There's a saying amongst groundskeepers to this effect: If nobody is saying anything, everything is great.
Hundreds of thousands of people tune into Browns' games each fall and winter, and while they watch whatever quarterback has been left holding the hot potato at the time, they are also watching Chris Powell's handiwork. But they're not talking about it.
Powell, 47, is the head groundskeeper for the Cleveland Browns and has been since 1999. That means he's the man in charge of the turf down at the stadium as well as all the turf at the team's practice facilities in Berea.
"At both locations, I basically designed the fields myself," he says. "At first, they didn't let me design the field for the stadium — there was also a time crunch — up to my specs. Basically, for the NFL, you take the United States Golf Association's specifications for golf greens and that's what you work with. It's pretty much sand, with a little peat. I also added 10 percent clay to the mix to help with stability at the practice facility. We didn't do that at the stadium and there were issues from the first game. There was no stability. It's thin-cut sod, and it was late June, and it was a very hot summer in 1999. We had some issues with rooting and had to resod and redo it for the next season."
Since then, however, you haven't heard so much as a peep about the playing field not being up to par. And Powell says they haven't had to do a full resod of the complete surface in seven years, though the middle of the field, prone to the most wear and tear from 300-pound bodies, does get fresh turf throughout the year.
What does it all entail? Traveling with the team and making sure any surface they set foot on has the right hardness standards, checking the weather more than a meteorologist, organizing plans for any special events that'll be hosted at the stadium and thus affect his precious sod, and dealing with fickle kickers.
"Phil Dawson's a great guy," says Powell of the departed Browns kicker. "I don't want to say we had a love-hate relationship, but ... . He had very good success in Cleveland. We had lots of conversations through the years. He'd want to know how much sand was at the top of the soil, how that changed what cleats he might wear, he'd ask about the top dressing of the field — he was very in tune to everything we did."
Back when he got out of high school, Powell's dad told him to get a job for the summer. So he got the best job he could find: working at a golf course. He saved up, went to the National Guard, went to Central Missouri State and got to work on athletic fields and golf courses and network. Which is how he got hooked up with the Browns' groundskeeper back in 1992. He was in Cleveland for a year before heading to Kansas City to work with groundskeeper guru George Toma, a legend in his line of work who has been the groundskeeper or assisted with groundskeeping at every single Super Bowl since the first one in 1967.
"I learned the high intellectual end of groundskeeping from some of the people I've worked with and the old-school stuff from George Toma," Powell says. "I like to think I've come to a sort of balance."
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