Rams' three-step process helps ease road schedule

Bruce Warwick, the Rams' director of football operations, had already moved an entire franchise from St. Louis to Los Angeles in six weeks before the NFL schedule came out on April 14.

Nothing, he said, could possibly compare to the sheer logistics of a haul that size, with three temporary facilities halfway across the country and no negotiations before NFL ownership approved the departure by a vote. New infrastructure, new satellite companies, new highways and traffic patterns. Different-sized team jets, moving procedures and coordination with township authorities.

So surely, the league would look kindly on its franchise in transition and provide an easier schedule to work around, right?

"It's like the opening bell of the stock market," Warwick, who plans all of the Rams' travel, told me last week with a laugh when discussing April's schedule release day. "You try and get to the cities you know are problematic first. You know for sure there are some city-wide conventions and weddings and holiday parties. It's the weddings during the preseason and early September, it's the holiday parties in December. And in certain cities like San Diego and San Francisco that have a lot of city-wide conventions -- that makes it really hard to get into those cities. So I try and work my ways from most problematic on down. We try to get a feel as soon as we can, but it usually takes about a month to shake everything out -- hotels, contracts, bids.

"In some cities you may have three great options between Marriott properties and Starwood properties and a Hyatt property. But in some cities, you have no options. You never know how it's going to go."

What he actually got was another obstacle in what has been a Sisyphean summer for the reborn Los Angeles Rams (2-1). Atop the move to Los Angeles, Warwick had to plan for a grueling road schedule that has the team traveling 35,952 miles this season -- a slate that is roughly 4,000 miles worse than the next-most-traveled team (Oakland Raiders) and more than 30,000 miles above the entire travel itinerary of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2016 (5,142 miles). According to numbers provided by the NFL, the Rams' trip to London alone will eclipse the Steelers' entire slate for the year.

This week, the Rams travel to Arizona (1-2), one of the few cities they can truck their equipment to. For now, they seem to be surviving, but that is in no small part due to Warwick's due diligence, along with that of the rest of the Rams' football operations department.

When presented with the daunting empirical evidence of the schedule from hell, Warwick just chuckled again.

"I would have never guessed that," he said.

This offseason, the Rams had to convert from a 757 jet to a 767 jet. (Think: The difference between a plane that has two rows of three seats to a plane that has the 2-4-2 or 2-5-2 configuration, mostly because they can only truck their equipment to a few locations now, as opposed to when they were operating out of the relatively accessible St. Louis location.) Plus, the only nearby airport that can house the plane is LAX, an airport at the traffic epicenter of the tangled Los Angeles roadway system.

Step 1 to navigating the season? Secure some help from your new friends.

"We need a police escort to get there," Warwick said. "We need a police escort to get to our own home airport. It's crazy. But that's Los Angeles."

He added: "What you think is rush hour is rush hour, but also what you think is downtime may not be downtime. You may go through Los Angeles in the middle of the day and there's more traffic than rush hour. After [the team's home opener in Los Angeles], it still took me an hour and 40 minutes. Everything is going on. The Emmys were going on that night."

Step 2: The London game and sleep schedules in general.

Warwick said head coach Jeff Fisher is at the forefront of sports science when it comes to avoiding sleep deprivation. The team had a sleep expert come to St. Louis before the team's first London game back in 2012 and retained information for its next journey, which takes place less than a month from now against the Giants. Warwick had initially hoped for an East Coast game to piggyback the flight off of, but soon realized that a game against Detroit before London was the best possible gift. The flight is roughly nine hours -- or a full sleep cycle.

"To go back to Los Angeles really was not a good strategy because the flight is about 11 hours from L.A. to London," he said. "From Detroit, we leave right on Sunday night and we can sleep on the plane. Like New York, they were complaining that it's not long enough to fall asleep -- it's only like five hours. Detroit actually gives us a window to fall asleep on the plane. We had a sleep specialist the last time in here, the last time we went to London. The word around the league is that it's better to fly overnight than it is to get in during the day. That's what people believe."

That is only half the battle, though. Warwick had meetings with Fisher and the training staff about adjustment periods to the new time zone. The team is leaving on Friday night instead of Saturday five different times this year to combat jet lag and and grogginess. Return flight times were also a major factor, as Fisher wanted players feeling comfortable when they returned.

Step 3, however, may have been the hardest part of all. With the scrambled NFL schedule laid out in front of him -- Warwick says it takes about a month to sort through everything and completely book the club's travel -- there is a push to find some semblance of home. If the Rams stayed at a place before, maybe it takes a little bit of the edge off for players.

"Because we've had so many changes out here -- moving out to a new place for training camp, a new facility, any time we can go someplace where we've been before, there's a comfort in that," he said. "But it really depends on the availability in every city once the schedule drops."

Warwick joked that he tries not to think about planning his own family vacations at this point. He has been home -- his parents and wife's family are from Syracuse, New York -- for 24 hours over the last two years. The plan is to make the playoffs, have a nice long run and finally relax afterward.

"Hopefully, this summer, we have a normal summer," he said. "We can make that part of the family vacation."

Follow Conor Orr on Twitter @ConorOrr.

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