Shaggy Longhorn

My own humble effort at a shaggy dog.

A year ago, Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium (DKR-TMS), the football stadium for the Texas Longhorns, switched from Bermuda grass to FieldTurf, the latest version of artificial grass. FieldTurf is an interesting combination of silica sand and rubber. It provides durability while having the “give” of normal grass, improving safety for the players, and is being put into stadiums around the country.

This is just the latest turf change at DKR-TMS, which has gone back and forth between real grass and artificial turf several times over the years.

The one constant had been the head of the maintenance crew, Dutton. He had been running things at the field level for longer than anyone can remember.

Dutton made no secret of his preference for real grass. He would tell anyone who would listen about how much better a playing surface grass was. If you let him, he could spend hours explaining how no artificial turf could replace the look, feel, and yes, smell, of real grass.

He loved that smell so much, that he often drove the lawnmower himself, even though he had a whole team of people to do this for him. As those of you who live outside the big city certainly know, there’s nothing like the smell of fresh cut grass.

Nothing feels like grass either. Dutton loved it so much, that he often worked the field in his bare feet, just to feel the blades between his toes.

The Bermuda grass that had been installed in 2002 was Dutton’s favorite of any of the turfs installed at DKR-TMS. It was thick and soft, and had this amazing drainage system that could handle rainfall rates of over two inches per hour without pooling.

Dutton loved this grass so much that he would occasionally fall asleep on the field. The nights in Austin are usually warm, and the stadium is locked when there’s not a game, so the stadium administration knew he was safe. And he had been with the administration so long that his behavior, even if a bit eccentric, was accepted.

When Deloss Dodds, the UT athletic director, decided to switch to FieldTurf, Dutton was devastated. He lobbied to keep the grass, even appealing all the way to Texas governor (and Aggie) Rick Perry.

It was all for naught. The field was going to go to be converted to FieldTurf.

Dutton went into a depression from which he never really recovered. When the time came for the final cutting of the Bermuda grass, Dutton drove the riding mower himself. He drove as slowly as possible, savoring every inch of the job.

His team stood on the sidelines, watching this final ride in silence.

When he was done, he turned off the riding mower, laid down in the grass, and died of a broken heart.

He was buried at the Texas State Cemetery with full honors for the decades of service he had given to the state’s beloved Longhorn football team. On his tombstone, it reads:

He who lives by the sward, shall die by the sward.

(c) 2010, Brian P. Combs.

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