Unsure footing has 49ers stealthily replacing Levi’s Stadium turf
The live Levi’s Stadium feed on the San Francisco 49ers’ website has gone dark, all to hide the fact that the 49ers are making some sort of emergency switch to their playing surface.
The team’s special strand of Bandera Bermuda was planted in Santa Clara in April, but after just a handful of uses, the 49ers walked off the stadium field on Wednesday, continuing work at the team’s next-door practice facility, and local television crews used a helicopter to catch a glimpse of crews ripping out grass in the $1.2 billion stadium.
Coach Jim Harbaugh pulled the players from the open practice on Wednesday after chunks of sod kept giving way during drills. The issue wasn’t new, as Broncos players noticed the slippery sod during Sunday’s first preseason game in the venue, leading the grounds crew to replace patches of sod in 1-by-3-foot segments on Tuesday, according to local media.
But what the 49ers have planned for the turf isn’t known. The team declined to comment to Edge on the plans, sticking with an official statement: “We have determined the appropriate measures necessary to have the field ready for Sunday and look forward to hosting the San Diego Chargers.”
Those appropriate measures may or may not include Bermuda grass any longer.
Jack Hill, the 49ers project executive for Levi’s Stadium, told Edge weeks before the stadium’s Aug. 2 opening that the Bandera Bermuda was chosen because it was a “hearty tolerant strain” of Bermuda grass.
But the four-month-old sod covering 2.5 acres apparently didn’t take root as needed. Replacing sod, especially in heavily used football stadiums, is nothing new. Teams grow replacement sod commonly for replacement during off weeks. But that usually happens late in the season, and not with brand-new turf used only a handful of times.
With Levi’s Stadium hosting the Chargers in a preseason game on Sunday, a high school football doubleheader on Aug. 29, an international soccer friendly on Sept. 6 and the 49ers’ regular season home opener against the Chicago Bears on Sept. 14, the 49ers have little time to get their Levi’s Stadium footing.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.