When the Washington Redskins defeated the Chicago Bears last Sunday, RFK Stadium manager Jim Dalrymple knew he had to prepare the field for one more game this season -- Sunday's NFC championship game between the Redskins and Vikings. He also knew he had a problem.
There were eight inches of snow blanketing the field, the bleachers, and the adjacent parking lots. But by late yesterday afternoon, Dalrymple and his crew of 75 had cleared most of it away.
"I don't expect any major problems," Dalrymple said. "We should have all the snow cleared out of here by Sunday. The only thing we are working on now is getting rid of the ice. That's the toughest job."
Since Thursday, the field has resembled the Metrodome, where the Vikings play their home games. Fourteen hot air blowers were placed on the edges of two of the three tarpaulins, forming giant bubbles over the surface. On Friday, it was 24 degrees inside the stadium, but about 55-57 degrees under the tarpaulins.
"The ground is frozen solid out here," said Dalrymple, stamping his foot into the ground on the unprotected sidelines. "But it's starting to soften up underneath the tarps. . . Depending on the weather Saturday, we will decide whether to keep the air blowers going until Sunday morning. If the weather warms up, we'll just put the tarps down. If not, we'll keep the air going."
The turf on the north end of the stadium is in direct sunlight and did not freeze. However, the south end and the middle of the field are always in the shade and had to be thawed.
The last time RFK officials tried to soften the turf with hot air was in January 1984, when the Redskins hosted the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs, Dalrymple said.
The tarpaulins will be temporarily removed Saturday so the Vikings can work out at 1 p.m. The Redskins are not scheduled to practice at RFK Stadium until pre-game warmups Sunday. Game time is 12:30.
"The field is in good condition, but not great condition," Dalrymple said. "By late Saturday night, I think we'll be in pretty good shape. It shouldn't be a problem for the players."
Meanwhile, workers continued to clear the grandstands of snow and ice yesterday. If it is warm enough Saturday, Dalrymple said, water hoses will be used to melt the rest. The crew has worked 12 hours a day for the last week shoveling snow from the seats and aisles for the sellout crowd of 55,750.
The parking lots are free of snow, but fans will not be able to park their cars on the grass areas surrounding the stadium. In addition, Dalrymple said the water was shut off in the stadium earlier this week to prevent the pipes from freezing.
"The fans should realize that it will be five to 10 degrees colder in the stadium so there may be some ice spots on the ramps and aisles," Dalrymple said. "Hopefully, the weather will cooperate and we won't have any problems."
The National Weather Service is predicting temperatures in the mid to upper 30s Saturday, mid 20s Saturday night, and mid to upper 40s on Sunday.