Before I began working in the NFL, I envisioned pro sports teams traveling like presidents.
So on my first road trip a few years ago, I anticipated taking a police escort onto the tarmac, and then bypassing security lines while walking down the jetway to the charter plane. Upon entering, I imagined spacious seating arrangements, five-star cuisine and first-class flight attendants.
Turns out that I wasn't far off.
On the Texans' trip to St. Louis earlier today, four buses were reserved to take the team and support staff to Hobby airport. The first bus, which was full of media members, team doctors, the communications staff and video department, left around 10:30 a.m. from Reliant Stadium, while the players and coaches departed a little later to prevent a logjam during the boarding process.
No matter how light traffic is on the freeways, the Texans always follow a police escort to the airport to ensure that nothing is delayed. Today's drive, which lasted about 20 minutes, was relatively uneventful. But it always amazes me how well the motorcycle police can maneuver through cars while directing traffic. Some motorists honk at the bus, others try to stare through our tinted windows. When it's really congested, it's easy to see the look of disdain in drivers' eyes when we fly by them. I definitely sympathize with them.
Once we arrived at Hobby today, the bus drove to a side entrance of the airport, where an officer led us onto the tarmac and to the airplane. From there, we filed out of the bus with our luggage—all of it is carry-on—and walked into the terminal, up a set of stairs and into a cordoned-off security checkpoint.
Because of new safety regulations, nobody—not even head coach Gary Kubiak—was allowed to bring shaving cream, deodorants or other liquids onto the plane. We were told that we'd be provided all the necessary toiletries at our hotel in St. Louis.
Once everyone passed through security, we walked through the terminal (causing a stir among curious passengers) and onto the jetway, where our names were checked off a passenger list.
And here's the best part.
Once entering the chartered Delta B-757, a group of smiling flight attendants greeted us with stacks of Chick-fil-A chicken sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grapes, bananas, apples, bottled water, Gatorade and an assortment of chips.
With my hands full, I found my seat in the economy section (coaches sit in first class). Because rosters are so inflated during the preseason, everyone is stuffed three to a row. So there isn't a lot of leg room, especially for someone like Mario Williams, who is 6-7, 291 pounds. During the regular season, there generally are two people for every three seats, so players and staff can spread out a little more.
A group of us—play-by-play voice Marc Vandermeer, director of media relations Kevin Cooper, media products coordinator Carmine Pirone and I—started discussing our movie options as we waited patiently for the other buses to arrive.
Our choices: "Capote," "RV" and "The Sentinel." After some debate, we chose "The Sentinel." A few minutes later, Kubiak, Williams and defensive tackle Travis Johnson boarded the plane, followed by the rest of the team. We took off a half hour later once everyone was seated and all of the equipment was loaded.
I always make a rule never to eat before road trips, and I'm always reminded why I don't when lunch is served. If all the snacks and sandwiches weren't enough to fill us up, the flight attendants offered us a choice of angel hair pasta with chicken, manicotti, or a chef salad. Each entrée came with a roll, a generous slice of chocolate cake and a fruit bowl.
After wiping my face with a warm, moist towel, and already feeling stuffed, I ordered the angel hair pasta with chicken. After a few bites, I put my fork down and took a few deep breaths. My eyelids started feeling heavy when a cart full of Haagen Dazs chocolate ice cream bars passed by me. A moment later, two trays full of candy rolled down the aisle. It looked like the flight attendants emptied out two vending machines. There were Twizzlers, M&M's, Gummy Bears, Hershey's bars and other items that my dentist loathes.
The plane began descending as the movie reached its climax. Since the window shades were closed, and people were caught up in the movie, a lot of people sat up startled when the plane touched down.
The Texans send two people to "advance" every road trip, meaning that they leave a few days before the team in order to set up the hotel and transportation for when the team arrives.
That makes life a lot easier, because everyone is able to file out of the plane and walk directly onto the awaiting buses, instead of having to walk through the terminal. In St. Louis, three police cars led us on a 15-minute drive from the airport tarmac to our hotel, which is located close to Edward Jones Dome.
In the lobby of the hotel, room keys and itineraries were stuffed in envelopes on a table, which was a nice touch so we didn't have to check in.
Once I got to my hotel room, it didn't take long for me to crash on the bed.
Now that's a sign of a great trip!