The Cowboys and Rams on Saturday will play the first NFL preseason game at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii, since 1976. The stadium, shown in 2016, hosted the NFL’s Pro Bowl for more than 30 years starting in the late 1970s.
OXNARD, Calif. — The Dallas Cowboys have played preseason games in Pendleton, Oregon; Roanoke, Virginia; Shreveport, Louisiana; and Canton, Ohio. They have also played in international locales such as London, Mexico City, Monterrey, Mexico, Tokyo and Toronto.
“I’ve never been to Hawaii before, so I’m excited to get over there with the guys, do a little team bonding,” said Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith, who played a game in Ireland while he was at Notre Dame. “But then it’s preseason game No. 2 against the Rams.”
Dallas wide receiver Michael Gallup was at Colorado State when he played at Aloha Stadium, and he recommends players try the fresh pineapple. But fruit aside, the Cowboys want this to be a business trip.
“We’re not going to be there very long, so we’re really just there to play. Yeah, it’s an important trip for us,” safety Jeff Heath said. “We’re getting closer to the regular season and you only get so many opportunities to play in these games before it gets real.”
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett looks forward to the 2,500-mile trip from Oxnard to Honolulu.
“Hawaii is a magical place. There is a great football tradition there. A lot of great players have come from there,” Garrett said. “One of our great players years ago, Mark Tuinei, is from Hawaii and so many others. There is a real tradition of individual guys. The Pro Bowl being over there for so many years, the Hula Bowl was there for so many years. I think it’s something we’re really excited about doing. It’s a little bit different leaving training camp to go to Hawaii to play a game than going back to Dallas. We get all that. But once you get around the logistical part, it’s going to be fun to go over there and play a football game and hopefully grow as a team in a great environment.”
A lot of work goes into the move
Speaking of logistics, the real work began after Wednesday’s practice.
Long after the players were done with their final padded practice in Oxnard, the team’s equipment staff was busy packing trucks with gear — blocking sleds, tackling dummies and anything else associated with the team’s 21-day stay.
The planning for the staging of camp and the eventual breakdown started in May and culminated Thursday with seven 53-foot trailers making the trek back to Texas.
“They’ll leave about 3 o’clock [Thursday] and be in Dallas Friday night,” equipment manager Bucky Buchanan said of the trucks.
What made this packing job a little different is that a portion of the gear had to be packed for the plane ride to Hawaii.
“It’s a regular road trip for us,” Buchanan said. “Everybody thinks we’re going to be out of the country but we’re not. It’s just we’re going to be there one extra day than normal during the season. Once everybody got that mindset right, everything’s been falling into place.”
When the Cowboys and Rams ironed out the details about a preseason game in Honolulu, owners Jerry Jones and Stan Kroenke discussed the possibility of practicing together for two days while on the island but the logistics never worked out.
Beyond the game
Since becoming the Cowboys’ head coach, Garrett has used several road tips as learning experiences for his team. In 2014, the Cowboys had a dinner at the Tower of London before playing the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium. The Cowboys made a trip to the 9/11 Memorial in New York City in 2015. Last season, the Cowboys visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.
This trip will be no different. Following the Cowboys’ walk-through on Friday, they are scheduled to visit the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.
“That will be cool,” running back Alfred Morris said. “Seen the movies and studied the history. That will be good.”
Once the Cowboys landed in Hawaii, the equipment crew headed to Aloha Stadium to set up the locker room with jerseys hanging in lockers and pads at the ready. Because the Cowboys will hold their walk-through at the team’s hotel, the equipment guys will get a little respite.
Immediately following Saturday’s game, the Cowboys will fly back to Dallas and the equipment staff will be in action again, making sure the 18,000 pounds of gear gets to the plane. Not long after landing, the Cowboys’ equipment crew will head to The Star. Interns will have taken care of the trucks that brought back the gear from Oxnard and have that in place by Sunday. When equipment director Mike McCord, Buchanan and the rest arrive, the focus will be on unpacking from the Rams game.
“Hopefully we’ll be done by noontime Monday,” Buchanan said.
On Tuesday, the Cowboys will have their first training camp practice at The Star in Frisco, Texas.
Everything will be in order, despite the work it took to get everything home.
“Those guys work their ass off,” Heath said. “They’re probably some of the hardest workers here. We don’t make their job very easy. We try our best to pick up, but it always seems like the locker room will be a mess and the next day it’s perfect. We’re very thankful for those guys.”