After departing campus Sunday at 2 p.m. CDT for Australia to prepare for next weekend's season opening football game against Stanford in the Sydney Cup, the Rice Owls endured what is likely the farthest any college football team has traveled for a home game -- and it might be the farthest a team has traveled for a game, period. Between the over-three-hour flight from Houston to Los Angeles and then the nearly 15-hour flight from L.A. to Sydney, the Owls took comfort in the 51-degree weather when they arrived in Australia's largest city Tuesday morning.
When the team arrived in Sydney, things started off on a positive note: They were pleasantly surprised to clear though customs in a matter of minutes, which led them to load up on four buses and head out for a full day's worth of activities ahead of schedule.
To help prepare the team to beat jet lag, the strength-and-conditioning football coaches formulated a plan for the team to follow leading up to and throughout the trip. According to assistant director Bret Huth, who was with the Cal Bears staff when they traveled to Sydney last year for the inaugural Sydney Cup, it included wearing compression pants, getting the team to exercise a few times throughout the flight and getting their bodies to adjust immediately to Sydney's clock.
"The most important thing to prevent further sleep debt after the transition is to get their circadian rhythm set to Australian Eastern Standard Time as soon as possible," Huth said.
To do that, Huth said, they wanted the players to start using the clock like they were already in Sydney. "We wanted them in the mind-set that it was Sydney time in L.A."
That meant keeping the players up for the first half of that flight before letting them sleep. It also included having the players do stretches and laps around the plane to keep them limber and to prevent any possible clotting issues in the legs and ankle swelling. The team did laps in Sydney time at 7:15 p.m. Monday and 4:30 a.m. Tuesday in the sprawling United Airlines 787-9 Dreamliner. Watch a video of Rice's Los Angeles-to-Sydney plane trip, which includes footage of the workout at 38,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean.
After leaving Sydney Airport at 8:15 a.m., the team took about a 25-minute drive in rush-hour traffic to David Phillips Sports Complex on the campus of the University of New South Wales for a 12-period practice. The university, which is more than 60 years old, has nearly 53,000 students, and the sports complex accommodates 40 clubs and 5,000 athletes, according to its director, Craig Davis. That includes tennis, 15 field hockey teams, 25 football (soccer) teams, five gridiron (American football) teams, eight Australian rules teams, five baseball teans, five rugby teams and cricket. Davis is a footballer himself. He played in the Australian Rules Football league for 16 years, including appearing in nine Grand Finals, "or as you Americans call it, 'Super Bowls,'" he said.
After getting the team's mind off the just-completed long journey and their bodies stretched out and loose again, head coach David Bailiff attended an 11 a.m. Australian government press conference, where the Sydney Opera House was used as a backdrop to welcome the Owls and Stanford Cardinal. Joining Bailiff were sophomore running back Nahshon Ellerbe and punter Jack Fox.
As the Sydney Morning Herald reported:
As the Opera House shimmered in the background overlooking the sunshine-soaked harbour, Stanford and Rice universities were welcomed Down Under by a joey (young kangaroo) and a koala to begin preparations for Sunday's second Sydney Bowl. ...
They'll spend the week practicing for their season opener, but also taking in the sights and sounds a late winter in Sydney has to offer.
"Just look at this. I think I'm changing where I'm going to retire. I've been here five hours and already I'm thinking I've got to consider Sydney," Bailiff said overlooking the harbour after his side touched down in Australia on Tuesday morning.
"You look at the backdrop of this place, driving over here, just the architecture downtown, how it's so much old and so much new and it's all blended," he said.
While Bailiff was meeting with the media, the Owls got checked in at the team hotel, which is centrally located near Hyde Park, and got a much-deserved break to freshen up, get devices charged up and get online to report back home.
In the evening the team, coaches, staff and Owl supporters shoved off for a dinner cruise in Sydney Harbour, passing by the world-famous Sydney Opera House and the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, the sixth-longest spanning-arch bridge in the world and the tallest steel arch bridge, measuring 440 feet from its top to water level. It was also the world's widest long-span bridge, at 160 feet wide, until construction of the new Port Mann Bridge in Vancouver was completed in 2012, according to Wikipedia. A quick trivia question: How many different types of fish can be found in Sydney Harbour? The answer appears at the end of this post.
The team enjoyed a buffet of beef, chicken, ham, rolls, potato salad, shrimp, vegetable medley and salad, a fairly traditional meal, but that could change tomorrow. (We'll wait for tomorrow to report more on that.)
On that note, a couple of quick hits.
The Owls will hold another practice tomorrow, tour the University of Sydney, have a meal and attend a panel featuring the NCAA's Oliver Luck and Rice Director of Athletics Joe Karlgaard.
The Associated Press recapped our events today with this story: "No rest for jet-lagged Rice: Straight to practice Down Under."
And the answer to the trivia question: According to the Australian Broadcasting Company, 586 different species of fish can be found in Sydney Harbour.
View more photos from the Owls' first day in Sydney by using the arrows below in the Flickr gallery.