Changing field of play

CHARLOTTE - When the Atlanta Falcons descend on Bank of America Stadium on Sunday to take on the Carolina Panthers, the stadium will look much like it did when the Falcons visited a year ago.

Amazingly, it won't look anything like it did a week ago.

"The Falcons won't know that the ACC Championship Game was played on our field last week," director of stadium operations Scott Paul said. "We're back to what we know and do best for Panthers games."

After the Panthers' last home game, Nov. 13 against the Tennessee Titans, stadium staff began preparing Bank of America Stadium for the Dr Pepper ACC Championship Game, scheduled for Dec. 3.

They could go ahead and paint one of the end zones with Clemson's name and school colors, knowing that the Tigers had clinched a berth in the game, but they weren't able to begin preparing the other end zone until Virginia Tech wrapped up its spot on Nov. 26.

In addition, they had to add five other logos to the field, most notably the title game emblem at midfield in place of the NFL shield.

That was the most visible part of the transformation, but in some ways just the tip of the iceberg for the stadium.

"I've been working here for 15 years, and the ACC Championship Game more than any other non-Panthers event we've had at the stadium takes the most collective effort," Paul said. "You've got the grounds crew, maintenance, the broadcast folks, stadium operations, food and beverage, ticketing, marketing, football operations, scoreboard operations – it really does touch every corner of the organization.

"People are excited about the event and jump in and are happy to participate. Folks are so great about it, and the ACC is outstanding. They know how to put on a championship game, and we have great synergy with their staff and our staff."

Once the game - a sellout for the second consecutive season – was over, the work was only beginning for the grounds crew.

Sunday, they began the process by removing the logos at midfield and the 25-yard lines, literally moving earth to begin returning the field to how it typically looks for Panthers games.

"We have a machine that grinds the top of the grass off to a certain depth," explained Tom Vaughan, in his 14th season as head groundskeeper at Bank of America Stadium. "When you take out the old sod, you've got to make sure the hole depth is the same as what you're going to put in. That's the biggest thing.

"We have to totally go back to the NFL paint scheme – restencil the end zone with Carolina Panthers lettering and put the NFL shield in the middle and the Panther heads at the 25s. We'll paint a black background in the end zone to cover up the college teams. It's a busy week before it and after it."

December on the whole is hectic for Vaughan and his seven-man crew. After the final home game Dec. 24 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they'll have to transform the field again in time for the Belk Bowl on Dec. 27.

"That's a tight timeline," said Vaughan, whose crew will have to work Christmas Day to get the job done. "December is always a pretty rough month, but the other side of that is that the ACC game is such a big deal for us and the city that we don't mind it – and the bowl game, too. Plus, I like doing college games. It's a different atmosphere. The NFL is great, but I like doing college games, too."

It looks like Vaughan will have plenty more opportunities to prepare the field for college games. The day before the ACC title game, the conference announced that Bank of America Stadium has been selected to host it in 2012 and 2013.

Paul doesn't want it to stop there.

"We're very thankful to get two more years, and our goal is to continue to tweak it and get it better so that the ACC wants to make this the permanent home for their game," Paul said. "It's a great event for Charlotte and a great event for the stadium."

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