Monday, October 3, 2011

Travel Blog - NFL Week Four: Double Dip – Annapolis & Houston

Sept. 30-Oct. 2, 2011

Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium - Annapolis, MD

The frequency of getting two CBS games in the same weekend has increased in the recent years and I absolutely love them. I had five such weekends in the 2010 NFL/college basketball season and will likely get a few more before the end of the year.

With the two games and me getting out immediately following each game, I didn’t get any time to shoot Baltimore/Annapolis or Houston; though I’ve shoot each in the past (Houston just three weeks ago). I will be back in Baltimore for a Ravens game in Week Six. I still got plenty of snaps though of Navy's stadium and the NFL game.  

On the first segment of my flight from San Jose to Baltimore for the Navy game, I reached Diamond status with Delta Airlines for the first time. Diamond is the top tier of Delta’s medallion structure that was re-adjusted two years ago when Northwest Airlines sadly merged to create the world’s largest airline (I’ve been Platinum since 2003). I barely missed it the first two years, but made it this year with three full months left in the year. Diamond gives you free access to the Delta SkyClub, which usually costs $400 and provides free booze and light snacks in a peaceful environment. Though I don’t drink, I like the free internet and the snacks eliminate spending extra coin in the expensive terminal. I use to purchase this each year, but haven’t been a member since 2009 due to the cost.

I did the 2007 Army-Navy game in Baltimore as part of a previous double dip, but this was my first time to Navy-Marine Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. When I snapped the stadium, it marked the 168th different sports venue that I’ve photographed for my website. Thought this stadium is small with a capacity of about 22K, it has a really cool feel with the openness and the massive “GO NAVY” seats on each side of the field. Check out my vast collection of college and pro stadiums and arenas by clicking here.

Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium
THE GAME: Air Force 35, Navy 34 (OT)
Because of an issue with the clock machine, I didn’t get a chance to go out and shoot pregame. Air Force dominated the first half leading 21-3 and was up 28-10 with less than ten minutes to go before Navy mounted an unbelievable comeback to tie it with nine seconds left. In overtime, Navy got its first lead of the game but had the ensuing extra point blocked. Air Force scored and converted the extra point to win it 35-34 in the first overtime. As a side note, the TV trucks were right next to two massive dumpsters that were just emptied. The stench Friday for setup was horrendous. Saturday, it dissipated a little.

I did, however, do a time lapse of the stadium. Sadly, I had to cut it short since our game was running late, so it doesn’t have any of the overtime or the crowd departing.

At the end of game setups on Friday, the stadium hosted a collegiate sprint football game between Navy and Post University. Sprint football is for players that weigh no more than 172 pounds and less than ten schools in the country play this type of football. I had about five minutes and took a few good shots. The photo below is from a 70-yard touchdown run. After this snap, I headed back to the trucks and off to the meetings. There were maybe 100 people in the stands. Since not a single player tipped the scales past 172, I looked like an anomaly on the sideline snapping away.

Sprint Football Game: Post at Navy
Following the game, I rushed to Reagan International Airport in D.C. to catch the last flight to Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport for Sunday’s NFL game between Pittsburgh and Houston. There were seven of CBS crew members that quickly departed Annapolis for DC to catch flights for Sunday NFL games. Six of us were on the flight to Houston (four went from there to San Diego for a Chargers game). When Navy tied the game in the waning seconds to force overtime, all of us thought that getting out might be very tight. It wasn’t an issue at all as we made it with over an hour to spare. Sadly, the game was in Houston once again. This was my 14th NFL game, which is four more than the next closest team (I've been to Indy, Oakland and Buffalo ten times each for CBS).

For the flight (Continental 1557) from D.C. to Houston, I was lucky that one of the CBS crew upgraded me from the back of the bus to first class since I don’t have any status on the airline. However, the service on the flight was beyond horrible. There was no offering of drinks or snacks prior to take off. I usually just sleep before takeoff, but with five other CBS crew members, I was talking and seemingly parched for my Diet Coke addiction.

From the moment I sat down until the flight attendance came by the first time to offer a drink was 78 minutes (52 minutes after the listed departure). Thankfully, she got my meal order at the same time. My tasty beverage came twenty minutes later. The meal came an additional eleven minutes after my soda (though it was actually decent). I was in the last row of first class and looked back after getting my drink to notice that over ten rows of coach had already received drinks and snacks, including the row that I originally selected. Also, the “free” DirecTV didn’t work the entire flight. I’m so glad I fly Delta.

THE GAME (PART II): Texans 17, Steelers 10
In four NFL weeks, this is my third Houston Texans game (second in a row) and second trip to Houston in four weeks. I get more Houston in Week Six (at Baltimore).

The Texans opened the game with a 19-play, eleven minute drive for a touchdown. In the drive, Houston actually gained more yards (115) than the length of the field (100) because of multiple penalties. At halftime, the Texans were up 10-0, but Pittsburgh tied it before Arian Foster posted his third best rushing performance of his career (155 yards with a 42-yard touchdown). I’ve covered all three of those games – Week 1 & 17 in 2010 and this game.
2010 NFL rushing yardage champion Arian Foster
Penalties nullified two Houston touchdowns (both my Johnathan Joseph). One was on a blocked field goal on the first half’s final play when Danieal Manning blocked the FG then was flagged for a block in the back. In the fourth quarter, Joseph returned an interception for a score, but a late hit on Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger took the points off the board. A few plays later, Roethlisberger was picked off and the Texans ran out the clock.

Texans WR Andre Johnson and Steelers LB James Harrison left the games with injuries on back-to-back plays in the second quarter. Harrison returned in the second half while Johnson will be getting an MRI on his hammy on Monday.

The Texans have won their last four home games I've covered.

Whenever I shoot a pregame with the Steelers, Roethlisberger seemingly never wears his helmet. I guess it shouldn’t be a shocker since he did get in a motorcycle accident a few years back and didn’t wear a helmet back then either. He’s the only QB in the league that does this and instead wears a sideline hat backwards as he warms up.
Big Ben sans helmet
Ben will don his lid only for two to three snaps of team (full offense vs. full defense) near the end of pregame. Mostly, he’ll be handing the ball off and though I’ve photographed him numerous times, I never get a great shot of his passing in full uniform with his helmet strapped. This time, I finally got the shot I’ve been waiting for with Big Ben (he threw a total of two passes with his helmet on in pregame).   

Big Ben with the helmet on
Pittsburgh’s pregame warm-ups seem more relaxed than any other team. Big Ben gives hugs to all his teammates (I mean all of them) and seemingly everyone else is hugging one and another.
Roethlisberger & Troy Polamalu share a pregame embrace
When the defense takes the field, William Gay dances in the middle what looks like a chanting religious huddle.
Defensive huddle dance
I’ve done more time lapses at Reliant Stadium than any other venue and won’t be doing so again, unless it gets another Super Bowl or major event that I’m covering. You can check out my previous Reliant Stadium time lapses, by clicking here or here or here or here or here or here (I think you get the picture).

Sunday (10/2) would have been my dad’s 65th birthday. He passed away in early 2007. My love for football comes from my dad. We’d go to every Bucs home game and watch them lose game after game in the 1980s and early 1990s. My parents divorced when I was very young, so nearly all of my childhood memories of my dad were at Tampa Stadium. I miss him a lot, but am glad he got to see me as a PR director for the Storm, work NFL games with CBS and be there when I married Bethany. 

When I turned 35 in July, my wife made me a Bucs themed cake inspired by my earliest childhood memory – a 1979 game at Tampa Stadium that Tampa Bay beat the New York Giants 31-3. I remember we sat in the South End Zone and hearing the Bucs theme song playing, “Hey, hey Tampa Bay; the Bucs know how to shine.”

Buccaneers birthday cake
Remember my dad, the Bucs play Monday night. I rarely watch any sports because I’m immersed in it so much, but I relish the chance to watch the Bucs play. Tonight, I will be planted on the couch cheering them on to hopefully a 3-1 start.


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