January 1, 2024

While drone cameras cruised above the turfgrass field of Superbowl LVIII, offering a bird’s eye view of the bright green gridiron, Stockbridge School of Agriculture alum Nick Pappas was one of the few to have a worm’s eye view of what it takes to host the largest sporting event in the nation.

Pappas, who earned two degrees from Stockbridge (Turfgrass Management AS ’10; Plant & Soil Sciences ’12), is the newest Field Director for the National Football League. 

Pappas was the MVP for both teams in the 31 days leading up to kickoff, in charge of building and delivering the one-time-use special turfgrass field that made the whole event possible.

The all-new natural grass surface, prepared and installed on a retractable tray outside the stadium, was thoroughly tested before being mechanically rolled into Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, for the February 11, 2024 matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Super Bowl turf in hand

During Superbowl LVII in the previous year, the field received unwanted attention as it became slippery with moisture and heavily damaged by foot traffic during nonideal conditions.  That field was grown with Tahoma 31, a hybrid Bermuda cultivar developed at Oklahoma State University to withstand cold, drought, and disease.  But logistics for the 2023 event prioritized rehearsals for the halftime show and required the turf to be delivered 5 days before the game, subjecting it to moisture and humidity that led to poor performance and a lack of safety for players.

While the NFL maintains that the 2023 field in Arizona met all league standards, they also chose after the game to part ways with their long-time Field Director Ed Mangan.  The NFL then promoted Nick Pappas from his position as NFL field surface director. 

Pappas used his Stockbridge expertise to do a few things differently for 2024.

Pappas and his team took over Allegiant Stadium two days after the Raiders’ final home game on January 7.  The job started with ripping up the original turf on which the Raiders played.  On Nick Pappas' X account, he posted photos over the next 31 days, detailing how his turf for Superbowl LVIII was prepared.  The 2024 turf is Tifway II Bermuda grown in California, then harvested, rolled, and laid in a tray outside the stadium.  After being mechanically rolled into the stadium grounds and installed, a stencil tarp featuring cut-outs of logos for the NFL and both teams was laid and sprayed to produce red, white and blue color effects.

Super Bowl field stencil

Pappas and his team kept the turf outdoors and in sunlight as much as possible.  But they covered it with a tarp for rehearsals of Usher’s half-time show featuring a huge cast of dancers.  They made use of a heating coil system built into the field tray.  The heat fools grass into thinking it isn’t winter, which encourages continued growth and prevents the drying that occurs at the end of a growing season.  They also used Allegiant Stadium’s large fans to continually circulate the indoor air and fight moisture buildup.

See Nick explain his Superbowl prep process in an NFL video.

The event was a tremendous success, and the field remained in the background of most viewers minds.  But for people in the turfgrass industry, every tackle was an opportunity to evaluate—and praise—the performance of the Pappas turf.  Nick can now rest with the knowledge that he led his team to success using the knowledge and experience that started here at Stockbridge for him.

This March, Pappas will have the chance to re-connect with other Stockies in Providence Rhode Island, when he serves as the keynote speaker for the annual New England Regional Turfgrass Foundation (NERTF) Conference and Show.  The organization’s board of directors has included several alumni of the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, including Dr. Joseph Troll, a professor of turfgrass science at UMass whose name now graces the longest-running turfgrass research facility in the nation, just 15 minutes from our campus.

Our alumni manage the turf for many sport facilities across the US.

The Stockbridge Turfgrass Science degree program is #1 in New England, and #2 in the country.  At the Troll Turfgrass Research Center, Stockbridge students participate in hands-on research into the development and maintenance of turf.  Stockbridge Turfgrass majors can benefit from internships at gold courses and football stadiums, providing them with field experience for their resumes before they graduate. 

Ryan Bjorn (Turf Management ’18), and Chris Hurley (Sport Mgmt ’10, Turfgrass Science ’15), are Field Superintendent and Assistant Field Superintendent at Gillette Stadium where the Patriots play.  See a video about their work transitioning the stadium between soccer and football.  

Congratulations Nick Pappas!  We’d love to send a few student interns your way!