Preparing for the Alamo Bowl
At 5:45 p.m. central time on January 2, the bright lights of the Alamodome deep in the heart of Texas will glare down on the turf below. The 65,000 fans in the stands will lean forward slightly in their seats, eyes fixed on the 35-yard-line; while millions of fans around the country will tune in to ESPN, eyes fixed on their screens. Either Oregon’s Matt Wogan or TCU’s Jaden Oberkrom will place a football on a tee, and after a short run up will launch it through the thick domed air toward the opposing end zone.
The 2016 Valero Alamo Bowl, pitting the high-flying offenses of No. 15 Oregon and No. 11 TCU against each other, will officially be underway.
For the UO fans, it will be the culmination of four weeks of booking flights, buying game tickets, sorting out hotel rooms, and traveling to and seeing the sights in the Lone Star State’s second-largest city.
For the UO equipment managers, nutritionists, trainers, video coordinators, and strength and conditioning coaches, it’s the culmination of a process that began not long after the 2015 National Championship Game ended, when planning for the 2016 bowl season began.
“We’ve been working on the bowl uniform for approximately a year now,” said Kenny Farr, BA '02, football equipment administrator for the University of Oregon.
When the Ducks run out of the tunnel onto the field, they will be wearing cutting edge uniforms and cleats that nobody else will have access to until next season—in fact, the next teams to wear them will actually be the AFC and NFC squads playing in the 2016 NFL Pro Bowl. But the Ducks’ uniforms aren’t created overnight, nor are they created in a vacuum—they’re the end result of a yearlong process that includes multiple designs being vetted by multiple people at the UO, including the student-athletes themselves.
“In the event we made the College Football Playoff, there were two different uniforms that we were working on, with a home and an away,” Farr said. “We were working on those with the creative minds up at Nike, what they were going to be, what they were going to look like: the accessories, helmets, and all of the things that go along with that.
“They came down and presented them to me, the head coach, the athletic director, and a select group of players for feedback, and they tweaked some things, added some things, all the way through the process to the last step, adding decals to the helmets.”
The final design was confirmed during the spring, at which time the uniforms were put into production for a postseason game still more than half a year away. When the Alamo Bowl announcement was made on December 6, Farr’s department kicked into overdrive, figuring out the logistics of how to get the team’s equipment to San Antonio before the players and coaches showed up.
For a typical road game during the season, the team will arrive the day before the game, have a walkthrough in the stadium, and then play the following day. For the Alamo Bowl, the team was on-site for more than a week, which adds a number of distinct logistical hurdles.
“We’ll take two big semi trucks and a smaller truck,” Farr said of what is needed just to transport equipment to San Antonio. “It’s a lot to take the show on the road. We’re going to be there for eight nights, with seven practices. What are the accommodations that the practice site provides? What do we need to bring? What do we need to order when we’re down there? We need ice at practice, scissor lifts so that we can videotape practice, locker accommodations for the team and the staff; there are all those little things that go on behind the scenes. It’s a challenge, but it’s fun.”
The trucks left Eugene on December 20, taking a route to San Antonio that was carefully chosen so as to avoid snow-covered mountain passes. They arrived on Christmas Day, where Farr and his department unloaded everything and set up the team hotel and practice facility prior to the team’s arrival and first practice. Video equipment was set up at the hotel so the position groups could watch film; an equipment room was set up for storage; lockers were set up at the practice facility; a training room was set up to keep the student-athletes healthy. Two days before kickoff, Farr and his crew of three full-timers and ten students set up the Ducks’ locker room at the Alamodome, and from there it’s on to game day.
The trick is to make San Antonio, a city of 1.4 million people in dry, dusty south Texas, feel as much as possible like Eugene, a city of 160,000 in the overcast southern end of the fertile Willamette Valley; and make the 65,000-seat Alamodome feel like the decidedly uncovered 54,000-seat Autzen Stadium. That means providing the same amenities the Ducks enjoy in Eugene, right down to what they eat for breakfast every day.
“We’ll try to make everything seamless as if we’re not actually away from home,” said Pratik Patel, director of sports nutrition. “We feel that the process we’ve created is the way we want things done, so we don’t have to change anything, we just have to make sure we have what we need.”
Once Oregon’s postseason destination was announced, the “what we need” part of Patel’s bowl planning kicked into overdrive. Where will the team be staying? What food will the hotel provide? What postgame food vendor will the team use? What is the practice schedule, and how intense will the practices be? Where will the team be eating its meals? What can the UO’s sponsors ship directly to the bowl site? What will the bowl provide at its own events? These were just some of the questions Patel needed to answer before December 19, when the UO's trucks were loaded.
On top of that, feeding an entire football team is no easy feat. Each player has a personalized meal plan, based on things such as their size, position group, and personal goals—DeForest Buckner and Charles Nelson don't exactly consume the same portions at meals. Allergies and food aversions have to be taken into consideration, and plans have to be made to properly fuel athletes for a week while 2,200 miles from "home."
Some of the UO's sponsors, such as Gatorade, take a load off Patel's shoulders by shipping products directly to San Antonio. For the rest of the needed items, the football team is just like anybody else—just buying in slightly larger quantities.
"We take a good amount of product, so we’ll make a couple of trips to Costco to get our normal routine items down," said Patel, whose department's slogan is "Fuel the day" as they implore the UO's student-athletes to take care of themselves year-round.
While Farr, Patel, and others are taking care of the players and coaches, Jason Harris, BS '03 and the UO ticket office took care of the thousands of fans traveling to the game. Once the Ducks became bowl eligible following the win against Cal, the ticket office began contacting season ticket holders and donors to begin the process of taking applications for bowl tickets. After the Alamo Bowl was announced, tickets went on sale to the public, with the ticket office working as quickly as possible to get them out the door immediately.
"(Director of ticket operations) Laura Jorgensen and myself were at home working," said Harris of the Sunday the bowl game was announced. "I was working on getting e-mails out to the public, season ticket holders, and students, and Laura was building all the stuff to be ready to go online.
"We get the tickets UPSed out as soon as possible, because of all the holiday packages (being shipped at the same time)," said Harris. "It's an exciting time for us. We do a lot, and we try to do as much prep as we can, making sure our students are on the phones, and making sure our season ticket holders are prepared."
At each bowl game, each school is allotted a certain number of tickets—a number that varies by bowl. The Rose Bowl gives schools between 20,000–30,000 tickets each; the Sugar Bowl 12,500 each; the Alamo Bowl 6,000. Many of those tickets, though, have to be set aside for family members and guests of the players and coaches, and even each school's own band and students, as their numbers count as part of the school's allotment.
"Within our allotment we have to carve out and know in advance, and that goes into the planning that Laura and Jeff (Stewart, associate director of ticket operations) worked on," said Harris. "Here's the roster for the players, here's what we require for the coaches, here's the band, which needs X number of tickets, so now how many tickets do we have to sell from there?"
A portion of the two 18-wheelers Farr sent to San Antonio was filled with tickets and the supplies Harris and his department needed to stock "will call" stations at the team hotel and the Alamobowl. "We had a large tote," he said. "The equipment room does it on a much larger scale, but we'll bring paper, pens, binders, signs—everything that we need for a regular gameday here, we bring there."
On the other side of the Willamette River from the athletic department, the Alumni Association was also busy with bowl preparations following the Alamo Bowl announcement. Alumni travel packages were put together by Ducks Fan Travel in the months before the bowl destination was known, with options in place for multiple bowl games. Immediately following the announcement, alumni were able to purchase a travel package, offering ground transportation and multiple nights at the team hotel among other benefits. A tailgate was planned for Sunset Station, adjacent to the Alamodome, and tickets sold out within a few days of going on sale.
Sometime around 9:00 p.m. central time on January 2, confetti will fall from the Alamodome ceiling and one of the teams (hopefully Oregon) will celebrate on the field while the fans (again, hopefully Oregon's) party in the stands before spilling out onto the San Antonio streets and celebrating a successful start to the new year (hopefully safely and responsibly).
The UO's equipment managers, nutritionists, trainers, video coordinators, and strength and conditioning coaches; and the employees of the ticket office and the Alumni Association will then be able to sit back and reflect on a job well done, regardless of the final score.
Until, of course, it's time to reload the trucks for the drive back to Eugene where, come Monday, the process will start all over again in anticipation of next year's bowl game.