- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

I’ve decided to take a different approach to my column this week. I’ve been a little fired up the last couple of weeks, so I thought I would step down off my usual soapbox and dive into something different.

I know there are things all you readers out there have questions about, or maybe something you just wonder about. Take the situation we’re facing this week: Going on the road. What’s it like? Is it fun? Do you check out the city? You know, stuff like that.

Well, for all those out there who think we just get on a plane, hang out in the city all night, play the game and come home, I’m sorry to say it doesn’t happen like that. No re-creation of “Playmakers” here.

Road trips in this league are what they are: business trips. Pro cities are cool to check out, but that’s what the offseason is for.

For a Sunday game, we leave Washington on Saturday afternoon. You know the old adage: “You play good if you look good?” Well, we take that philosophy very seriously. Some of the finest suits in the metro area are displayed on our charter plane. You’d almost think we were starring in a fashion show.

I’ve seen my share of eye-opening attire in my career, three-piece suits ranging in color from electric blue to bright orange. I would say our team is more dressed for a day on Wall Street. I’ll tell you this: We look good coming off that plane. I believe the word is “professional.”

If you were to take a stroll down the aisle of our plane, you wouldn’t find a whole lot of nonsense going on. Some guys study their play books. Others watch game films on their portable DVD players. And yes, there are the occasional short naps.

It all has a business feel to it. Having fun on the plane is great for the ride home after a win. On the way there, though, it’s all about preparation.

When we arrive at the hotel, which is always first class, we have a couple of hours of free time to check out a restaurant or see friends who are in town for the game.

I, myself, am a room service guy. I pretty much get the same thing every time: Atlantic salmon and mashed potatoes. I just like to hang out in my room and watch some college football over dinner. Certain cities, such as New Orleans with its Cajun cuisine, will lure me out of the room, but that’s about it.

Meetings start at 9 p.m. sharp. During this time, we go over our game plans for the next day. It’s almost a review of what we need to do, because I’ll tell you, if you are not ready to play by Saturday night, you are not going to wake up on Sunday and magically be ready for the game.

It can almost be equated to studying the night before you take a big test. When I was in school and wasn’t prepared for a test, it didn’t matter how much I studied the night before, I struggled. It’s the same with football. If you aren’t ready to review what you already know the night before, you will struggle on Sundays.

After meetings, it’s time for the team snack. Let me tell you, there is nothing better in this league than the Saturday night snack. It’s a smorgasbord of burgers, chicken, fruit, cookies, sandwiches, ice cream, you name it. You load yourself up with those goodies and then head back to your room to check out the end of the late college game on ESPN and go to bed.

When you wake up on Sunday, your mind-set is completely different. Sundays are different from every other day in the week. It’s gameday. You know you’re on the road. You know it’s going to be a hostile environment. You know it’s going to be a challenge.

I enjoy road games. I actually think some of the pressure is off. You usually are there with your teammates and only your teammates. You have no one else to rely on but each other. It’s an adverse time, and great teams are made in adverse times.

Of course, the best part of the road trip is winning the game. Plane trips home after a win are great. No matter how much you hurt, that plane seat feels like your favorite living room recliner. It’s a feeling you have to experience first-hand to understand its true meaning.

Before you know it, you’re back home. It’s still Sunday night, so if you happened to play well, you make a point to check out the highlights on television and tell yourself what you’ve been hoping to hear all week long:

You passed the test.

Ask Matt

Q: The Red Sox players said they watched “Animal House” before Game 7 against the Yankees, and I’ve heard the Eagles say they sometimes watch “Rocky” to get them fired up for a game. What movie would get you fired up the most? What’s the most bizarre pre-game ritual you’ve ever seen?

A: One of my favorite inspirational movies is “Miracle,” about the 1980 U.S. hockey team. But I also love war movies like “Black Hawk Down” and “Saving Private Ryan.” As far as pre-game rituals go, I’ve seen some guys lay out their uniform on the ground, as if it were on them, trying out different combinations with wristbands and whatnot.

Q: Which was more painful to go through: surgery to repair your torn ACL, or watching the Cubs lose seven out of eight down the stretch to blow the NL wild card?

A: I would have to say the ACL surgery is more painful. The pain from the Cubs has become second nature, so I know what I’m dealing with. It never changes. Blown leads and Bartman hurt every fall.

Staff writer Mark Zuckerman collaborates with Redskins safety Matt Bowen on this column. It appears every Wednesday. If you have any questions for Matt, e-mail them to bowencolumn@aol.com.

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