In 1970, the use of artificial grass in athletic stadiums was sweeping the country. By that summer the Monsanto company of St. Louis had laid astroturf down at 25 college stadiums. During the 1970-71 football season only two schools in the Southwest Conference, Baylor and TCU, would continue to play on real grass and Rice played only two games on it all year.
In early July, Brown & Root, which had constructed Rice’s stadium in 1950, began preparations for the change. It seems odd today, when a change in playing surfaces isn’t a particularly emotional experience, but at the time this set off a small but significant wave of nostalgia. In an article about the new surface in an internal Brown & Root newsletter, the author lamented the “hauling away of sod which held memories of the heroic feats of Owl All-Americans such as Dicky Maegle, Bill Howton, Kosse Johnson, King Hill and Buddy Dial.” Once Brown & Root scraped off that hallowed sod, it was redistributed to improve playing conditions at the practice field (the site of the old stadium), the soccer field, the outfield of the baseball stadium and the intramural fields. (About 2,500 cubic yards were moved.) The tarp that was used to cover the grass during rains was sold to Spring Branch ISD for Tully Stadium.
After the grass playing surface was scraped clean, six inches of crushed limestone was laid. This was followed by asphalt, spread with amazing preciseness to ensure that there were neither bumps nor dips. When this was finished, Monsanto took over from Brown & Root. They installed the sponge, significantly thicker than the one used in the Astrodome, and finally the turf itself, with “blades” longer than what was installed in the Dome. The whole operation cost about $300,000 and was part of a half million dollar package of improvements to the stadium that also included new lighting and air conditioning in the press box.
I started looking at all this because I stumbled across a box of slides that document the entire process, pretty much from start to finish, ending with a close inspection of the work. If I were a nicer person I probably wouldn’t find this last slide so hilarious, but I can’t look at it without laughing. It looks like somebody lost a contact lens.