Bulls fans, don't worry: There should be no ground-rule doubles Saturday, no foul balls or bad caroms off the catwalks at Tropicana Field.
Rays officials say they don't expect any issues with footballs hitting the four concentric rings above the playing field during the inaugural St. Petersburg Bowl between USF and Memphis.
"We don't think there will be a problem, but we'll let the game officials decide that on their own," said Rick Nafe, Rays vice president for operations and facilities. "And if you can play a baseball game with ground rules, you can play football with ground rules, too."
There is a precedent for a punted ball hitting an obstruction in a domed stadium — Ray Guy had a punt bounce off a large TV screen 90 feet above the field in the Louisiana Superdome during the 1976 Pro Bowl.
Could a football hit the catwalks at the Trop? The highest catwalks — the A and B rings — are at least 142 feet above the field, far too high for any football. The C catwalk, which goes directly over the end zone in rightfield, is 99 feet up, leaving the only reasonably reachable catwalk as the D ring, which never crosses the field of play but sits at 59 feet in centerfield and slightly higher over the stands in rightfield.
The Times sent a reporter to Tropicana Field last week, with former USF goalkeeper and semi-pro kicker Mike Pepper attempting to hit a catwalk from the field of play. Pepper hit the D catwalk, but not in any normal game situation — he put two balls over the outermost ring, punting out of bounds from the far 20-yard line.
Pepper, the morning-show host and assistant program director at 1010 CBS Sports, also hit the D ring once, with the ball caroming off the restaurant in centerfield and bouncing into the touch tank in right-center where fans can touch live cownose rays.
Putting a 120-yard football field into Tropicana Field is a snug fit. A well-kicked extra point or short field goal through the uprights in rightfield could easily hit the D ring, if not the 64-foot-wide video board behind the stands in right.