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Meet the groundskeeper, 92, who's worked every single Super Bowl in history

The "Sultan of Sod" has worked every Super Bowl ever played, dating back to 1967 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
/ Source: TODAY

The players on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs can rest assured that the playing surface for this Sunday's Super Bowl 55 will be pristine grass ready for action.

The "Sultan of Sod" is on the case, just like he has been for every Super Bowl ever played.

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Legendary groundskeeper George Toma, 92, whose other nicknames include "The Sodfather" and "The God of Sod," will be working his 55th Super Bowl on Sunday. He began back in Super Bowl I when the Green Bay Packers beat the Chiefs in 1967 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Toma, who was also a renowned groundskeeper in Major League Baseball for decades, spoke to Craig Melvin on TODAY Friday about his long career, the early days of the Super Bowl and what it takes to produce a great playing field.

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Legendary groundskeeper George Toma, 92, pictured at the Super Bowl in 2018, will be working his 55th Super Bowl on Sunday. Rich Graessle / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

He began his career as a groundskeeper in Kansas City in 1957, working his way up to eventually become the head groundskeeper for the Kansas City Royals and the Chiefs for much of his career.

"It started out when I was a little kid in the coal mines of Pennsylvania," he told Craig. "You had to work, and work is it."

Way before the Super Bowl was an international spectacle and the most-watched television program every year in the U.S., Toma had carte blanche from late NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle to decorate the field however he liked for Super Bowl I.

"Commissioner asked me to do the first Super Bowl and I asked him what he wanted on the center of the field, what logo," Toma said. "He said, 'George, whatever you want, you put on.'"

The sod used for the Super Bowl is grown for 18 months before being put down on the day of the game. The best grass has some crucial components, according to Toma.

George Toma
Toma touches up the green before the 1993 Super Bowl between the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Stephen Dunn / Getty Images

"The most important part of the sod is the soil it's grown on and the root system of it," he said. "And how it's maintained before you put it in your yard."

A steady playing surface is one of those things that goes unnoticed when it's done correctly. However, it can quickly become a topic of angry discussion if players start losing their footing or slipping and getting injured because the field is in poor condition.

"The cheapest insurance for an athlete, from the little kid sitting in that kindergarten chair, all the way up to the Kelces and the Mahomes and the Bradys, is the safe playing field," Toma said.

Super Bowl Sunday itself will be a hive of activity for Toma and his crew ahead of the big game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, the home of the Buccaneers.

"Actually, as far as the grass, with the grass that is already grown, you put it down, you play on it the same day," Toma said. "But the thing is, you have to put the logos in, the Super Bowl logos, painting it, and the end zones, the side lines. We painted already three times."

There will only be 25,000 fans in attendance at the 65,000-seat stadium due to the pandemic, but Toma was not going to sit this one out.

"I gotta work," he said. "I can't sit still."

Toma tries to remain neutral, but it's hard not to imagine that he will be pulling for his hometown Chiefs to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

"I can't say," he said. "They're both good teams. But people here say in your heart there's a Chiefs logo, so you know what I mean."

Toma has mentored numerous prominent groundskeepers who now work at all levels of professional sports. He hopes his legacy is that they'll all "be honest to give the players a safe playing field."

With a legacy like that, Craig could only imagine how immaculate the lawn at Toma's Kansas City home must look.

"No," he said before laughing. "I have the worst on the block."