Rice football coach David Bailiff reckoned one way to ensure his players didn’t nod off after a 15-hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney was to bypass the team hotel and go straight to the practice field from the airport.
So within an hour of arriving Down Under early Tuesday morning, Bailiff had his players stretching and doing a light workout at a training session at Moore Park, which encompasses Allianz Stadium where the Owls will take on No. 14 Stanford at noon Sunday, or Saturday evening back in the U.S.
The long haul across the Pacific followed a 3-1/2 hour flight from Houston to Los Angeles, and a short layover there.
“Our strength conditioning coaches thought it would be good to get them moving after that flight from LA,” Bailiff said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “A little bit of a sweat, and to get their muscles moving.”
The Rice players were out for only about an hour before they headed to the team hotel. A more pleasant outing was on the agenda for Tuesday afternoon — a cruise of Sydney Harbour.
Stanford had the luxury of arriving a day earlier from San Francisco, so coach David Shaw took the team on a ferry cruise Monday across the harbor to the Taronga Park Zoo, where most of the players had their first encounters with kangaroos, koalas and echidnas.
“Amazing beaches, kangaroos and Sydney views,” Stanford said on its official Twitter account. “We made memories to last a lifetime on our first day in Sydney.”
It’s the second year in a row that Sydney has hosted a U.S. college game. Last year, 62,000 watched Cal beat Hawaii 51-31 at the Olympic stadium in western Sydney. This year the game has been moved to a 45,000-seat stadium just minutes from downtown Sydney.
New South Wales state government officials are subsidizing both teams for their travel and expenses while Down Under as part of a tourism promotion, and last year officials estimated more than 15,000 fans came to Sydney specifically for the game.
The game, in which Stanford is heavily favored, will start at noon Sunday in Sydney to coincide with prime time television in the U.S. on Saturday night. It’s the last Sunday of winter in Australia and there’s a chance of rain in the forecast along with a high temperature of 64 Fahrenheit (18 Celsius).
After having not played each other since 1964, the teams are meeting for the second time in nine months. Stanford beat Rice 41-17 at Stanford in November.
“It’s different the way the college football schedule works,” Stanford coach David Shaw told the AP on Tuesday. “But it’s a great opportunity for us to compete against another university that puts academics before athletics and does both at a high level.”
“Stanford and Rice, year in and year out, have two of the highest graduation rates in the country,” he said.
Social media sites by both colleges were abuzz with photos of the players in front of Sydney landmarks such as the Opera House — it was the backdrop for Tuesday’s official media conference — and Harbour Bridge. Before they arrived, there were photos of some players stretched out in business class seats on their flights.
Taking into account Sydney’s 17-hour difference — ahead — of San Francisco, Stanford tight end Dalton Schultz tweeted not long after he arrived: “The fact that I’m living in the future is weird to me. #Australia.”
On the way home, it could become even more confusing: With the flight duration less than the time difference, the Cardinal will arrive in California before they left Australia.