Monday, August 11, 1997; Page A16

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AN IMPORTANT part of Jack Kent Cooke's legacy to Washington was his declaration that the Redskins would play on natural grass in their new stadium. None of that abominable artificial stuff that began to spread over American playing fields in the '60s and is only gradually being extirpated like so much stubborn crabgrass. You do have to wonder, though, as workmen lay the sod at the new Cooke Stadium, about whether "natural" is the right word here.

Yes, it will be real grass and real earth (if a carefully mixed combination of sand, topsoil and peat can be called real earth), but beneath it will be not only an elaborate and very expensive drainage system but a vast system of boilers and pipes carrying warmed liquids to heat the soil and keep the grass green year round. The grass, by the way, will be the hearty Bermuda strain. In Baltimore, meanwhile, the Ravens' publicly financed new stadium will have something called SportGrass, a mixture of synthetic and real grass that the Redskins decided was too expensive for them. The Ravens will also have a heated field, of course; nothing's too good for the taxpayers of Maryland.

Heaven knows what Knute Rockne would think of all this (heaven may have gotten quite an earful from him on the subject) or for that matter the many NFL veterans still with us who played in the days when a big part of the football field was reduced to dirt fairly early in the season and everyone gloried in the manly muddiness of it.

A more disturbing thought, though, is what will happen if this expensive new grass-growing technology gets into general use. It raises the possibility of a truly horrifying escalation in competitive lawns: year-round mowing, spreading of fertilizer during February ice storms, flowers and strange-looking animals popping up in the middle of January, and bugs that never go away, including, perhaps, a new strain of perennial fleas as big as sparrows. The winners will have the odd pleasure of a green Christmas on a front yard that looks like Ireland. The losers will have to declare bankruptcy and cover their property with AstroTurf.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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