The Road Warrior

As Stanford football embarks on the first road game of the 2001 season, Guru embarks on a journey with Booties into the life of a road trip. Learn about the demands away from home, and some of the idiosyncrasies of Stanford road warriors...

            Playing on the road in the Pac-10 is an exhilarating experience. The conference is blessed with great stadiums and rowdy fans. Each venue brings its own unique flavor and challenges. Road games also bring a different weekly routine with them. The schedule is compressed and the preparation is slightly different. The beginning of the practice week is virtually the same as a home week, with the possible exception that the coaches might bring in a crowd noise simulator on Tuesday or Wednesday. Otherwise the preparation is identical to that of any other week. Thursday things start to change and compress. After practice, the 60 man travel roster is posted. Aside from injuries, this is usually a set group every week. Normally the roster will include roughly 10 offensive linemen, 4 tight ends, 10 wide receivers, 4 quarterbacks, 10 defensive linemen, 10 linebackers 10 defensive backs, and 2 kickers. Those guys pack their equipment bags and load them on the truck. Offensive and defensive linemen will have to tape their shoulder pads with two-way tape a day early before they pack up. Two-way tape is applied to the shoulder pads, and then the jersey is pulled over before removing the overlay strips. The result is a jersey that tightly adheres to the shoulder pads so that the jersey can’t be grabbed or held. Normally that is done on Fridays, but there’s no time once the team hits the road. Friday, the team will usually board a bus bound for the airport around 1 PM or so, depending on the destination. The attire for this bus has ranged anywhere from travel sweats to shirt and tie. I’m not sure what the team does now, but whatever it is, they all have to wear the same thing. It’s actually rather comical to watch a bunch of similarly dressed overgrown men parading around together.

            Some of the other more entertaining elements of any road trip include the vastly varying sizes of travel bags and accessories packed by the players. One Stanford tight end who went on to an NFL career was legendary for bringing only his toothbrush and his playbook with him on the road, regardless of the destination. To make things even more interesting, he made his younger backup tight end carry his playbook around for him. Other players have been known to bring 10 or more books for classes along with notebooks. Then there’s the special pillow crowd, who have to have their own pillows on the road to sleep well, what a sight, seeing a giant man walking around an airport and a hotel with his own pillow! The other interesting phenomenon on road trips are headphones, but more on that later. Everyone eventually trickles on to the buses, including the trainers, doctors, coaches and support staff. TW is the last guy to show up, right on the button. When he shows, the bus rolls, so you better not be late! Once the bus is loaded up, the team heads straight for the airport.

            Back in my day, the team bus would ride right onto the tarmac at the airport and you’d walk right onto the plane. I’m not sure if that’s still the case, however, in light of recent events. Once on board, there is a definite pecking order when it comes to seating. Coaches and AD staff sit in first class; sometimes some professors or special guests will be up there as well. Players and training staff sit in the back, with the trainers normally crammed in the back. Linemen take seating priority in exit rows and the like, and they only sit two to a row. Kickers have to sit together in the same row, and the smaller you are, the more likely it is you’ll be sitting directly next to someone. Typically players are reserved on the flights, going through the playbook, reading something or maybe joking around a bit. You won’t see a lot of high stakes card games on these flights like you do in the NFL. It’s pretty much a short flight regardless of where you go in the Pac-10, so before you know it, you’re back on the ground again and headed for another bus.

            From here the routine varies greatly depending on the time of arrival, the kickoff and the availability of the stadium. Typically though, the buses will head right to the stadium, the players will change into some special practice gear (we used to call them softball shirts and shorts) and there will be a very brief practice with an emphasis on situations, substitutions and special teams. Then it’s a quick shower, back on the buses and over to the hotel. Following dinner, the players have to go to meetings and perhaps another walkthrough. It’s really an annoying time, because the coaches have total control over your schedule, and they always try to fill it with last minute preparations. Most of the time they’re much more nervous than the players. After meetings there’s a snack and then a little free time before bedcheck. Every player has a roommate, and sometimes there are some interesting pairings. One guy I played with had to bring a Sega Genesis with him on every road trip. He was outgoing and loud, and his roommate was quiet and reserved. Well naturally, a lot of the other players would want to get a game of Genesis in at the hotel, and so there might be 15 guys in this room while the guy’s poor roommate was trying to relax and get some quiet time. I had a few linemen roommates who were so loud at night when they breathed and or snored that I had to throw my shoes at them in the middle of the night on several occasions to shut them up. Once 11:00 rolls around though, pretty much the entire team has shut it down for the night and has gone to bed.

            Morning comes early for noon kickoffs, and sometimes breakfast is at 7 AM, depending on how far the hotel is from the stadium. There’s an optional chapel service in the morning and players also have to get their ankles taped before heading to the stadium - most training rooms can’t accommodate enough players to get that done once you’ve arrived. Gameday breakfast is one of the funniest things you’ll ever see. First off, there’s a tremendous spread; prime rib, chicken, pasta, eggs. You name it, they’ve got it. Then, a majority of the players are sitting at these massive tables with their sweats on, tape on their ankles, no shoes, and wearing gigantic headphones with music blaring. It’s often so loud that you can hear just about every player’s CD at once. Once everyone eats, there’s a little more downtime back at the room and then the buses start to leave. There’s an early bus and the normal bus. Kickers and QBs are almost always on the early bus, but there are always exceptions. Sometimes there’s linemen as well, but the pattern can be random. Once you show up at the stadium, mayhem ensues.

           It’s a quiet mayhem, but things are still quite frenzied. First off, at most locker rooms, space is at a premium. Cal has an unbelievably small locker room. There’s enough room for about 22 guys to get dressed, so it’s usually done in shifts. $C has a nice locker room, as it was a pro stadium. The lockers are big and everything is nice, but the setup is awful. It’s not one big open room, but rather a room with many nooks and partitions that make it very difficult to see your teammates. Many people think it was designed intentionally this way to break up the sense of team before a game. So a few hours before kickoff, guys are in the locker room, shuttling between there, the training room and the field. A structured pre-game warm-up starts about an hour before kickoff, but before that portion begins, it’s crazy. Guys are stretching everywhere, in any space possible. Others are half-dressed, running around out on the field. Others try and hide somewhere and listen to music or read the game program. Sometimes nervous coaches will pull a group of players aside and go over something. Walsh II was notorious for these last minute adjustment sessions, putting together schemes up on the chalkboard right before warm-ups that had never been practiced. That was always nerve-wracking stuff, and unfortunately it rarely worked. TW’s staff was always good about leaving the players be and just staying in the background. Denny Green was an unbelievable pre-game speaker. He had the team at a fevered pitch by the time kickoff rolled around. The guy could have led an army into battle - very, very polished.

            By 11:00, the structured warm-ups begin, and the team starts to go out in groups. Specialists like kickers, returners and snappers first. QBs and receivers next. Then DBs and linebackers. Of course linemen are last, to expend as little energy as possible beforehand.   By quarter till, the team is back in the locker room and rarin’ to go! From there is a short speech by the head man; they call the captains for the toss; the team convenes for a prayer; and then all hell breaks loose!

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