BABINECK ON TEXANS: Texans deserve first-class field

Updated: October 7, 2003, 3:13 PM ET

HOUSTON -- Reliant Stadium is by almost any measure a first-class building befitting its $449 million price tag.

The 70,000-plus seats and 192 suites are first-class, and so are their views of the field. The concessions and restrooms are modern, easily and comfortably accommodating large crowds. The training facilities for the players, both inside the stadium and across the street at the practice bubble, draw raves from visiting players who wish they had such a nice home.

Then there's the grass.

The Texans' field, natural grass planted on more than 1,200 metal trays each sized 8-by-8 feet, looked great in the team's 19-10 inaugural victory against Dallas a year ago but already was starting to turn brown by late September.

SMG, the company that manages Reliant Stadium and is responsible for the $3 million tray system, reduced the number of trays used on the field and added more trays that can be stored outside the stadium in the sunlight to keep it looking fresher.

It still looked OK on Sept. 28, the Texans' last home game before their bye week and a trip this weekend to Tennessee. All the trays currently are being freshened up outside the stadium gates -- moving the field is an expensive proposition but necessary because not enough sun gets into the stadium -- so the first big test of the improved system will come Oct. 19 when the Jets come to town.

The Texans are hopeful the field won't devolve into the ugly patchwork of dark greens, light greens, gray-greens and browns it became last year. But they're hedging their bets too: General manager Charley Casserly was on hand last week in New Orleans as SMG let Saints players test two types of tray-mounted artificial turf that could replace the Superdome's aging AstroTurf carpet.

Casserly and the Texans are officially mum about the field situation, though the team clearly is concerned if the general manager is off scouting plastic grass instead of football players. Safety and playability haven't been issues like they were years ago on the worn carpet at the Astrodome in the 1990s, but the image-conscious Texans desire a telegenic playing surface.

If SMG can keep the current grass trays replete with green grass as the days grow shorter this fall and winter, then maybe it will pass Super Bowl muster. If SMG and Turfgrass America, which grows Reliant's grass, are hopeful the trays will be ready for the big game on Feb. 1, they weren't saying Tuesday: Neither returned a call from The Associated Press.

It's clear why SMG would like to make the current system work. New trays of Astroplay or FieldTurf, the two brands the Superdome are considering, would cost another $3 million and would mean scrapping a surface that's just 2 years old.

But if it's not working, it's not working. When the glass ceiling of the Astrodome was painted to reduce glare and the real grass underneath it died in 1965, the Astros faced reality quickly and by the next opening day Monsanto Industries had installed its Chemgrass product, by then renamed AstroTurf in honor of its first major sports client.

Reliant Stadium wouldn't even have a roof if not for its partnership with the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, which demanded one for its wintertime events. The Texans went with a retractable system and a translucent cover with hopes there would be enough sunlight to maintain grass, but the high stadium walls still keep it too shady for grass growth.

The status quo will do if SMG can maintain a top-notch playing surface by keeping it outside more often than last year. If it doesn't work, then SMG should follow the Astrodome's lead generations before and go artificial.

A first-class stadium deserves a first-class field, regardless of what it's made of.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index