The steady roar of marching bands fills stadiums across the country as football teams take the field from September to November. This Veteran’s Day match-up is between the visiting University of Maine Black Bears and the University of Massachusetts Minutemen. 

Everything about the afternoon is exactly how you’d imagine a college game day: the students and alumni huddled in the stands, the cheerleaders on the sidelines waving their pom poms, the bitterly cold air. Everything, that is, except the location — Fenway Park.

This isn’t the first time football has been played in the shadow of the Green Monster. The Patriots actually played at Fenway for six seasons back in the 1960s. At the time, they were still the Boston Patriots. And, two years ago, Boston College played Notre Dame there.

For three weeks this fall, the game is back as part of the Fenway Gridiron Series. Today, the field runs from home plate to center field. There’s no infield dirt. It’s been covered with grass, though the outline is still visible. 

Getting the field ready falls to David Mellor, the senior director of grounds for the Boston Red Sox, and a crew of workers who start prepping weeks in advance.

David Mellor
David Mellor is accompanied by his service dog, Drago.
Esteban Bustillos/WGBH News

Mellor and the crew bring in rolls of sod made of Kentucky bluegrass from a farm in New Jersey. They layer it over the infield dirt, home plate, pitcher's mound and the baseline, piece by piece, weeks before the first kickoff. 

“Some rolls weigh up to a ton," Mellor said. "They’re four feet wide. They’re heavy thick sod, so they should play well." 

It’s not just as simple as putting the sod over the field, though. The grounds crew has to make sure the sod is locked in but doesn't actually take root in the infield, so once it’s laid down, the crew walks over the sod, inch by inch. 

Baseball to football in 60 seconds!The #GridironSeries is happening. Be there:— Red Sox (@RedSox) November 9, 2017

"We top dress it to smooth it, we roll it," Mellor said. "Every sod seam is walked just to make sure it plays well and it’s flat."

The crew spends hours making sure all the details of the field are right: the white yard lines, the mid-field logo, the words “Fenway Park” painted in the iconic Red Sox font in the end zones. 

Fenway Crew
Crews paint the endzone at Fenway Park.
Esteban Bustillos/WGBH News

Mellor compares it to yard work, just with a really big yard.

The late novelist John Updike famously called Fenway a "lyric little bandbox” of a ballpark. That’s because Fenway’s sharp angles and short left field make it a bizarre place to play baseball — much less football.
Even though it takes a lot of heavy lifting for Mellor and his crew to fit the gridiron inside the cozy confines of Fenway, the field feels like a throwback to the days before artificial turf took over football and other sports.

“I believe there was a player in the '70s, Richie Allen, who said, 'If a horse can't eat it,' he didn't want to play on it," Mellor said. "And so, healthy, actively growing grass is a great playing surface.”

After UMass' 44-31 win over Maine, UMass cornerback and Warwick, Rhode Island native Lee Moses said playing football at Fenway made him pause, at least for a moment. 

"When I came out for pre-game warm ups and stuff, I had to stop and look around … you kind of just had to go out and be like, ‘Wow, this is amazing,'" he said. "And then [it's] right back to football."

The Red Sox haven’t announced whether the game will return to their classic ballpark next year, but UConn will host Boston College there Friday night and there will be three high school games next week.