EDITOR'S NOTE:**Texans fan Alan J. Burge continues to write his "Voice of the Fan" column for HoustonTexans.com. His latest installment is below. Alan's views do not necessarily reflect the views of the organization.
*Training camp tips: A Guide for Texans Fans
**Here it is late July and the kids are dreading their return to school (while parents secretly rejoice), summer vacations are wrapping up, 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!
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 four 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 were distributed two weeks ago through Wachovia bank locations in the Houston area.
If the Wachovia locations are all "sold out," there are usually tickets floating around on one or more of the various Texans message board communities. I've seen freebies available at the gate left by people with extras, but going out there without a ticket in hand is a risk you would have to accept. One option is to show up, walk through the parking lot and ask people if they have extras. I've seen that work many times.
After you get your tickets, get an up-to-date Texans roster or depth chart from HoustonTexans.com 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 pass the stadium and "the bubble." You can't miss it.
Gates open around 6 p.m. for the night practices and a line will start forming outside the gate of the practice facility around 5:30 p.m.
A new feature this season is the morning practice sessions. Four of the six Wachovia sponsored sessions are in the morning, so that will bring a new dynamic – namely getting up early to go watch the Texans practice. Heading out to Reliant at 6:30 a.m.? No problem. Just think of it as the typical noon regular season game. Gates open around 7 a.m. for the morning practices, but practices don't start until 8:30 a.m.
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. Also, in past years, autograph sessions occurred after practices at the south end of the field. TORO and the cheerleaders usually roam the areas behind the bleachers during practice as well.
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 practice bubble 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 or coaches on the field and on the far sideline. With all the new coaches roaming the field this year, one thing to do for sure is find head coach Gary Kubiak and coordinators Troy Calhoun and Richard Smith. Smith, in charge of the defense, will be very easy to locate. Just listen. He and defensive backs coach Jon Hoke are two of the most vocal coaches out there.
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 the team stretch on the main practice field before they break into individual unit drills. The team will be spread out over the two-and-a-half 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. It's a perfect time to get an early look at the new draft choices like Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans, Eric Winston and Charles Spencer and other new faces such as veterans Jeb Putzier and Eric Moulds.
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: email@example.com