Ford Motor Co. is throwing Firestone to the Lions — the Detroit Lions.

Ford Field, the NFL team's new domed stadium, will feature an artificial playing surface composed partly of rubber reclaimed from recalled Firestone tires, WAW has learned.

A Detroit Lions spokesman confirms the deal with FieldTurf, a Montreal-based company that has already installed its unique surface in more than 400 athletic complexes worldwide — including the practice field of this year's Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

The Lions are owned by William Clay Ford Sr., the auto maker's former vice chairman and father of current board boss and CEO, William Clay Ford Jr. The latter was also involved in the team's business operations until late last year when he assumed command of the world's No.2 auto maker.

The move to use reclaimed Firestone rubber at Ford Field is consistent with Bill Ford Jr.'s commitment to environmentally responsible corporate citizenship. Largely because of his influence, the auto maker has adopted global practices that have seen it use recycling as a major cost-saver, and to reduce the impact of its facilities on the communities where they are located. (Not one tire of the millions of Firestone tires recalled and collected by Ford has been sent to a landfill.) Or it may be a bit of old-fashioned family loyalty. Bill Ford Jr. is the great-grandson of both Ford founder Henry Ford and Firestone founder Harvey Firestone.

Composed of a carpet-like covering of synthetic grass typically installed over a base of crushed stone, FieldTurf's surface derives its unique feel from a mixture of silica sand and “crumb rubber,” Sales and Marketing Director Wendy Dawson tells WAW. These materials are spread over the carpet in several layers, eventually settling so the synthetic grass sprouts like a well-manicured lawn.

The rubber comes from cryogenically frozen tires that have been shredded. Polyester and steel components are also removed during the process, which reduces the rubber to a fine powder.

The result is a durable surface that maintains the cushion-like texture athletes prefer. Older technology such as the artificial surface at the Lions' former home — the Pontiac Silverdome — is less forgiving and has been blamed for numerous injuries.

FieldTurf's playing surfaces range from about $600,000 to $1 million. The price tag on Ford Field's greenery is in the same ballpark, despite a special request the Lions made of FieldTurf. “They wanted only Firestone products to be used,” Dawson says.

FieldTurf — which acquires its crumb rubber from four U.S. plants and two in Canada — was able to comply, despite a surprising dearth of tires suitable for shredding. Aging deprives tires of properties FieldTurf requires for optimal performance of its surfaces, Dawson says, adding just 20% of the current crop of discarded tires meet its specifications.

The Ford Field installation occurs against a backdrop of hope that Ford and Firestone's parent company, Japan-based Bridgestone Inc., will reconcile.

Their 100-year-old association soured last year after Ford recalled 13 million tires it declared defective. Most had been installed on Ford Explorers, the industry's all-time SUV sales leader.

Firestone claimed Explorer's design is to blame for the nearly 300 fatalities linked to its Wilderness AT tires and called on Washington to investigate the vehicle. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. later supported Ford's position and discounted data, supplied by Firestone, that suggests Explorer is defective.

“We're just starting to actually be civil to each other and sit down across the table,” Bill Ford Jr. tells reporters at the Geneva International Motor Show.

Shoshi Arakawa, chairman and CEO of Bridgestone/Firestone Europe tells WAW his company wants normalized relations with the auto maker, noting they still do business in Europe.

The Lions will be in good company when they begin playing at Ford Field. FieldTurf surfaces are in facilities used by European soccer power F.C. Barcelona and New Zealand's All Blacks, a perennial juggernaut on the world rugby scene.

Next up is the playing field for the Tokyo Giants, the New York Yankees of Japan's professional baseball league.

FERTILE GROUND

For the ink-stained wretches who populate newspaper sports departments, Ford Field's Firestone connection is like manna from headline heaven. Watch for headlines such as these to sneak into print:

Detroit Ends Losing Skid
Lions Bounce Back in New Digs
Detroit Fired Up; Competition Treads Lightly
Lions Roll Over Packers
Lions Win in Blowout

(OK. We're getting carried away. But you get the idea.)