EDITOR'S NOTE:Texans fan Alan J. Burge will be writing a "Voice of the Fan" column throughout the 2004 season. His latest installment is below. Alan's views do not necessarily reflect the views of the organization.
I turned the calendar to July the other day and it hit me once again. The kids are out of school, summer vacations are in full swing, 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 a few years back was to construct a world-class training facility and hold training camps right here in Houston. It's a fringe benefit to Texans fans designed to provide an opportunity for Texans fans of all ages to connect with their 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 two 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. Details are forthcoming on ticket availability but in past years, getting tickets simply meant running down to the local Ticketmaster outlet on the day that single game tickets went on sale and asking for them. There's usually a limit of six per person but the good news is that they are (or at least have been) free. Keep your eyes and ears open because news is imminent on training camp ticket availability. Every session I've attended over the past two years has been well attended and most, if not all of the sessions are "sold out," meaning all of the free tickets were distributed. If you can't get to Ticketmaster on time, a few tickets are usually floating around on the various Texans message board communities. Sometimes there are freebies being passed out at the gate but that's a risk you will have to accept. Then there's the people who take free training camp tickets and re-sell them on eBay. What a country.
After you get your tickets, get an up-to-date Texans roster/depth chart from houstontexans.com or Ourlads.com and "learn the team" if you haven't already. Most Texans fans know the starters but there's a lot of interesting and talented backups competing for jobs this season and going to camp knowing numbers, names, and faces will help make your training camp experience all that more enjoyable.
Get there early. Parking is at the north end of the practice facility, across McNee Rd. from the practice facility. 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. Look for the "bubble," you can't miss it. Gates typically open at 6 p.m. for the night practices and a small line will start forming outside the gate of the practice facility around 5:30 p.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 west sideline. There is also a small area in the north end zone to stand and watch the practices. The south end zone is closed off to player's families, VIPs, etc. Autographs sessions occur after practices at the south end of the field and the lines form early. TORO and the cheerleaders usually roam the areas behind the bleachers during practice.
Don't forget your sunglasses. The sun-sensitive may even need a little sunscreen 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.
Watch the players ride over to the practice facility in the golf cart trains. This is one advantage 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 spy on various players, coaches, on the field and on the far sideline. Find Coach Capers and the other coaches and watch them put the rookies through their paces.
Take a camera. Still-cameras have been allowed the last two years but video cameras have not been allowed in the past.
Enjoy the camaraderie of other Texans fans.
Enjoy the action on the practice field. The sessions start with stretching exercises, special teams activity, and various drills on offense and defense. Coach Capers is very precise in his timing and everything is scripted to the minute. Over the two-hour period you will see a variety of drills including 7 on 7, 9 on 7, 11 on 11, and 2-minute drills involving almost every player on the roster. It's a perfect time to get an early look at the new draft choices and free agents in action.
Afterward, don't be in a hurry to leave. The final horn blows at 9 p.m. 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!