As part of the Houston Texans' 10th Anniversary celebration, the team is profiling a different original member of the organization in each edition of the Houston Texans Gameday magazine this season.*
Jay Brunetti has been the Texans' director of equipment services since April 2001, more than a full year before the team's first game. His responsibilities include purchasing and managing the upkeep and repair of all player and coach equipment, as well as overseeing the transportation of equipment to away games.
Brunetti came to Houston after 26 seasons with the Washington Redskins. He joined the Redskins on a part-time basis in 1975 as a junior high school, became a full-time assistant in 1979 before and became the youngest equipment manager in the NFL in 1981 at the age of 19. The Redskins played in four Super Bowls and won three with Brunetti heading the equipment staff. He has worked with 14 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his 38-year NFL career.
Here, Brunetti reflects on his memories of the Texans' first decade.
What was it like coming to an expansion franchise from Washington?
"I looked at it as a great opportunity and a great challenge. It was something I hadn't done before as far as having the opportunity to build something from the ground up, and I thought it was just a great situation. I jumped at the chance."
How did you go about deciding how you would run your department here in Houston?
"Well, I had been doing it previously in Washington. Everybody does the same thing, but they just do it a little differently. So obviously, with the opportunity to work for better people here in Houston, they were more receptive to just making small changes. It wasn't anything major, but it was one of the reasons why I was eager to come down here. Obviously, starting from scratch is ideal because you can do little things that may not seem like a lot on the surface, but they obviously have an impact on your department. And that's what I was able to do here."
What were the facilities and the organization like when you first started?
"Back in 2000, they were just located down on Louisiana Street downtown. When I came here, they had rented space at 2636 South Loop. They just rented a whole floor, and that's where all the staff was taking shape. At that time, 2001, they were kind of starting out with just department heads, so they had the strength coach in the weight department, head athletic trainer, equipment director, video director shortly thereafter. Public relations, they had more than just a department head there. When I started, there were only two coaches, the head coach (Dom Capers) and the offensive coordinator (Chris Palmer)."
Two coaches, no players. What did you do at that time?
"You had to focus on two things. We were going to start tryouts that fall (2001). We were actually going to start holding some free agent tryouts, looking at players, and then we could start signing players right around Christmas of 2001, or maybe it was Jan. 1, 2002. So I had to focus on that as far as getting equipment for that, which was the basics: Cleats, workout gear, footballs. We weren't going to be working players out with helmets and shoulder pads and uniforms, but we were going to be bringing them in. At that time, we started going over to Rice University, and they were gracious enough to let us use their facility over there, their fields and their locker rooms, to bring free agent players in that fall. We did some tryouts at the Astrodome, too, but not a lot on the AstroTurf. And then the other thing, obviously, was my department. You walked in there and there was nothing. There were no shoes, no uniforms, no helmets, no shoulder pads, no coaches' clothing, no anything. So that's what I was concentrating on, too, that whole time, working with the manufacturers and getting everything in line for quantities, ship dates, not so much the styles – I don't design any of that stuff – but just trying to get the timing all set up for when we moved into the Dome when we were going to start in that spring. When we started with football, we were working out of the Astrodome in the baseball locker room, and there was a football locker room upstairs. We were coming over to the practice fields that we currently use at the Methodist Training Center, but we were not at the stadium."
What was that like?
"I certainly don't want to slam it because it's an icon here in Houston, but working out of the Astrodome, it was a very old facility. We were in the shadow of the Reliant Stadium that was being constructed. It was a very spartan setup, to say the least, because the Dome hadn't been used in a number of years and it was built back in the '60s. You had your typical leaky pipes and some issues with it just being old, outdated facility, but we made do and understood that we were going to be moving into a brand new facility."
When did you move in to Reliant Stadium and the current locker room?
"It was 2002. I worked at 2636 South Loop from April 2001 until that fall, probably October. When we started working players out on a regular basis, the trainer and equipment and strength director moved over full-time to the Astrodome because we were having players cycle through there. The weight room was there all set up. There was a training room to operate out of. There was the equipment room, which was not very big, but then attached to that was the locker room, so we could actually kind of operate like a normal football team, and then we did initially have some tryouts in the Astrodome itself. We were able to move into Reliant Stadium in late June or early July of 2002."
What was your reaction the first time you walked into Reliant Stadium after construction was complete?
"It was a big 'wow' factor. We end up taking it for granted now, I think, because when you work around something in a facility every day, you get accustomed to it. When people see it for the first time, I think that was our reaction the first time, too. The locker room – everything – was so big and spacious, so that was a thing that really caught our attention. And then obviously everything was brand new, all the finishing and the attention to detail and everything was just fresh and new and bright and shiny. It was also exciting because it was a long time coming, because we were sitting there watching it. We went and checked on it weekly, our departments. We'd go up to the stadium weekly and just kind of pop in and see how construction was going and take a walk through, see when things are being installed, make sure they're being installed in the right place and properly and everything. So to get in there after it was done, it was very exciting. It was just so big and spacious and new, brand new."
You're one of only four Texans employees to have been to every single game. What did it mean to you last season to be part of the team when it finally broke through and made the playoffs?
"It was very exciting. I was happy first of all for our ownership, Bob and Cal (McNair) and their families. They're the ones that believed in it and made it happen with their commitment and their finances. And then everybody that wasn't around when we finally had success but helped build it, the players and coaches and staff along the way. It was awesome to be part of it, but I didn't want to have that feeling like I was going around boasting like, 'Yeah, I was here from day one' or whatever. It was exciting for everybody, and even though I was there from the beginning, obviously so was ownership, so were the fans. I just looked at it as it's just great for the city, great for the team and the ownership, but even everybody now that's with the team that has been added in the subsequent years and wasn't there the first couple of years. A lot of people did make comments and say, 'How did it feel? You've been here from day one.' I said, 'You know what, my old saying that I always use, it doesn't matter how long you've been in this business, winning never gets old.' It doesn't matter if it's a preseason game, regular season, postseason, winning is the best. And it doesn't matter how long you've been in it. If you love football and you have a passion for it, anybody who started with our organization last year was probably just as excited as I was being there from day one. So it was awesome, but it was something I wanted to just kind of share with everybody."
"When we started with football, we were working out of the Astrodome in the baseball locker room, and there was a football locker room upstairs. We were coming over to the practice fields that we currently use at the Methodist Training Center, but we were not at the stadium." – Texans director of equipment services Jay Brunetti