the open field touches us all, pricking our necks like dry-cleaning tags on an Oxford.
But what makes grass so brutally wonderful?
For me, it starts with the smell. Musky and organic, a football game on natural grass reminds me of the here, the now. I can’t tell you exactly why this is so, I can only tell you that it does. Scientists tell us the sense of smell is closely tied to memories and, I imagine, this is why I equate football with grass. To this day, the smell of water, grass and dirt remind me of game-day. Where’s the ball and who wants some?
Natural grass tastes good, too, certainly better than the synthetic, rubber-balls in Field-Turf. Many times, after a header into the grass, a combination of dirt and finely-cut chlorophyll exploded through my facemask, hurling debris into my screaming mouth (Yes, I was a screamer). The taste was, and is, unforgettable. After getting up, making sure I got the number of my attacker, I would do whatever I could to clean my mouth, hoping to get a rinse. But other times, when it got thick out there and the blood was on the boil, I’d leave it in my mouth, grinding it between my teeth, waiting for payback. Dirt is good grinding material, reminding me of the savage injustice done to my person, sticking in my teeth like the player’s number in my head. Rubber balls are bad and only remind you that you’re not playing on natural grass. Remember this.
Now, I don’t want to alarm parents but playing football makes a person bleed (you probably know this). Playing football on natural grass makes a person get dirt and grass on his uniform. Sometimes, if the person gets lucky, a bloody hand gets wiped on a particularly dirty, grass-stain – mixes together – and forms a living, biological Badge of Participation. I call it a “Blirt:” two-parts blood, one-part dirt, mix thoroughly and let stand for 30-minutes. To players at the point-of-attack – where the fur flies – these badges are coveted merchandise on game day. To some players – and I’m not saying it’s me, although I saved a few of my favorites in a humidor - having blirts on the uniform are highly significant, dare I say profound:
I bleed, therefore I am.
Of course, you may not be ready for a blirt-badge. Maybe, during a pick up game on the weekend, a good old-fashioned grass-stain is what you crave. This is acceptable football protocol – perfect for church picnics and office outings. But you must remember – and this is critical - always keep your stains on the front of your clothing, not the back. Some guys look like they’ve been making “grass-angels” on the field which is fine if you haven’t played and want to look like you have. Just remember to do them face-down.
None of this would be possible without the retractable-field of Cardinals Stadium. Trying to play football in Arizona without the aid of air-conditioning is like staging a hunger-strike in a Sauna. Not so long ago, playing football on natural grass in a dome was unthinkable – cavemen, throwing rocks at the moon.
Now, all we need to do is fire up a 75-horsepower engine, open a lid, and slide the worlds-biggest-grass-cookie into a 63,000 seat cooler. When we’re done, we’ll just take the field out, let the grass recuperate with that “growing thing,” and then slide her back in next Sunday. Brilliant!
Cardinals Stadium is a Modern Marvel. When I see pictures of the place my jaw goes slack and I wipe my mouth, knowing the Great Green Plain lies behind those shimmering panels. I’m simply amazed: still a caveman, but now, only staring at the moon – thanks to Betty Crocker.