"Sodfather's" Super Bowl Dreams Sidelined

Although the banner didn't exactly say "mission accomplished" - and the governor of Georgia wasn't wearing a flight suit – Phillip Jennings' "Super Bowl Bound" banner would still become one of those regrettable, premature celebrations.

"You don't get in this league by being the best. You get in this league of laying down sod for the Super Bowl by being the best of the best," Gov. Sonny Perdue said on Jan. 4.

Perdue had flown here to Jenning's sod farm in east Georgia to brag on the sod and drive the tractor for the ceremonial first cut of Super Bowl turf. This was a big deal. In the nearby town of Soperton, it was all anyone could talk about.

"They're all gonna be watching the Super Bowl and they're all going to be watching to make sure that grass does us good," a waitress said.

A hairdresser called it the "best field ever."

Best field ever. That's what they promised, and for good reason. Phillip Jennings - also known as the "sodfather" - had spent two years growing the grass. His company had invested more than a quarter million dollars and 15,000 man hours into mowing, fertilizing, and micromanaging the minerals.

Then came January 5th. A line of thunderstorms flooded Jennings' sod field. They still tried laying it in Miami days later, but NFL field director Ed Mangan said it was just too wet.

"The soil make-up, it's grown on a sandy soil, so you add a lot of water and it won't hold together," Mangan says.

So Jennings Turf was out, and Southern Turf Nurseries was in. It was a huge coup in the highly competitive sod industry. Southern issued a press release saying it "saved the day." Company owner Eddie Woerner said he's so sure his grass will hold together that he will "personally eat any piece of turf that comes up off the field."

Meanwhile, Jennings refuses to concede this turf war.

"I am in the game," Jennings says.

Because it wasn't part of the playing surface, the NFL left a few patches of Jennings out of bounds.

"Can you do without sidelines at the game? I think if you make it to the Super Bowl, everybody that's there is a star," Jennings says.

The guy sure knows how to cover up a brown patch.
  • Melissa McNamara

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