KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Preparing for three and a half weeks away from home is stressful enough but imagine holding the responsibility for 90 football players plus another 185 coaches and staff members. That’s the life of Chiefs equipment director Allen Wright as the team packed its trucks for the ride to St. Joseph on Tuesday.
“You know how you guys feel when you pack to go on vacation?” Wright asked. “Take that times a hundred and that’s what I feel right now.”
It helps that this isn’t exactly Wright’s first rodeo. This year’s camp marks the 36th for Wright with the Chiefs, a career spanning nine head coaches and countless thousands of players.
Wright and his staff started preparing for this year’s training camp as soon as last year’s session end. Empty trunks returning from St. Joseph get replenished upon their arrival in Kansas City, then stowed away in the baffles of the team’s training complex near Arrowhead Stadium for almost 11 months.
The treasure trove includes between 800 to 1,000 pairs of shoes, 5,000 pieces of gum and 1,000 towels and wash rags, what Wright describes as “standard numbers.” If it’s too much, that’s OK; the cardinal sin is bringing too little to camp.
“I’ll go back and check my notes and look at things,” Wright said. “Maybe we need to take a few more pieces of gum or maybe we need to take some more body wash or whatever it is. There’s not an excuse to run out of things so we take way more of everything than what we really should.”
The convoy of trucks heading up Interstate 29 will carry everything the team needs, from blocking sleds and footballs to jerseys and body wash.
Players receive a garment bag including their helmet, knee pads, thigh pads, shirts, sweatshirts, quarter-zips and long tights. The 175 coaches and staff members receive a bag with t-shirts, a polo shirt, shorts, sweatshirts, two pairs of shoes, sock and even underwear.
“We like everybody to wear Chiefs stuff the whole time we’re at camp when we’re out of the field obviously representing the Chiefs in a professional way,” Wright said.
That’s a far cry from the goodies everyone received at training camp in 1983, Wright’s first season with the Chiefs during the dawning of the coach John Mackovic era.
“The toiletries that you used were your own toiletries,” Wright said. “I think you got a t-shirt and a sweatshirt and a pair of shoes and that was it. So we have certainly taken it to another level.”
The delivery also includes touches of home to help players feel more comfortable away from their families. The equipment staff careful packs photos and mementos from the players’ lockers in Kansas City to place in their lockers at camp.
“It’s three and a half weeks, but it’s three and a half weeks,” Wright said. “We’re up there away from our families and kids and so we do what we can to make that process a little better.”
Once the fleet of flatbeds and trailers arrive at the campus of Missouri Western State University, the unpacking begins immediately. Setting up everything for the arrival of players takes about four days, which gives Wright and his staff a bit of leeway preparing for the first practice Monday morning with rookies and quarterbacks.
“That gives us some time to kind of get it right, make some mistakes, fix it, do all those things,” he explained.
For a handful of the players, the next three and a half weeks may mark their only NFL training camp, or even the entirety of their pro football career. Wright sees his business as not about making sure everyone has the right shoes or enough towels; it’s about relationships and creating memories.
“It took me a long time to realize that,” Wright said. “I was always kind of thinking about the helmets and shoulder pads and learning the products and truly it’s about relationships. And over the 36 years, I’ll be in an airport in a strange town and I’ll have some guy walk up to me and say, ‘I went to training camp in 1986.’”
Wright had such a meeting at last year’s Pro Bowl with one of the league’s biggest names. New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton had a tryout with the Chiefs in 1987. When he ran into Wright, the memories flooded back.
“(Payton) walked up to me and said, ‘I know you don’t remember me but I came in for a tryout in the middle of the season,’ and I gave him some shorts,” Wright said. “And he remembered that. It’s kind of fun to be a part of such a positive part of these guy’s lives. Even if they go and they don’t make it, it’s still a process that they remember and they tell stories on 30 years later.”
Even 36 years into the game, Wright feels different this season about this season as a Chiefs fan. There was no mistaking whose garment bag Wright used as an example of what players receive at training camp. The No. 15 of quarterback Patrick Mahomes emblazoned on the gear tells a story of its own.
“I’m a Chiefs fan like everybody else,” Wright said. “I’m excited about the 2018 season and we’re going to put in three and a half weeks in a dorm. And at 53 years old I think there should be an exemption that you should not have to sleep in a dorm room. But I’ll lose that battle, that’s OK.
“But it’s exciting, this is one of the most exciting training camps, certainly the city is fired up about it. I feel that,” Wright said. “If I lose that, it’s probably time for me to retire.”