When it comes to late-season football, it can feel like there are three teams playing: home, away and Mother Nature.
The McMahon Stadium field crew in Calgary knows a thing or two about big games and bad weather.
The pressure is on to have the turf looking and feeling perfect ahead of Sunday’s Grey Cup game, especially after last year.
The icy conditions at the 2018 championship at Commonwealth Stadium saw players slipping and sliding across the turf.
“Everybody’s a little bit gun-shy because of what happened in Edmonton last year,” Phelps admitted.
He attended the game as a fan and was concerned about the playing surface from the start.
“I walked by the locker room before the game and a couple of the Stampeders yelled, ‘Don! Don! Get out here and do something with this field!’ But I didn’t drive my tractor up there, so I couldn’t help them,” Phelps said.
Some athletes switched out their footwear in hopes of getting a better grip.
“Guys wearing regular cleats are just falling down,” Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell said at the time. “You can’t wear them.”
The end result was a massively entertaining Stampeders win, but the playing conditions were a concern for the CFL.
Following the game, the league put out a statement.
“The teams performed well and the game certainly produced a worthy Grey Cup champion,” the statement read. “But it was obvious the field was slippery. While the teams chose to practise indoors this week, the field was groomed on a regular basis. However, with temperatures fluctuating for days, moisture accumulated near the base of the turf and ultimately froze.
“Weather and challenging playing conditions have long been a part of late-season football. But we do plan to sit down with manufacturers and stadium operations staff this off-season to explore what else could possibly be done in the future to improve the playing surface in such conditions”.
The CFL has since hired an outside consultant in hopes of preventing conditions like that in the future.
Sunday’s weather is looking promising for playing conditions, but people working with the McMahon crew say they’re ready for anything.
“They’re telling us it’s going to be a whole lot better — obviously — than it was for the playoff game,” Phelps said. “But it’s Calgary, so that is subject to change.
“We’re on guard and ready to react if we have to.”
Phelps believes his crew has set a league-wide standard in prepping the field and that CFL fans can expect the best.
“I just don’t want anyone to come here and say, ‘Well, we would have done better had the field been better.’ This field is always playable and we take a great deal of pride in saying that.”
New additions at McMahon Stadium
While McMahon is considered ancient to some, officials are hoping the new heated corporate suites elevate the stadium and bring about a more comfortable environment.
Grey Cup Festival chair Mike Franco said the new additions are a way to bring the stadium in line with other newer, fancier stadiums like those in Regina and Winnipeg.
“The reality is McMahon is old,” he said. “When you talk about other stadiums, that’s what new stadiums do — they have this great space for hospitality. They have clubs, they have suites.
“We just don’t have that at McMahon so this is our attempt at to try to bring ourselves up to the standard that people are used to seeing at Grey Cups.”
Franco said feedback from past years has led to the addition of more washrooms and expansion of the concourse.
“We tried to take as many fan feedback as possible to say: what do we need to make sure the fan experience is great?” he said.
“We’ve taken the four corners where you would normally enter and expanded to add a great deal of square footage, added over 200 washrooms, more retail and food opportunities.”