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Brooks: Of Clowns, Missing Tees And Road Trips

Oct 22, 2009

BOULDER - Football coaches think of road games as business trips, which is a good thought considering how malicious a business the college game can be.

So, how does a coach go about conducting his business when he and his team check into their road headquarters and discover the hotel also is the site of a clown convention?

That happened in 2002 to Dan Hawkins and his Boise State players when they arrived in Tulsa to play the Golden Hurricane. And, although extreme, it is high on the list of what Hawkins calls "variables" that teams encounter and must overcome on the road.

Recalled Hawkins of that wacked-out weekend:  "You're trying to get your game face on and, of course, you know how clowns are - 'Have you met Binky?' They're walking around and you're saying, 'Binky, just get out of here.'

"They're trying to do all their stuff, they're there just trying to have a good time. But they're just not understanding the nature of (a football trip).

"The players were probably better about it than the coaches, and it basically was OK. But all it takes is one or two time for the clowns to come up to you and give you the 'squirter' handshake or the 'buzzer' handshake . . . whatever. You're going, 'All right, Binky' . . ."

For the record, the "Binky" distraction must have been minor: Boise State won 52-24.

But here's another road variable that didn't work out so well for the visitors:

In 1971, Memphis State (now the University of Memphis) traveled to Logan, Utah, to play Utah State on a cold, rainy, sleety mid-October Saturday. Utah State's groundskeepers left a tarp covering the field until just before pregame warm-ups began.

This was the era (the NCAA ended it in 1990) when placekickers used block-style tees for extra points and field goal attempts. The visiting team's kicking specialist, block tee in hand, came out early with his holder and was kicking off the tarp.

Satisfied that he was loose and focused after hitting a number of kicks, he and his holder trotted off the field - but left his tee on the tarp. When the tarp was rolled up and stored on the sidelines, his tee was somewhere in it.

Should a team in that era travel with more than one tee? You'd think so.

Should the home team play the gracious host and offer a tee to a visiting team in need? You'd hope so.

To the chagrin of the visiting coaches, sportsmanship wasn't even an afterthought. Kicking off of the sodden turf instead of his tee, the poor guy missed an extra point and three field goals (the last one was blocked) in a 7-6 loss.

Hawkins and his Colorado Buffaloes likely won't encounter anything as bizarre on this weekend's visit to Kansas State (Saturday, 10:30 a.m. MDT, Fox College Sports). But then again, who knows?

Hawkins recalls another Boise State trip when his team shared a hotel with an optometrists' gathering, and during his final pregame address before leaving for the stadium, players were hearing as much talk about detached retinas from the next room as they were from him about the upcoming game.

Road trips are wildly unpredictable ventures - charter flights sometimes are stuck on runways (it happened on CU's outbound flight to the 2007 Independence Bowl), team buses lose wheels (it happened on CU's postgame trip this season from Morgantown, W.Va., to the Pittsburgh airport) . . . the list of mechanical mishaps can be lengthy.

But regardless of the weirdness arises on the road, good teams, focused teams, simply shrug it off and play.

"When you have a savvy group that's been around for a while, they sort of get that," Hawkins said. "They know things are going to happen, they will happen and you gotta roll with them. You can't get all bent out of shape."

Under Hawkins, the Buffs have won twice on the road - both times in 2007, with both wins in Big 12 Conference play (at Baylor, at Texas Tech). There have been 16 road losses, including three this season (at Toledo, West Virginia and Texas).

You've heard this before, but Hawkins and his players believe they're "getting close." Hawkins has tried to change the culture of road trips. Now, the Buffs usually have a light travel-day practice in Boulder instead of a stadium walk-through upon arriving at a game site.

Also, Hawkins has mandated that his players travel from their hotel to the stadium in suits and ties, and that includes home games.

The all-business approach, said Hawkins, is "kind of my style; I think it has to be like that. I do think we get more out of Friday practice (in Boulder) . . . it's a better teaching and learning environment.

"You might lose a little bit by not running around at the stadium, but I don't think that's been a huge thing for our guys. I always talk about relaxed focus, and I like that. You shouldn't be gritting your teeth, but you're not going on vacation either."

Senior cornerback Cha'pelle Brown hasn't had many lively return trips to Boulder, but he and his teammates hope that's about to change. Asked if he believes the Buffs are poised for a breakthrough away from Boulder, particularly after playing well in road losses at West Virginia (35-24) and Texas (38-14), Brown said, "We're real close, real close.

"This game is a big game for us. We're looking forward to going out there and trying to get a win. It's a big game.

"Now, the biggest thing is getting over the hump and getting it done. We talked about it for a long time for a couple of years, we keep on saying we're going to do this. After this K-State game, we'll see where we're at.

"Flying in, flying out - everybody does it. There's no excuse there; you have to go out and get a road win."

Added sophomore tackle Ryan Miller: "I definitely think we have the ability to come out and do well in road games. We definitely have more cohesion as a team, and that helps on the road."

Brown and Miller agreed that the "variables" Hawkins mentioned usually can be narrowed to a single large one - the crowd.

"The biggest thing is that you don't have your crowd; if you're trying to get back in the game, your crowd is going crazy and the (opponent's) offense can't hear, that helps a lot," Brown said.

"When you're on the road, you're your own crowd. You're on the sideline, you've got to be loud and be up the whole time . . . we have to get excited for ourselves. That's the biggest thing on the road."

"You know you're in someone else's backyard," added Miller. "It's not exactly your colors that they're wearing."

Still, successful road teams simply cope.

"You've got to understand all the variables working against you, and, hopefully, this team gets to a point where they understand and work that much harder to counteract it," Hawkins said.

"We'll see how they handle it when we get there (Manhattan, Kan.). Certainly, I think they're poised for that."

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU