The Sodfather: George Toma has tended the turf at every Super Bowl game
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
This Sunday marks the 57th Super Bowl, and groundskeeper George Toma has tended to all of them - yes, all 57. Toma is 94 years old, and he's been in Glendale, Ariz., for almost two weeks, working with the NFL to get the fields ready for the big game and the halftime show. Here's reporter Greg Echlin.
GREG ECHLIN, BYLINE: While security at the game has ramped up with helicopters above and perimeter fencing around the stadium, on the playing surface, the final touches are being applied. This Super Bowl matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs is special to lifelong groundskeeper George Toma. He grew up in Pennsylvania.
GEORGE TOMA: I always rooted for the Eagles. When I was 9, 10 years old, my uncle would take me down to Shibe Park to see the Phillies play and the Eagles play.
ECHLIN: But Toma, known as The Sodfather and the God of Sod, has spent most of his adult life in Kansas City. When the Chiefs began playing there in 1963, he took over as the groundskeeper for the team. And for the past 56 Super Bowls, the NFL has tapped him to help make the sod sparkle for football's most important game. Toma says it's become a really big deal now.
G TOMA: And in those first 27 Super Bowl, we didn't spend a thousand dollars on the field for a game - and this one here, $750,000.
ECHLIN: Thomas says he keeps coming back to the Super Bowl because of the work ethic instilled in him while growing up in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. At age 16, he was the head groundskeeper of the town's minor league baseball team. Today, at 94, Toma is at the Super Bowl with his son Ryan, who is there to lend a helping hand. Ryan says his dad tries his best to be nonpartisan, but even the grounds crew leaned one way or the other.
RYAN TOMA: We were getting ready to paint the Eagles end zone, and the Eagles guys made the Kansas City guys stand just outside of it. So, yeah - couldn't go in. They wouldn't allow us in there.
ECHLIN: And when the Chiefs colors were painted on their side of the end zone, turnabout became fair play.
R TOMA: Get out of here, guys. This is ours. This is our turf.
ECHLIN: George Toma says while much of the attention will be on the game, he is more concerned about the halftime show, which will feature hundreds of performers, including pop star Rihanna, trampling the field that he cares so much about.
G TOMA: I hate to say this, but the halftime show is more important than the game.
ECHLIN: But not a task that The Sodfather can't handle.
For NPR News, I'm Greg Echlin in Glendale, Ariz. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.