I recently ventured into the heart of Houston to attend Texans training camp and got to witness a pretty cool part of sports.
Our sales rep Patricia Catano gracefully invited me to tag along after she won tickets to last Wednesday's practice and although we weren’t there early enough to secure a seat in general admission, we enjoyed the festivities going on just outside the field.
Before long we realized practice will likely be ending shortly and found a place to post up behind a barrier that would soon keep hundreds of screaming fans just out of the reach of the players who oblige and sign autographs in the sweltering heat after practicing for nearly two hours.
We thought we got a decent enough spot but there were some in even better spots who had to have that space reserved as early as 7 a.m. I'm convinced.
Players started to filter into the concourse from the practice field and although there were some lesser-known names who emerged first, once the big faces started showing up there wasn’t any amount of heat that would keep fans from their players.
There were the usual shoves and tippy-toeing in order to earn a glimpse at whoever it was making their way down the field and I certainly remember being part of that crowd making their way to the front to get a better spot.
I hadn’t been to Patriots training camp in years before I left Massachusetts, but I have a vivid memory of hanging out late after practice one summer day when I was in middle school probably. There was a back concourse area that fewer people gathered around and I was able to be part of the group right up on the railing by the time the players came out.
It wasn’t anyone like Tom Brady or the other big studs of years past, but solid linemen and skilled position players came out and signed autographs and I'm sure I left with a big smiling face. Ask me where any signed item from that day resides today and I will not be able to give you an intelligent answer.
In any case, I can’t help but appreciate the players for toiling in practice, in the heat no less, and spending even more time outside mingling with the fans before hitting the showers.
I recently saw a clip from New York (gross I know) where Jets safety Jamal Adams was the only one left in the stadium signing memorabilia for a finite group of people that had whittled down as time passed.
It’s definitely because I'm not in a profession where I'm doing my job in front of thousands of screaming fans but I can’t imagine spending that much time after practice and before getting treatment to make some memories with some people you have no idea what their names are or where they’re from and if you’ll ever see them again in your life.
J.J. Watt is the guy that stuck out to me, making his way around the oblong-shaped area, hitting up every group of fans that got louder as he approached. I saw one sign across the way that read “These first responders need WATTs of pictures with JJ,” and I saw them going nuts when he saw the sign and made his way that direction.
It’s easy to forget about those interactions when it’s a third and long and the defense needs a stop but it’s a moment that for sure made me appreciate the sports arena all over again and I'm sure the hundreds of fans walking away smiling felt the same.