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What a mess, NFL.
And just think: It could have been way worse.
The quick decision by the league on Tuesday to bolt from Mexico City — scrapping the threat of a potential disaster — wasn’t really much of a choice.
Imagine if Todd Gurley or Patrick Mahomes tore up a knee while sliding around on a sloppy field at Estadio Azteca on Monday night.
Or if Jared Goff, Tyreek Hill and Aaron Donald simply refused to play.
No, the no-brainer decision to move the “midseason Super Bowl” between the Rams and the Chiefs to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was essentially made for the NFL, in consultation with the NFL Players Association, when transposed against the integrity of the game and safety of the players.
There’s no wiggle room there. The NFL, with a litany of bruises to its image in recent years, couldn’t dare risk the possibility of blowing this one after it became apparent that the field conditions were atrocious.
Yet it makes you wonder: A little more than two years since horrendous field conditions forced the cancellation of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, how could the NFL even come close to staging a game at a stadium with a shoddy field.
I’m guessing someone checked the schedule and figured the Shakira concert couldn’t be an issue. The concert was on Oct. 11 — five weeks before Chiefs-Rams. But reportedly, the concert left the natural grass field shambles. Add a few soccer games and apparently too much rain to the mix, and it comes to this different type of audible.
The particular venue in Mexico City, by the way, is notorious for its turf issues. Sure, the Patriots and Raiders played there last season without a blip, but people who closely follow soccer know the reputation that now has a fresh chapter.
Here’s to contingency plans. And a quick about-face … to avoid egg-on-face.
As reports and the turf-monster photos circulated early on Tuesday to document the crisis, the NFL stood firm in declaring that it planned for the show to go on. Given the NFL’s ability to turn wheels in a pinch, it seemed plausible. (Quick, get George Toma on a jet. Toma might be 89, but he’s only semi-retired, having worked the last Super Bowl).
Think again. Despite the work that began to re-sod the field, the plug was pulled later on Tuesday.
No need to risk having the Rams and Chiefs hit the field for pregame warmups, only to discover that the surface wasn’t of NFL quality after all. Besides, rush jobs tend to escalate risk.
Remember, the Hall of Fame Game? That fiasco in 2016, days after a concert, included a sticky surface caused by the painting for logos and markers. On that night, the NFL tried to wait it out, failing to quickly cancel the game while fans in the stadium bought concessions and souvenirs, thinking they were set to ultimately see the “B team” versions of the Packers and Colts.
In this case, there won’t even be a temptation to force it.
One of the hard lessons that the league took from Canton revolved around outsourcing field management services that contributed to the issues. At this point, it’s unclear how the field management services were handled in Mexico City.
But another takeaway from Canton was the pledge by the NFL and NFLPA to seek better methods for testing the quality of fields. As questions about field conditions ramped up this week, the NFLPA dispatched a field inspector to Mexico City.
Yet by the time the inspector arrived on Tuesday, the game — which was designated as a Rams home game — was already switched to L.A.
The ramifications could be significant for the NFL’s efforts on the international stage. It’s one more reason for coaches or other detractors from teams to loathe games in non-NFL stadiums. And given the plans that just went awry for fans who pegged Mexico City as a “destination game,” just think of the costs that are sure to come in settling legal issues that will flow from this.
At least the big game will go on — 1,500 miles away.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
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