Grass Roots

The Ravens flock to their new natural-grass field.

At the beginning of summer, Don Follett found himself thinking a lot about Beyoncé. The superstar was coming to M&T Bank Stadium, and as head groundskeeper for the Baltimore Ravens, Follett had just overseen replacement of its 13-year-old turf with natural grass. The singer’s Formation Tour would be marching right across his brand new lawn.

The stadium started with a grass field when it opened in 1998, but wear, tear, and lack of sun on the home-team sideline made it difficult to maintain. The Ravens eventually followed the modern trend and switched to artificial turf, but by the end of this past season, it became clear that the players and coaches wanted to go back to a natural approach. “Grass just has that something,” says Follett. “It feels better, and plays better. Real football is played on real grass.”

But the change means more than just a pretty 120 yards. Some studies suggest that grass might lead to fewer lower-body injuries and even concussions, a top complaint about the sport. “The players are excited,” Follett says. “At the Pro Bowl, Marshal Yanda gave me a big hug and said, ‘Dude, you’re my hero. You’re going to prolong my career.’”

In February, the old turf was torn up, and come Aug. 11, Joe Flacco will walk onto fresh Bermuda grass, kept health and green by grow lights. “It epitomizes what Baltimore is all about,” said coach John Harbaugh in December. “To me, a Baltimore football team should be playing on a grass field.”