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Oklahoma grass the real MVP of this weekend's NFL Conference Championships

A football sits on a turfgrass field.
Jean-Daniel Francoeur

When four teams play for the NFL Conference Championships on Sunday, they’ll be stepping onto football fields with Oklahoma roots.

The NFL’s final two playoff games will take place at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium and Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field, both of which use turfgrass varieties developed at Oklahoma State University.

OSU’s Turfgrass Science Division has released nine types of turfgrass over the past three decades. Kansas City uses the NorthBridge variety—a classic released in 2011. The Eagles play their games on Tahoma 31, a newer grass from 2019.

Both NorthBridge and Tahoma 31 are varieties of Bermudagrass, which is prized on lawns in warmer parts of the U.S. but typically struggles in cooler climates. The turfgrass team at OSU interbreeds different grass species to improve their resilience to drought, cold and wear.

“It might take ten, fifteen years for an individual new grass variety be developed,” said Dennis Martin, a professor and turfgrass specialist at OSU. “But we've got the machinery well-oiled and really rolling now, so there's a new one put out every few years.”

These Bermudagrass varieties create a dense, springy and hardy playing surface, Martin explained. But during the winter when those grasses aren’t at their prettiest, field managers can seed ryegrass on top of them to create a camera-ready green.

Half of the NFL uses turfgrass in their stadiums rather than artificial turf, but JC Tretter, retired Cleveland Browns center and president of the NFL Players Association, said he believes it should be more.

“NFL clubs should proactively change all field surfaces to natural grass,” Tretter wrote in a letter last November, citing statistics showing that players sustain fewer foot, ankle and knee injuries on natural grass.

It’s not just the NFL that relies on OSU’s turfgrass—golf courses, softball fields and private lawns use varieties developed in Stillwater. The grass has even transcended college football rivalries.

“For our crimson and cream folks down the road, we've had a couple different OSU Bermudas on their field,” Martin said.

According to theOSU Turfgrass Science Division webpage, turfgrass is a $40 billion industry across the U.S. and a $1 billion industry in Oklahoma.

“It's almost getting difficult to watch professional football or baseball on the weekend and not see at least one game played on OSU Bermudagrass,” Martin said.

Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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