May 6, 2016

BLOG: Life on the Road

Every weekend from June to January, professional football teams take to fields across North America; one team playing in their own backyard, the other coming from thousands of miles away. For the visiting team, hours of preparation by football operations staff has gone into the 36-hour business trip. Here’s a quick glimpse into a regular Winnipeg Blue Bombers road trip, using the September 20th game in Montreal as an example.

We always arrive in the visiting city the day before the game, often early in the afternoon. When flying coast to coast, some teams will opt to fly in two days early, but being in located in the centre of the country has its perks, luckily we can avoid that.

The morning we fly, players report to the stadium at a time set by the Head Coach. Essentially all decisions are made by Coach O’Shea, with media and player requirements in mind. Ahead of the flight to Montreal, breakfast at Investors Group Field was served at 7:30 a.m., followed by a team meeting in the theatre room. At this point, players will break off and go with their position coaches. Some will go outside on the field, others will continue with more film study, but all are to be ready to leave Investors Group Field at 11:00 a.m., when a motorcoach bus takes the players to a smaller terminal close to Winnipeg Richardson International. Because this is a chartered flight, the bus is able to pull up on the tarmac right alongside the team’s aircraft. Waiting for the players is our Team Services Coordinator, Matt Gulakow, with an envelope for every player and coach. Inside is per diem, an itinerary and two tickets to the game. The team boards the plane directly from the tarmac. No seating is assigned for players – there’s really only one real rule: The front six seats are reserved for the Coach O’Shea, General Manager Kyle Walters, President and CEO Wade Miller, and usually, Coach Wylie (decades of coaching experience allows you to sit where you please!)

Once we arrive at the terminal, we are usually in the air within half an hour. Some players take out decks of cards, but most choose to sleep. A hot meal is served during the flight and before we know it, it’s time to land. The team goes directly to the hotel upon arrival except for a handful who head to the stadium to meet the media. In most cities, those players and the Head Coach will come with myself and our web/social media group to the stadium. Montreal is an exception to the norm, as we did our media availability at the hotel. Following interviews and meetings, the players are usually off for the evening. Many will watch film which is set up in one of the meeting rooms, others will go for an early dinner and get some rest. This is the players’ down time, and as injured quarterback Drew Willy told me on the plane, most need the rest. “You go so hard all week long, whether it’s rehab, treatment, in the film room, that when you get on the road it’s actually a chance to recharge and then focus on the game.” I asked Drew what his regular routine is on the road. “Usually just sit in my room and study film on my IPad,” he laughs. “I can’t really ever stop studying. Even tonight (night before a game in which he is not playing) I will study their defence a few more times, just in case I somehow missed something.”

The next morning – game day – comes quickly. A meal is served for players in one of the hotel meeting rooms a few hours prior to the game. I’m not sure whether every team does this, but it’s very important for players to start the day with a good meal. Head Athletic Therapist Al Couture will go through the menu a few days prior to our arrival, and give his stamp of approval to everything offered. This allows Al to know exactly what players are putting in their bodies the day of the game, and also eliminates any stress for a player having to wander the streets of an unknown city trying to find breakfast.

The players and coaches arrive to the stadium by bus two and a half hours prior to game time, and begin preparing for the game as they would at home. Once we arrive at the stadium, it’s regular routines and business as usual. The coaches have their own room next to the locker room, there’s a medical and treatment room set up nearby as well as an equipment room. Equipment Manager, Brad Fotty, arrives at the stadium well ahead of the team to make sure everything is set up for their arrival. After the game, he and his group pack up all the players’ gear as quickly as they set it up, as the team boards the bus back to the plane within 45 minutes of the end of the game. Coach O’Shea and his staff can be found at the front of the plane, staring into their iPads, already grading out their position groups and going through the game film from just an hour earlier. Six hours after kicking off, and the tires of the aircraft are up and we are on our way back to Winnipeg.



Taking a minute to look back now, what a night last Saturday in Vancouver. I must admit, it wasn’t looking good at halftime. But when we got into the locker room, Coach O’Shea addressed a very quiet team. If something doesn’t change here, our season is over. Is this really how we want it to end?

This was it, and the players knew it. Jamaal Westerman, who has turned into one of the best free agent signings in the CFL, stood up and addressed his teammates, as he has been doing more frequently of late. I won’t get into the specifics, but he’s become a leader of the locker room, and his on field play (league leading 14 sacks), backs up his leadership on the field as well. Jamaal had two sacks last weekend in BC, while the league leader in interceptions, Johnny Adams, added another, in a solid second half by the defence. Multiple players told me afterwards that was the type of game, type of comeback, that changes a season. For whatever reason. It gave new life to guys who work so hard every day, and let’s hope we can continue that push tomorrow night here in Ottawa.