The signs are all there once again. It's mid-July. Summer vacations will be wrapping up soon. The morning air is so thick you can cut it with a knife, and the afternoon Texas sun is so hot you could do a brisket on a sidewalk. That can only mean one thing: It's time for training camp! Who says we don't have seasons?
One of the best decisions made by the Texans organization several years ago was to construct a world-class training facility and hold training camps right here in Houston. It's a huge fringe benefit for Texans fans, allowing us to connect with the team in person as opposed to reading about them practicing in foreign places like San Angelo or Oxnard.
Having attended several of the public training camp sessions the last five years, I thought I'd offer some tips to those who have yet to experience this "must-do" for all Texans fans.
First things first -- get tickets. A limited number of free training camp tickets will be distributed starting Monday, July 16 at Wachovia Bank Locations in the Houston area
If you can't get tickets on Monday there might be freebies floating around on one or more of the various Texans message board communities. I've seen extras available at the gate on the day of the practice, but going out there without a ticket in hand is a risk you would have to accept. Another option is to walk through the parking lot before practice and ask people if they have extra tickets. Many times people will bring unused extras to the practice session.
After you get your tickets, get an up-to-date Texans roster or depth chart and "learn the team" if you haven't already. There are a lot of new faces this year and going to camp knowing numbers and names will help make your training camp experience all that more enjoyable.
Get there early. Parking is at the north end of the practice facility, off McNee Rd., one block west of Kirby Dr. To get there, take I-610 to Kirby Dr., then go north on Kirby for a few blocks and the practice facility will be on your left across the street from Reliant Stadium. Or, if you're coming down Kirby from the north, take a right at McNee just before you get to the stadium and "the bubble" – otherwise known as the Methodist Training Center – and you can't miss the practice fields.
A line will start forming outside the gate of the practice facility around 30-45 minutes before each practice, but don't fret. You will find a seat.Many people come early to get in the autograph lines, but autographs sessions are not until after practice, so that's a long wait. Plus, you can't see practice from the autograph area. Others bring their kids in early so they can play the various games outside the seating area.
Once you get inside the gate, you can mingle about the various booths or go straight inside and claim a seat. Seating is first come-first served and is restricted to a set of bleachers along the east sideline. Depending on the number of tickets distributed, there may be a small area in the north end zone to stand and watch. In the past, the south end zone was closed off to players' families, VIPs, etc. TORO and the cheerleaders usually roam the areas behind the bleachers during practice.
Don't forget your sunglasses for the evening practices because you will be staring into a pretty fierce setting sun until about 8 p.m.or so. After the sun sets, it's very pleasant out there – at least for the fans. The sun will be at your back for the morning practices, which makes viewing a bit easier. It will be hot, so dress appropriately and drink plenty of water. The sun-sensitive may want to pack some sunscreen or bring a hat.
One thing I typically do is watch the players ride over to the practice facility in the golf cart "trains." This is one benefit of getting there early or staying late. There is limited locker room space at the training facility, so the players get dressed at Reliant and ride golf carts across the footbridges over Kirby. Every once in a while, you can get close enough to the players to offer words of encouragement or snap a picture.
Binoculars will help you spot various players and coaches on the field and on the far sideline.
You can take a camera, but leave the video camera at home.
Coach Kubiak runs a very quick-tempo practice and you rarely see any player standing still for more than 30 seconds. At the start of the practice, expect to see a 'team stretch' on the main practice field before they break into individual unit drills. The team will be spread out over the 2.5 practice fields for much of the practice session, but they will come together on the main field for the fun stuff like 7-on-7's and full team drills, rotating through every player on the roster.
It's a perfect time to get an early look at the new draft choices like Omobi Okoye, Jacoby Jones and Fred Bennett, as well as second-year players like Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans and Eric Winston, and free agents such as Ahman Green, Jordan Black, Jamar Fletcher and Shawn Barber.
Don't be in a hurry to leave afterward. The final horn will blow around 11 a.m. for the morning sessions and around 9:15 p.m. for the evening sessions, and some players mingle around a bit after practice. As the players work their way back to Reliant after practice, there's always the possibility of a photo opportunity or autograph from a player. Media types usually conduct interviews of players on the field after practice and people-watching can be entertaining.
After all is done, please drive safely on your way home. Enjoy.
You can email Alan Burge at: firstname.lastname@example.org