After my retirement from the NFL in 1995 – or should I say when the NFL threw me a surprise retirement party – I missed a lot of things about being a professional football player.
I always had a shoe contract and never paid for shoes, so that first trip to the mall to buy them was painful. Not being around the guys in the locker room and out on the field was depressing. Not having an outlet for my frustration and adrenaline was difficult.
But all of that was nothing compared to the agony of having to travel like a normal person. The parking at the airport, dragging your bags through security, jamming yourself into an impossibly narrow seat, crabby flight attendants and passengers – it’s a nightmare. But when the Seahawks travel nearly 9,000 miles to Miami and Chicago over the next two weeks, they’ll experience none of that.
Travel in the NFL is first-class. If the Seahawks struggle away from the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field, it’s not because they’re road weary. In fact, the most strenuous part of travel in the NFL is climbing the rolling stairway from the tarmac onto the airplane. For the players and coaches, everything else is like traveling with the president of the United States.
That’s done by design thanks to an entire staff of Seahawks personnel whose job is to make travel as smooth as possible so the players can concentrate on their jobs. The Hawks will need it as they face two tough road tests in the coming weeks and seek to improve upon their 1-4 road record.
To be safe, they must win one or both of those games if they want to ensure themselves a spot in the playoffs. That point was made clear Monday night after the NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers put a 32-7 beatdown on the Chicago Bears.
So what is travel like in the NFL? I’ve had the opportunity to travel with the team during the preseason the past five years and not much has changed since I retired. We did have jet planes back then and although there was no TSA screening, that won’t be a concern for the Hawks on Friday when they take off for Miami.
There is security screening but it’s done just outside of the locker room at the VMAC where the Hawks practice. From there the team is whisked off to the airport on team buses with a full police escort. When I say escort I mean the highway patrol buzzes ahead of the bus and stops traffic on I-405. The buses never drop below 60 mph until they roll right onto the tarmac and park next to the plane.
After that rigorous climb up the stairs I mentioned, the players are met with an array of food, drinks and movies. They don’t even charge you the $5 rental fee for headphones. What a life.
On the other side, the team gets the same treatment with the buses and police escorts and there’s no waiting for your room and no delay in checking in to the team hotel. Okay, sometimes it gets a little crowded waiting for the elevator, especially when the big guys set off the weight-limit buzzer, but typically you’re in your room within a couple of minutes of arrival.
So what’s the problem?
I’ll give you this: it’s a little more difficult to go to sleep at midnight when it’s only 9 o’clock back home and it definitely sucks getting up at 8 a.m. when your body clock is telling you it’s 5 a.m. But once you’re up and going, that never enters your mind. Here’s what I’ve always said about the time change: it doesn’t matter what time it is back home – right here and right now, it’s time to play.
Linebacker K.J. Wright offered one solution to the problem on the air with me and Colin Paisley on Monday. K.J. brought up the fact that crowd noise bothers the offense on the road but has no effect on special teams or defense: “If you can get those two things going, defense and special teams, they control the game and they’ll get us rollin’.”
Like the third-down problem I wrote about two weeks ago, when you’re not doing anything different and the cause of the problem is not identifiable, that can only mean that it’s an anomaly, a fluke, happenstance. I predicted the situation would fix itself and since then the Hawks defense has held opponents to a third-down conversion rate of just 24 percent (down from 44 percent).
I predict the same results with the road record and that the Hawks will get wins in Miami, Chicago and Toronto against the Buffalo Bills later in the year to end the season 4-4 on the road.
Remember, in Pete Carroll’s first year, the Hawks pulled off an upset win in Chicago and last year they beat the New York Giants in the Meadowlands. They’re due.
It’s time for the Hawks to take their show on the road.