All Hail the ‘God of Sod,’ Groundskeeper for All 57 Super Bowls

When the A’s left for Oakland, Calif., Toma joined the Royals, an expansion team. He worked for the Chiefs after they moved to Kansas City from Dallas in 1963 and readied fields for Olympic Games, soccer World Cups and N.F.L. games overseas. He was called on to repair distressed fields at Candlestick Park in San Francisco and Soldier Field in Chicago. When the New Orleans Saints played at Louisiana State University after Hurricane Katrina, Toma brought in airboats and used their large propellers to dry the paint in the end zones.

The Super Bowl, though, has been his greatest challenge because of its high visibility. At the Super Bowl for the 1990 season in Tampa, Fla., Toma and his crew planted seed to repair the field after a college bowl game. The grass started to fill in, but was then torn up by the Giants and Bills, who practiced there the day before the game. So Toma took grass from a practice field at the University of Tampa and planted and painted it overnight.

“He is the energizer bunny,” said Ed Mangan, Toma’s successor as head Super Bowl groundskeeper. “I mean, he just never stops, he is going all the time.”

At the Super Bowl for the 1978 season at the Orange Bowl in Miami, a 120-yard tarp was pulled on the field just before the halftime show. But it was rolled out unevenly, and one end protruded past the goal post. Toma asked if anyone had a knife so he could cut away a part of the tarp to make it fit. Several fans volunteered theirs.

The next season, for the Super Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., Toma and his crew had to remove 800 gallons of paint that had been applied to the field for the Rose Bowl. They dug up the end zones, the sidelines and much of midfield and planted new seed. Unfortunately, heavy rain the week before the game prevented the grass from taking hold, leaving piles of seeds in the end zones.

If you spend eight decades toiling to create perfect carpets of grass, eventually time forces you to hand the responsibility to somebody else. But that doesn’t mean you stop caring.

Just about every Sunday, as the Kansas City groundskeeper Travis Hogan watches the game from the west end zone at Arrowhead Stadium, his phone will ring, and he’ll see Toma’s name come up.

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