Unless they were experiencing a bout of color-blindness, Baylor’s football players couldn’t ignore the sea of purple they swam into two weeks ago in Manhattan, Kan.
Kansas State’s fans filled every nook and cranny of Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Clearly, they weren’t there to cheer for the Bears. One passing glance into the stands was all that was needed to deliver the message.
Toto, we’re not in, uh, Waco anymore.
Art Briles’ Bears follow a familiar structure throughout the week, from practice time to weightlifting sessions to pregame routines. But on the road, the comfort level evaporates.
“We really do try to keep everything as normal as possible, but you can’t do it. Because it’s not (the same),” Briles said. “You can’t look at a shirt that’s red and say it’s green. It’s different. So you have to be different and you have to prepare differently. And every situation is different.”
Nevertheless, football players are creatures of habit. The night before every game in Waco, the Bears steal away to the Downtown Hilton. They don’t want the distraction of their dorm or apartment living interfering with their mental preparation for the game.
The night before their road games, Baylor tries to replicate that same Hilton environment at their out-of-town hotel.
“I think we try to make the hotel the same as here, when we stay at the Hilton. It’s all about the night before,” linebacker Eddie Lackey said. “It’s the same preparation, the same thing, it’s just in a different city, a different state. We just try to stick to the same game plan that we would staying here in Waco.”
Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon said it’s imperative for the team to remember that road trips are business trips, not vacation weekend getaways.
“We don’t worry about the food, the hotel or the flight,” Dixon said. “You can’t worry about anything. We just worry about going out there and playing defense. We only worry about what we can control. When you’re on the road, it’s strictly business. You can’t go in there joking around.”
The varying logistics of each trip force the Bears to have to adjust to each situation. For instance, even though Baylor’s game against Kansas Saturday will take the Bears back to the same part of the country as the K-State game, the differences in game times (2:30 p.m. for the Wildcats, 6 for the Jayhawks) lead to major changes in travel plans and flight times.
Briles understands that. Where he said his team must remain consistent, however, is in its pregame preparation at the stadium and its on-field effort and execution.
“The one that that’s constant is the two hours before the game and the 60 minutes on the clock and the field,” he said. “Those are constants, and that’s what your focus and energy goes to.”
In the Briles Era, the Bears have learned that road wins don’t come easy. Briles’ Bears are 5-15 in true Big 12 road games, not counting any neutral site meetings with Texas Tech.
But the Baylor players believe this team is different, as evidenced by the Bears’ gritty 35-25 win over K-State in their road opener two weeks ago.
“We got our first little test of what playing on the road is going to be like this year,” Lackey said. “Our team had to fight through a little adversity, and it was kind of good to get those first jitters out of the way, going to somebody else’s house.
“We started the season with four home games, and it was four pretty comfortable home games, so to go out there and win in a hostile environment was a big deal for our team. Now we’ve just got to carry that through the rest of the season.”
The Bears said there is a special sweetness that accompanies a road victory. It’s perhaps most evident in the volume — or lack thereof — that follows a Baylor touchdown or big play.
Silence is for libraries, not football stadiums. But when you’re on the road, silence is like music to a visiting player’s ears.
“As a defense, especially, we feed off it. It’s kind of like a funny thing now,” Lackey said. “The crowd’s going all crazy, and when we make a big play or someone like Sam (Holl) makes a big old hit, everybody just goes silent.
“I think that’s the thing that motivates you on the road is making that stadium quiet. That’s the way it should be. That’s when you know you’re doing something right, when they have nothing to cheer about. That’s the most fun thing.”