It’s a successful scramble

Patriots’ football ops team able to handle change in travel plans

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / December 28, 2010

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Mother Nature and junior hockey conspired to alter the Patriots’ plans on Sunday, as the winter storm that affected air travel meant they had to spend an extra night in Buffalo.

Only they couldn’t stay in Buffalo. The city is hosting the 10-team World Junior Hockey Championships, and hotel rooms were at a premium. New England’s football operations crew had reserved rooms on Christmas night in the downtown Hyatt months earlier, but once the rooms were vacated Sunday morning, they couldn’t be re-booked. They had been committed to the teams competing in the tournament, their families, and fans.

So with just a couple of hours notice, the Patriots football ops team, headed by Matt Caracciolo, booked more than 100 rooms at the Hyatt in Rochester, about an hour east of Buffalo. It was the first time in at least 17 years that the team had to spend an extra night on the road because of weather.

The two hotels communicated, with the Buffalo property telling Rochester what the Patriots had requested and required during their stay, from food to meeting rooms to rooming lists.

When the team arrived, everything was in place. It wasn’t the best-case scenario — that would have been making the short flight home to Green Airport in Rhode Island and spending the night in their own beds — but given the circumstances, the transition was seamless.

Many members of the team enjoyed dinner at the hotel restaurant, but a group went to the famous Dinosaur BBQ in town.

Word spread of where the Patriots were, and fans braved the freezing temperatures for a chance to get a glimpse of them; local reporters descended upon the hotel to document the unexpected visit as well.

By 11:30 yesterday morning, everyone was on buses and headed for the Rochester airport with more Dinosaur food: Alge Crumpler arranged and paid for smoked wings and ribs for his teammates to devour on the ride.

Not having to drive back to Buffalo’s airport was a fortuitous change in plans as well; that’s where the team initially was scheduled to depart from.

The Patriots were wheels-up around 1:30 p.m., and just before 3 they were on the ground at Green Airport. By 3:45, coach Bill Belichick was holding his day-after conference call with reporters from the offices at Gillette Stadium.

“Anyone who’s ever tried to deal with the logistics of family travel through airport shutdowns should have an appreciation of what it takes to book over 100 hotel rooms and manage the coordination of an entire football team,’’ said Patriots vice president of media relations Stacey James. “It’s an amazing accomplishment . . . the accommodations were great, everything was right on schedule. Kudos go to the football ops staff for getting us back so efficiently and to the Delta flight crew for getting us back so safely. It was a great job by all.’’

Given what other teams have had to go through this season, the Patriots had it pretty easy.

The Giants were stuck in Kansas City for 36 hours because of snow in Minnesota earlier this month and wound up facing the Vikings in Detroit, and after facing the Packers on Sunday they couldn’t come home because of airport shutdowns in the New York City area and were still in Appleton, Wis., as of last night. The Jets had to spend Sunday night in Chicago, flew into Newburgh, N.Y., last night and then bused 90 minutes to their facility in New Jersey.

It was the continuation of a difficult week for the Patriots, with flu-like symptoms affecting several and bumps and bruises ailing others, but a week that in the long run could strengthen them.

“I think every team has those weeks where some guys are in and some guys are out,’’ quarterback Tom Brady said after New England’s win. “There are injuries and this week quite a few guys got sick. I think the guys fought through it and showed some mental toughness. That’s been a big word for us this year.’’

Belichick acknowledged yesterday that the coaching staff is a bit behind in terms of its preparations for Sunday’s regular-season finale with the Dolphins, but after an extra night on the road and the issues the Patriots faced last week, catching up today shouldn’t be too difficult.

“We’ll watch the film, make corrections, and get all of those things done,’’ he said. “We’ll see what happened in the game and things we need to specifically work on and correct and make sure we talk to the team about them and finish up our scouting reports with Miami.

“[We will] get the information from [the Dolphins’] game against Detroit and put that in with the other scouting information that we have. We will get a game plan together and be ready for the players [tomorrow]. I would say we are a few hours behind a normal Sunday game, but significantly ahead of where we would be on a Monday night game. Somewhere in the middle.’’

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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