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Heinz Field’s playing surface a concern for Bengals-Steelers game Sunday

CINCINNATI – T.J. Houshmandzadeh did a double-take when asked yesterday if he expects better field conditions at Heinz Field this weekend.

“I would hope it’s not the same,” the Cincinnati Bengals receiver said emphatically. “If it’s the same, it’s terrible. I can’t imagine the field being the same way as it was Monday.”

The footing was about as bad as it gets during the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 3-0 victory over Miami on Monday night, when heavy rain turned a new field of sod into a witches’ brew of divots and muck.

Many of the Bengals (4-7) watched on television, knowing that they’re headed for Pittsburgh and that same field on Sunday night. The sight of players slipping and sliding around made them wince.

“It definitely looks like a lot more fun when you’re watching on TV, especially when it’s raining and cold outside,” said running back Rudi Johnson, who has reason for concern because he’s coming off a hamstring injury. “At the same time, it’s fun. It’s kind of one of those old-school (games), back in the days when you were a kid running around playing in the mud.”

The Steelers (8-3) won it on Jeff Reed’s 24-yard field goal with 17 seconds left, then called the conditions horrendous. New sod was laid atop the old less than 24 hours before the kickoff, and a downpour turned it into a 100-yard expanse of swampland.

“That’s the way football was played a long time ago,” Bengals kicker Shayne Graham said.

The Bengals have history of their own with horrible fields.

They couldn’t keep the grass from coming apart when Paul Brown Stadium opened in 2000. The field came up in clumps, leaving players sliding around in the sandy base. In 2002, San Diego’s Rodney Harrison called it the “worst field I’ve ever played on in my life.”

The Bengals finally gave up after four years of trying different types of grass, finally installing artificial turf. They still practice on grass fields adjacent to the stadium, ones that have some of the same problems.

For once, it might be useful.

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