Remember playing backyard football and heading inside for refreshments, grass stains everywhere?
Or playing in high school in the rain, with mud and grass and water flying everywhere? Those were the days.
Since the early 2010s when artificial turf became mainstream, traditionalists have harped on the benefits of natural grass, while youthful recruits and new age fans have extolled the benefits of the speed of turf.
Four Irish players, either this season or in the lead-up to this season, have torn their ACLs, presumably on artificial turf, during games or practices, and are out for the season.
Eli Raridon. Bo Bauer. Kevin Bauman. Avery Davis.
Two tight ends, a linebacker, and a senior captain wide receiver. All are out for the year with lower leg injuries, including Raridon this week in practice.
The debate rages on regarding artificial turf versus natural grass. Notre Dame Stadium had natural grass until 2014, when under former head coach Brian Kelly, after 84 Irish seasons on natural, iconic grass, it made the change to the rubber and eternal green of artificial grass.
When grass was “in,” the Irish would grow the grass long – in theory, to slow down opponents such as former USC running back Reggie Bush, when during his 2005 Heisman campaign and in the “Bush Push” game, he ran for 160 yards on 15 carries, an average of 10.7 yards per carry, for three touchdowns and a 45-yard run against the Irish.
“Rudy” had Rudy running pretend punt returns on the field as the sprinklers ran and Fortune tilled the ground.
Natural grass was iconic, and it left stains to show you just how hard you worked.
Turf, it seems, only leads to more injury.
This week, Raridon went down with an ACL tear – the fourth this season.
According to the NFL Players Association:
“Based on NFL injury data collected from 2012 to 2018, not only was the contact injury rate for lower extremities higher during practices and games held on artificial turf, NFL players consistently experienced a much higher rate of non-contact lower extremity injuries on turf compared to natural surfaces. Specifically, players have a 28% higher rate of non-contact lower extremity injuries when playing on artificial turf. Of those non-contact injuries, players have a 32% higher rate of non-contact knee injuries on turf and a staggering 69% higher rate of non-contact foot/ankle injuries on turf compared to grass.”
Turf wears on the body more. It hurts the joints and has less give. Grass gives. Turf does not.
While the Irish suffered yet another artificial turf injury this week with Raridon’s season-ending ACL tear, they play on. Senior captain Avery Davis had been a stalwart in the wide receiver corps. Whether he opts to apply for a seventh season remains to be seen, but he certainly could have helped out the struggling and inconsistent offense this season.
ACL injuries have been fairly frequent on the artificial turf for the Irish in the recent past. Current NFL player and former Irish star Drue Tranquill tore his ACL in 2015, when celebrating a pass breakup in the end zone. Six Irish players were out that year with lower leg injuries.
In 2021, there were 56 ACL tears in the NFL, including 53 on artificial turf.
Head Coach Marcus Freeman wants a hard-nosed, smash-mouth football team that relies on its offensive and defensive lines. He continues to push the “trenches” as the team’s identity.
History tells us those teams come from toughness, grittiness, and forces of nature.
It’s time for grass stains again – natural and authentic.
Even if it doesn’t slow the other team down, it’ll help with the health of the Irish, and that’s what’s important and natural.