As head turf manager for the Denver Broncos, Chris Hathaway is the man responsible for making sure Sports Authority Field is always in pristine condition.
Hathaway, who is also a member of the Sports Turf Managers Association, talks Stadia through a five-week plan he and his team executed earlier this year, giving an insight into the pressures and challengers facing those tasked with caring for the field.
In the life of a head turf manager, time is of the essence. Having a stretch of five games in five weeks really puts the pressure on me to come up with a plan, execute that plan and make sure every blade of grass is as perfectly positioned as possible.
The Denver Broncos’ pre-season started August 11 against the Chicago Bears in the Windy City. A week before that game, our crew had already begun working on maintaining and preparing the field for our first pre-season home game against the San Francisco 49ers on August 20.
With two full-time assistants, in addition to 10 seasonal employees who start in August, making sure the entire crew knew their roles and what we needed to get done each day was vital. It’s crucial we don’t have any miscommunication on specific tasks, especially when it’s a day where the weather is cooperating. With this stretch taking place during a favorable time of year, we were able to take advantage of not having to combat the weather in addition to any normal day-to-day issues.
Creating a painting schedule was something necessary for our crew to make sure the field looked as crisp as possible. Having ample time to paint and re-paint without overdoing it prior to the game on August 20 really sets the foundation for the rest of the season.
Something we were cognizant of was the fact that we would be hosting a college football game on September 2. There isn’t a time all season where the Broncos will have three straight home games, so making sure the field was ready to handle the wear and tear put on it for the third straight week was our primary task.
We did not paint a midfield logo nor any end zone logos for either teams. This was mainly due to the fact that immediately after the game we would have had to paint over all three areas, considering the NFL season opener was right around the corner. Preparing for the game against Carolina in which even more attention will be placed on your work is a unique opportunity that not everyone gets to experience.
Having essentially five days to prepare for that kind of audience is daunting without proper preparation. The crew and I understand the task at hand and went about our work like it was any other week. While other professions took Labor Day Monday off, we were out on the field painting. The day of the game was hectic with all of the media shooting on-field shots as we made our finishing touches.
With the Broncos winning the game in such dramatic fashion, coming back from a halftime deficit and securing the win on a missed field goal, all of our hard work felt even more justified. Another positive from having a Thursday game is the amount of time you have to prepare before the following game on Sunday. We could allow the field to rest, so to speak, before preparing for the final leg in our five-week journey.
Organizing our efforts for the game against the Colts was more about fixing the damage from the NFL opener while making sure to continue being gentle with the playing surface. If there was an area of concern, we left it alone to allow the grass to recover before painting or mowing that specific section. With a longer timeline, there wasn’t as much last-second touching up as for the previous game, and our normal routine sufficed considering it wasn’t a primetime game.
Again, our hard worked paid off in the form of another Broncos win and thus our five games in five-week journey ended with a 2-0 regular season record.
The world of a sports turf manager is similar to that of an athlete. While there is time to celebrate accomplishments during the journey of a season, preparing for another test right in front of you means the preparation and hard work starts as soon as your head gets off the pillow the next day.
November 3, 2016