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09.08.2018 08:14
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Super Bowl 52 will be played comfortably under the translucent U.S. Bank Stadium roof on a dry artificial turf http://www.eaglesauthorizedshops.com/authentic-markus-wheaton-jersey , leaving the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles without worries of traction trouble or kick-altering winds.

That doesn’t mean the workers in charge of preparing a surface that’s championship-sufficient were free from challenges.

The host Minnesota Vikings came close to reaching the big game, for one.

When they beat the New Orleans Saints with that last-play touchdown pass in the divisional round on Jan. 14, the NFL would have normally already been in takeover mode of the stadium by then. The victory by the Philadelphia Eagles over the Atlanta Falcons that weekend was a big help for the league’s exhaustive operations; it sent the Vikings on the road to face the Eagles for the NFC title rather than hosting another postseason game at their not-yet-2-year-old home.

”That would’ve really pushed us back and crunched the time,” said Ed Mangan, the NFL’s field director. ”We’ve had a few other teams in the past that got close, so you always start out with a `what if.’ You have a Plan A, a Plan B and a Plan C, and you have a backup plan for each one of those. So you’re always prepared for it.”

Then there’s the winter weather, which has its own share of the spotlight this week next to the Patriots and Eagles. Just because the game itself will be played in climate-controlled conditions doesn’t mean the crews are always comfortable, with some outdoor work to be done in the single-digit temperatures. The downtown setting, with a major hospital, several churches and plenty of apartment buildings within a few blocks of the front doors, added some urban-specific security hurdles.

Commuting to the site last week, too Kyle Freeland Colorado Rockies Jersey , could have been made trickier by a storm that dumped more than a foot of snow on the region. But the City of Minneapolis and Minnesota Department of Transportation snowplows produced a championship-caliber performance.

”We’ve never been held up getting anywhere,” said Mangan, whose team is also responsible for the practice facilities at suburban Vikings headquarters in Eden Prairie (for the Patriots) and at the University of Minnesota a short ride from downtown (for the Eagles).

So are all the preparations finally caught up?

The answer is yes, according to Eric Finkelstein, the NFL’s senior director of events.

”We’ve been talking to the team and were for multiple months, and we were able to delay the things that we knew we could afford to delay and get a jump on the stuff that we knew we had to get done, even during the playoff game run,” Finkelstein said.

Vikings fans are still decompressing from the loss to the Eagles that dashed their dream of an unprecedented Super Bowl on home turf. So having the home stadium as the backdrop for the big game could be a painful sight either on television or in person. The good news for them and their healing process is that almost all of the team’s logos will be invisible, covered by NFL and Super Bowl signage. The six-panel purple end zones have been pulled off, replaced with Patriots and Eagles paint.

”We want this to look like the Super Bowl and know that you’re here,” Finkelstein said.

The field itself remains the domain of the indefatigable George Toma, the NFL’s grounds crew master who is working his 52nd Super Bowl. Yes, that’s all of them. He’ll turn 89 on Friday, and his pride in the job is just as high as it was five decades ago.

”The cheapest insurance for an athlete from preschool all the way up to professional is a good Roquan Smith Color Rush Jersey , safe playing field,” Toma said, ”and that’s what we try to do. For the people in the stands and the people on TV, we try to give them a field of beauty and then some.”

There’s less pressure, per se, this week than four years ago in New Jersey during the NFL’s first outdoor Super Bowl in a northern site. There’s still plenty to do.

More than 1,000 performers have been on the field at a time rehearsing for the halftime show. So Toma and his crew use a magnetic rake of sorts to comb the field for any stray nuts, bolts or random wardrobe pieces that might have popped off. They use a stamping tool to gauge the stiffness of the turf every 8 feet or so, to make sure there are no dangerous soft spots. The sand-rubber mixture that serves as the artificial sod underneath the fake grass is supposed to be 1+ inches thick.

Having worked two years for the Vikings at their practice facility and served as the spring training groundskeeper for the Minnesota Twins at their baseball facility in Fort Myers, Florida, Toma has a special affinity for this Super Bowl being held in Minnesota.

”I’ve been through a lot of stadiums worldwide, but in my book I love this stadium,” Toma said. ”This is the best stadium I’ve been in. Why? Everything’s right here for you. We come out that tunnel, and we’re only 100 feet to the playing field for our equipment and for our paint and everything. Not only that Richard Rodgers Color Rush Jersey , but the people who run this stadium are outstanding, and then some.”



The ending was weird.

The postgame was weird.

At least Game 1 of what was supposed to be a lopsided NBA Finals was anything but boring. It had a little of everything: A player stumbled and buckled Klay Thompson’s knee to send the Warriors’ sharp-shooter limping to the locker room in the opening minutes; let Stephen Curry get loose for a 30-footer at the halftime buzzer; grabbed a rebound in the final seconds of regulation with the score tied and inexplicably ran toward midcourt as if he thought the game was over.

And all that was just J.R. Smith.

The opener of this Cleveland-Golden State series should have been memorable for other reasons – LeBron James scoring a playoff career-high 51 points, the Warriors having three players score at least 24 and Draymond Green nearly getting a triple-double. Instead, this game’s legacy is an overturned charge call late in regulation, Smith’s gaffes, contradictory explanations from Cleveland and hot tempers in the final seconds.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr’s assessment? ”Lucky.”

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue’s assessment? ”Robbed.”

Warriors 124, Cavaliers 114, overtime. That’s what the box score says and will forever say, and the defending champions are now one step closer to winning their third title in four years. Golden State left Oracle Arena relieved. Cleveland left angered. Those emotions will likely remain in place all the way until Game 2 tips off on Sunday night.

James wants the Cavs to put it behind them.

”We’ve got to move on,” James said. ”This game is over and done with.”

Easier said than done, particularly with two full off days to now deal with, two full off days to replay everything over and over and over and over and over again.

Let’s be clear: The Warriors aren’t here because of luck. They have a coach who has won 80 percent of his career games. They have four All-Stars in the same lineup. They have two NBA MVPs.

But they got every break in Game 1. Every break.

Start in the beginning, when Smith slipped and stumbled into Thompson’s knee. It had all the makings of some sort of knee structural disaster – the hit came from the side, Thompson twisted awkwardly Terrelle Pryor Sr. Color Rush Jersey , went down in a heap and was obviously in immediate, intense pain. Thompson limped away to the Warriors’ locker room for evaluation.

He was back in a few minutes. Big break No. 1.

”I’m happy it’s just a muscle that got strained,” Thompson said.

Then came the final seconds of the first half, when Smith went for a steal and wound up leaving Curry wide open. Curry turned, coolly buried a 35-footer as Smith slumped over with his hands on his knees and the teams went into intermission tied. Big break No. 2.

”The Finals, man, anything is liable to happen,” Curry said.

From his perspective, good things.

From Cleveland’s perspective, bad things.

Cleveland led by two in the final minute, poised to steal Game 1, when James stepped up and tried to take a charge against Kevin Durant. Referee Ken Mauer called an offensive foul, but it was overturned after replay review.

”We had doubt as to whether or not James was in the restricted area,” Mauer said.

James was well outside the area Courtland Sutton Color Rush Jersey , and the Cavs didn’t buy the explanation.

”I read that play just as well as I’ve read any play in my career, maybe in my life,” James said.

Durant tied the game with a couple of free throws awarded on the call reversal. Big break No. 3.

And with about 4 seconds left in the fourth, George Hill went to the line with Cleveland down by one for two shots. Made the first. Missed the second. Smith got the rebound, and ran away from the basket. Overtime. Big break No. 4.

”He thought we were up one,” Lue said.

”I knew it was tied,” Smith insisted.

The extra session was all Golden State. The home team left happy. The fans that packed Oracle Arena went home happy. James went back to his hotel to deal with blurred vision (courtesy of what appeared to be an unintentional first-half eye poke by Green), and the Cavaliers were further angered by Shaun Livingston following Golden State policy by taking a shot in the final seconds of a decided game instead of just getting charged with a shot-clock turnover.

”Tonight we played as well as we’ve played all postseason, and we gave ourselves a chance possession after possession after possession,” James said. ”There were just some plays that were kind of taken away from us. Simple as that.”

Many onlookers thought this series would be a rout, a Golden State coronation.

If the Warriors keep getting every break, they’ll certainly be right.



Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org
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