Texans quarterback T.J. Yates was out of town for Super Bowl Sunday, but it was no ordinary vacation.
Yates spent last weekend aboard the USS George H.W. Bush, a Nimitz-class supercarrier of the United States Navy, in the Atlantic Ocean between Key West and Cuba. He and several current and former Green Bay Packers got an expansive tour of the 1,092-foot long, 102,000-ton ship, and watched the Super Bowl in a large hangar bay with members of its crew.
"It was really cool to see all the people you meet," Yates said on Tuesday at Reliant Stadium. "I met people from my hometown that live miles away from my parents in Atlanta. I met tons and tons of Texans fans, guys that brought up all their Texans gear that they had with them on the ship. You can only bring so many things, and there were lots and lots of people that had Texans gear. This one guy had Texans gloves that he wore every single day to do his work. Guys had Texans T-shirts. The shirts that they wear on board they call jerseys, and (one crewman) stenciled in Texans logos and stuff into his jerseys, the ones that he wears around every day. He also made me one; their whole department signed it. I was sitting there signing autographs all day, and the coolest thing was to get something from them. We watched the entire game with the guys – such a cool experience."
Yates was invited to the trip by Packers tight end Ryan Taylor, his college teammate and roommate at North Carolina. The Packers arranged the tour through Navy Entertainment, a group that provides deployed sailors and troops with entertainment to take their minds off their duty.
"They found out they were doing this late last week and they needed some extras guys to go, so my roommate Ryan invited me," Yates said. "I had plans, but I dropped everything."
Yates and the Packers players stayed at a Naval base in Key West last Friday night, then took a 30-minute flight to the USS Bush on Saturday morning in a C2-Greyhound cargo ship. They landed on the deck of the aircraft carrier after "going from 120 to 0 mph in two seconds," Yates said.
Over the next day-and-a-half, the players met with the ship's captain and crewmates, visited with various departments, ate with sailors in the mess halls, stayed in guest quarters, had wake-up calls and watched flight ops training from the ship's bridge in a scene Yates said was "literally straight out of Top Gun." One of the highlights for Yates, 24, was getting a chance to steer the ship for a few minutes from the captain's chair inside the pilot house.
During the Super Bowl, Yates and the other players signed autographs and met with the hundreds of crew members who were off-duty and able to watch the game.
"It was amazing to see how excited some of these guys were," Yates said. "They've been out there for a couple months. They're in the middle of training camp right now because they're going into deployment here in I think five or six months. When they do that, they're out at sea for almost eight months. They're going through drills, every scenario possible, to get ready to go out there and protect our country.
"For them to get a little away time from that and watch Super Bowl Sunday with a bunch of NFL players, that's a super high for them, and it was more for us. Going out there to experience something like that is something I'll never forget. It was one of the coolest experiences I've ever been through."