On paper, the Calgary Stampeders appear to be a Grey Cup contender.
Now the local CFL team can only hope it looks as good on a spiffy new FieldTurf synthetic surface, installed at McMahon Stadium over the past month.
The state-of-the-art plastic grass, worth close to $1.3 million, replaces an Astroturf carpet laid down in the late 1990s.
The month-long installation was finally completed today, just in time for the Stamps quarterbacks and receivers to begin workouts and provide their evaluation.
The new surface features a rubber pellet infill, giving the stadium the distinct smell of a tire store.
Burning rubber inside the white lines was receiver Jeremaine Copeland, who gives the new surface a green light.
“Oh, it’s great,” Copeland gushed.
“It looks like a real professional stadium now. It takes away the turf burns, the slides are a lot softer and that’s what a player wants. A guy never likes playing on that hard turf. It feels likes bricks under there.”
Receiver Ken-Yon Rambo also offered his approval after the first test-run.
“The rubber pellets haven’t worked their way down into the turf yet, so the traction will get better, but right now it’s real good, even though the guys are slipping on it a little bit. You’ve got to get used to it.
"The field is excellent and we can’t wait to get on it for a real game.”
Stampeders president Ted Hellard said the investment in the new product is as much about helping lure football talent to Calgary as it is for preventing injuries.
“There’s two key reasons we wanted it,” Hellard pointed out.
“First, it will reduce injuries and secondly it was becoming an issue when we were signing players. They feel like if they have an eight-to-10 year span for their careers, they get at least one more year if they’re playing on FieldTurf.
"Players definitely feel more comfortable playing on it and, to be honest, we’re trying to create a higher, more professional image here and this is going to help. I think the fans are going to love it and the games will look more big-time.
"It looks awesome, a pretty impressive piece of work.”
Last season, the Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders, the only two CFL teams still playing on Astroturf, had the most man-games lost due to injury.
The new, more forgiving FieldTurf’s infill is made of a combination of silica and cryogenic rubber that sifts through the long strands of plastic grass to create a realistic, softer surface.
Players find the new turf is less punishing on their ankles, knees and backs.
“Any of the statistics you look at show that it has the lowest injury rate of any turf, whether it be natural grass or the old stuff, the Astroturf,” Hellard said.
The new turf is paid for through an improvement fee added to Stampeders tickets.
The yardage numbers, Stampeders logo and U of C insignia are permanently sewn into the turf.
Temporary advertising for the upcoming CFL season will be painted on the field.