MIAMI — The Kansas City Chiefs are back in the Super Bowl after a 50-year drought, but a piece of Kansas City has been present in the Big Game ever since.
Come Sunday, George Toma, affectionately known as the ‘Sod God’ will be working his 54th Super Bowl. The day marks another milestone – his 91st birthday – and he says he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Toma, considered to be the world’s greatest groundskeeper, has prepared the gridiron for football’s greatest players on the game’s grandest stage but doesn’t consider himself a legend.
“No one has ever worked for me,” he said. “They worked with me.”
The son of a Pennsylvania coal miner, Toma knew early on that working below the ground wasn’t his passion.
“When I was 10 my dad died from black lung disease,” Toma said.
Digging above ground became his first love. At age 12, he was hired as a minor league groundskeeper. He went on to work inside the Cleveland Indians’ organization, prior to taking time off to serve during the Korean War.
But his love for the green remained.
That love would lead him to moonlighting for the NFL, beginning with the league’s first Super Bowl. It took four matchups to see his native team victorious, and Toma recalled the preparation for what would become the Chiefs’ world championship field in New Orleans.
“That year we didn’t have much time,” he said. “Six days. It rained. Hard to grow grass so I took wood chips and sawdust. Painted it green and we put it on there.”
Fifty years later, gone are the wood chips. With two years of nurturing and grow lights, the grass is ready to host the Big Game and eventual Super Bowl champions.
Toma will be there, as well as NFL Field Director Ed Mangan, who continues to learn from the elder groundskeeper.
“You can’t not,” Mangan said. “Again, 54 Super Bowls. I can’t think of anything he hasn’t seen or done.”
So what advice does Toma have for those hoping the grass is greener on the other side of their lawn?
“Well I can’t get grass to grow in my yard because I experiment too much,” Toma said. “Just do the best you can. Grass grows by inches and dies by feet.”