TULSA, Okla. — The Cal State Long Beach football team is on the road again. Fifth straight weekend. San Diego, Hawaii, Las Vegas, Boise, now muggy, rainy Tulsa. It's Friday night, 24 hours before the game with the University of Tulsa. The 49ers left Long Beach at 7 this morning, arrived at mid-afternoon, practiced and just finished dinner. Their spirits are high. They have won three straight games but will be the underdog.
The players are in a hotel meeting room that has plush carpeting and soft piped-in music. In sweatshirts and T-shirts they seem out of place in this room, which usually hosts businessmen.
In front of a green chalkboard is Mike Sheppard, the 33-year-old head coach. "People in Tulsa don't have a lot of respect for what we're here for," Sheppard tells his team.
Doug Gaynor, the quarterback and star player, agrees.
"I watched the news on TV," Gaynor says to his teammates. "They already think it's a win for them. They've been looking forward to us."
Sheppard asks how many points they will have to score to win.
"Twenty-eight," says Gaynor.
A grainy black-and-white film of Tulsa's plays is shown. Sheppard's finger is a black shadow on the screen as he points to areas that should be open for his pass receivers.
"We've got to feel we can throw the hell out of the ball against these guys," he says.
The 49ers watch a color movie on the Dallas Cowboys for, according to Sheppard, entertainment and motivation.
"They see spectacular plays, and we talk about making (those kind of) plays," he says.
After the movie, Sheppard calls on a "senior speaker," wide receiver Troy Ory, who sways nervously at the head of the room with his arms folded, searching for words to describe his feelings.
"We have a great opportunity tomorrow night, you guys," he begins. "I love you guys. I've played football since I was 8 years old. What I'll remember most is you guys because you're special."
Dessert waits in the hallway. The players grab dishes of ice cream and pie and head for their rooms and a Halloween movie.
"Lights out at 11," the itinerary reads.
Breakfast is in a banquet room Saturday morning at 10. Orange juice, iced tea, milk, fruit, sausage, eggs, potatoes and waffles. White tablecloths. Maroon-jacketed young men and women refill glasses for the 50 players and 10 coaches.
Sheppard gives the blessing.
At one table, defensive end Dave Komendat says to his roommate, 6-foot-6, 245-pound defensive end Tom Hensley: "You were snoring like a dog."
"Big guys always snore," says defensive back Gary Ryan.
At 10:45 the defensive players walk through formations--"eagle whip," "hog whip," "stack cover," "stack lightning"--on the hotel parking lot. It is hot and humid and last night's rain is evaporating on the black asphalt.
The offense walks through the plays that make CSULB one of the most effective passing teams in the country.
The sun catches the earrings of receivers Brian Browning and Kwante Hampton as they go out for Gaynor's imaginary passes.
"Be precise tonight," Gaynor tells them.
At 11, players meet with their positional coaches.
Gaynor and reserve quarterback Jeff Graham are in Sheppard's ninth-floor room which overlooks the GIANT discount store and Big Cheese Pizza. Flat land stretches to the horizon.
"I think everyone is confident of moving the ball," says Sheppard, sitting barefooted on his bed. "They've had three days to work on our (type of) offense--we ought to shred it (Tulsa defense)."
It will be the first time this season Tulsa has faced a passing team like Long Beach.
Sheppard reminds Gaynor that he will have to make "senior decisions," the main one being whether to throw the ball or run when he is being chased.
Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford arrives and he and Sheppard jot down the plays they will use.
Sheppard is highly organized but does not have the tense grimness of many other coaches. He does not want his players to think that this hotel is a prison.
"We are intense in the football aspect," he said, "but you shouldn't be so intense you lose the fun of the trip."
Free time starts at noon. Linemen John Stapleton, Jim Brooks and Joe Iosefa head for a room which contains video games and smells of chlorine from a nearby swimming pool.
Others go to their rooms to nap or think about the game.
Komendat and Hensley, stretched out on their beds, watch a football game on TV.
"You get so sick of laying around," Komendat says. "I brought books but haven't opened them.
"People at school think we come here to mess around. But this is tough. If you have classes on Friday, you have to miss school (to travel). I have to make up two tests Monday."
Hensley, sleepy-eyed and nonchalant, laughs and says, "Some guys like me schedule classes on Friday so we can miss them."
It's 2 p.m., time for the "throw around." On the parking lot, Gaynor and Graham pass to receivers who dodge cars to make the catches.
"Picture yourself making a great play during the game," Sanford instructs.