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FOOTBALL 06: Ancient Eight, New Look

Harvard installs artificial Field Turf, with lights to come before year's end

By Malcom A. Glenn, Crimson Staff Writer

Throughout the history of Harvard football—the memorable wins, losses, and ties of The Game, the national championships of the early 20th century, and the Rose Bowl win some 86 years ago—the one constant has been the underpopulated, U-shaped facility known simply as Harvard Stadium. Now, thanks to a five million dollar renovation project, the stadium is about to showcase some new features: lights, cameras, traction.

The changes will come in phases—one of which is already complete. Over the summer, the familiar grass, a staple of the stadium for 103 years, was removed in favor of a new surface known as FieldTurf. According to the company that manufactures the surface, it is a synthetic system that uses sand and rubber to emulate soil and plastic for blades, taking on the biomechanical properties of natural grass. And judging from early reviews, things are working out well so far.

“I felt great,” says senior tailback Clifton Dawson after rushing for 170 yards in his first regular season game on the surface. “It felt fast, and I personally thank the Harvard athletic department for installing a great surface.”

The benefits of the surface are obvious. After a summer that showcased the unpredictable nature of Cambridge weather, it’s a welcome development that the surface stays solid, dry and tight.

“It’s a much faster surface,” Dawson says. “You feel faster, you feel confident in your footing, and those are things that are important as a running back. When you know that, hey, when I make a cut I’m not going to slip or anything like that, it just gives you more confidence to do those things.”

Not only does it play better, but it looks better. The surface, tailored to look like grass, looks, well, like grass—all year long.

“It’s spectacular,” Crimson coach Tim Murphy says. “Besides that it gives us a great all-weather, terrific surface, besides that it gives us a great indoor facility for virtually everybody in the athletic department, it’s beautiful. Probably the best thing about it is, aesthetically, it picks up the whole place.”

GOOD NIGHT, GOOD LUCK

Now that the groundwork has literally been laid, the next step is to display it properly—day and night.

“The next phase is the lights,” says Chuck Sullivan, Director of Athletic Communications. “The plan is to have [the lights] done by the end of the football season, so that we can begin to make use of them, whether it’s for football games that run long, or to begin to get some other varsity teams or intramural or club sports on there as well.”

Although the stadium will be available to everyone, the highlight for many is the possibility of night games at Havard.

“There are none scheduled yet,” Sullivan says. “The league has always kind of encouraged Saturday afternoon contests, but it’s something we’re considering doing, though there’s nothing that’s actually set in stone just yet.”

The changes are already being seen elsewhere among the Ivies.

“Brown and Princeton are playing on a Friday night this year,” Sullivan says. “That’s kind of new territory there, and we’re considering it.”

PRIME TIME

Murphy has some specific dates in mind with which to debut the Crimson’s new brights.

“What I envision, and I’ve talked to [Athletic Director] Bob Scalise about it, is to have one night game a year, either the Brown game or the Holy Cross game,” Murphy says. “You would get the whole student body down here, get them excited, and hopefully get it on TV. That’s our goal—to have a nice, early-season, September night game every year.”

This year, despite reports during the summer that construction was behind schedule, the turf was down in time for Harvard’s 31-14 opening win over the Crusaders—but not without a little bit of trouble.

“The weather slowed us down a little bit,” Sullivan says.

While laying possibly the most crucial part of the turf—the sand and rubber fill that simulates soil—rain jeopardized the field’s ability to be ready by the season’s start.

“When it came time to lay that down, that’s when we had some pretty heavy rains for about a week straight,” Sullivan says. “The rubber would have been fine but the sand would have been mud and that wouldn’t have worked. But, that was the only real delay that happened with that.”

The unfinished product will not affect the rest of the Crimson’s outdoor athletic programs, thanks to the practice bubble, which will cover the field during winter. “Right when football season ends, we’re going to work to get that up as soon as possible,” Sullivan says. “Our goal is to maximize the use of the facility.”

“The place will look great all year round and you can use it all year round,” Murphy says. “I think, for the amount of money we invested in this, it’s a grand slam. It’s going to be great for the Harvard community.”

—Staff writer Malcom A. Glenn can be reached at mglenn@fas.harvard.edu.

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