The Seahawks left the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in buses Friday afternoon just like they have on any other Friday afternoon this season for road games. They flew their Delta charter to Minneapolis, then made an easy, incident-free trip to a downtown hotel that will be their home leading up to Sunday's wild-card playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings. On Saturday, players woke up, went to meetings, then bused to their usual Saturday walk-thru and stadium visit before returning to the hotel for some afternoon downtime, followed by more meetings.
It was just like any of the other eight road trips the Seahawks have made this season with one very notable exception. Unlike the previous eight road trips, which were planned months in advance after the NFL released its schedule last spring, this trip had to come together in a matter of weeks, and in the case of some details, days after the Seahawks learned their playoff destination Sunday night.
On Sunday, the spotlight will shine brightly on Seahawks players and coaches as they begin what they hope can be another lengthy postseason run, but before that happens, let's take a look at the people behind the scenes whose work often goes unnoticed, but is vital to make a trip like this happen so seamlessly on short notice.
"Right now we're looking at three different scenarios, Washington, Minneapolis and Green Bay," Jeremy Young, the Seahawks' team travel/training camp coordinator, says sitting at his desk on New Year's Eve, three days before the Seahawks will learn their playoff fate.
Young normally has months to plan lodging and transportation for the Seahawks on the road, beginning the process not long after the schedule is released in April. When cities the Seahawks haven't visited in recent years pop up on the schedule, Young will make offseason trips to visit anywhere from six to 10 hotels to decide where the Seahawks will stay that season.
With the Seahawks back on the road in the postseason for the first time since 2012, Young had to plan three trips, with two possible arrival dates—wild-card games are scheduled on Saturday and Sunday, and the Seahawks didn't learn their fate until late Sunday night—all in a matter of weeks. Finding the right hotel obviously requires, enough rooms, but there's a lot more to it than that. In addition to wanting a quality hotel in a convenient location, the team requires a lot of meeting space, preferably space that is relatively private—one hotel that offered to host the Seahawks this season had a wedding going on in a ballroom next door. It's not an easy task to find the right place with plenty of time to plan; it can get really tricky on short notice.
"This situation going into this week is the most challenging, because there are three different options," Young said last week. "The last few days, I've been setting up information to send to the hotel, but specified for each individual property… There are all sorts of variables."
That means getting the menu for team meals coordinated, making sure the meeting rooms are set up to the team's specifications, getting the blocks of rooms for players organized and so many other little details. After arranging that for three different cities, Young was back in his office at 7 a.m. Monday to finalize the details with the team's Minneapolis hotel.
It's a lot of work getting the travel figured out, but as Young would be the first to point out, he's just one of many people who helped make a trip like this to go off so smoothly. There's Matt Capurro, the football operations coordinator, Rick Ninomiya, the director of security, Erik Kennedy, the director of equipment, Donald Rich, the head athletic trainer, their staffs, members of the PR department—one of whom always travels earlier in the week to be the team's point of contact before everyone else arrives—and so many others who can make such a complicated trip involving more than 150 players, coaches and staff members seem like such a routine weekend on the road.
"What's amazing about them is they go about their work kind of in silence behind the scenes so much that you don't see the things they do; everything just works beautifully," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We're like a machine when we travel. Our ability to function with great continuity and consistency is all because of those guys."
When it comes to organizing the team's schedule, Capurro, who came to Seattle from USC, works most closely with Carroll.
"I asked Matt about it today," Carroll said last week. "There are three destinations, and they've already got everything ironed out for all three trips in just a week's time, that's just the way they do stuff. Matt has been with me so long, he can anticipate everything I'm going to think of. He's always three steps ahead of me, and I've come to totally rely on him. Without him and Ben (Malcolmson, the special assistant to the head coach/director of external relations) and all those guys, I would never be able to do this like I'm doing it. They're greatly appreciated, but not seen. They're definitely behind the scenes making important stuff happen."
Capurro, who got his start in the NFL working at Raiders training camps when he was still in high school, is in charge of the team's schedule every week so players, coaches and everyone else knows exactly where they're supposed to be and when they're supposed to be there, or as he puts it, "Getting everybody from Point A to Point B."
When it comes to travel on short notice, that means setting up locations for walk-thru practices on two different days in three cities. It's scheduling departure times, meetings, meals, wake-up calls and so much more, all based on a kickoff date and time.
"The biggest thing is to get some of those questions answered by Coach Carroll," Capurro said. "'What is your thought process on travel days, depending on who we're playing—are we going to travel two days or one day?' And that sets the tone for the whole week. So it's planning different scenarios based on whatever team we're playing, what day we're playing and what time we're playing, having all those scenarios ready, then you present it to coach when he's ready to talk about it, then communicating to Jeremy, to Erik to let them know, 'Hey, if this happens, we're going to do this.'"
While Young and Capurro are vital to making sure the Seahawks get where they need to be, when they need to be there and have the proper accommodations, Ninomiya and his team of five off-duty police officers are in charge of the very important task of making sure everyone is safe from Friday's departure from the VMAC to Sunday's return. A police escort may seem excessive to some, but Ninomiya can remind you that in 2004, Cleveland Indians rookie Kyle Denney was hit in the leg by a bullet that hit the team bus while in Kansas City. A police escort is the difference between pulling over and calling 911 on the side of the freeway in that situation and having a quick escort to the closest emergency room. And like everyone else involved in this process, Ninomiya had to plan three different weekends on short notice. That meant contacting police departments in every city to arrange those escort—though a veteran of this job like Ninomiya knows that in Washington D.C., local police don't handle the non-game day escorts, the U.S. Park's Department does—as well as local off-duty police officers or security companies that help with hotel security.
"It's actually three trips with six scenarios," Ninomiya said last week. "I've already made playoff plans for all three teams: Washington, Minnesota and Green Bay, then there's two scenarios for each trip because we could play Saturday or Sunday… I've contacted all the police departments and preliminary set up escorts for a Thursday trip and a Friday trip."
Ninomiya, a former Seattle Police Department homicide detective, has worked with the Seahawks under Mike Holmgren, Jim Mora and now Carroll. And in that time, one of the biggest things he has learned is how important the communications between different departments within the team can be to make this trips go so smoothly.
"All the guys really are rowing in the same direction," he said. "Our job is to make it easier for coaches to coach and the players to play. The communication is the biggest deal. I have to have so much information, so when I contact the police department, I can tell them which gate we're at at the airport, where we're going and all of those things."
Ninomiya jokes that his police contacts in various cities give him a hard time about how many times he calls in order to dot the I's and cross the T's, but that attention to detail is so important both in his current job and his previous one.
"They say to me, 'Rick, why do you call me three times in three weeks?" he said. "Because it's got to be perfect. Maybe that's a little bit of the homicide detective in me, because things have to be right. If they're not, you get embarrassed on the stand and you may lose a murder case."
When all is said and done, Capurro, Young, Kennedy, Ninomiya and everyone else have done their jobs if this trip feels just like another road trip, and, yes, if their hard work goes mostly unnoticed.
"We do this all behind the scenes so the coaches and players don't have to think about it," Capurro said. "So it's ready to go and seamless once those decisions are made… It should feel like a normal road trip to these guys, which is exactly what we want them to feel—like they've done this throughout the year. It's nothing different."
Nothing different, yet something incredibly complicated to pull off on short notice.