San Jose State’s late-December trip to D.C. for the Military Bowl will include several staples of Washington sightseeing: a tour of the Capitol Building, a walk past the White House, a night-time bus ride around the National Mall and nearby memorials.
For this football team, though, the sights of federal Washington have a slightly different meaning.
See, the Spartans already spent a day as D.C. tourists, when they came East to face Navy at the end of September. Coach Mike MacIntyre – a longtime NFL and collegiate assistant who has San Jose State on the verge of its first 11-win season in 70 years – had fond memories of his 7th-grade class trip from Nashville to Washington. He asked his players how many of them had visited the nation’s capital. He received two positive responses.
“So I went to our AD, I said ‘I want to make this a memorable moment, a life lesson more than just a football game.’ “ MacIntyre told me this week. “I know all the sacrifices that people have made for us to have the great country that we have, and I think all young people should go do that, see everything, see our history.”
The Spartans thus left California exactly 48 hours before kickoff, as early as NCAA regulations allow. The day before the game, they took a bus from their BWI hotel to D.C. and became tourists. They split up by positional groups and posed for photos by the Washington Monument. The coach watched them fall silent as they walked through the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, read the Gettysburg Address inside the Lincoln Memorial, and explore the World War II Memorial.
“It blew them away,” he said. “I saw them kind of grow up in front of my eyes a little bit, if that makes sense: the aura, the respect for what our country stands for, how people have sacrificed for us to be able to play football and travel and do all the things we’re able to do.”
That was supposed to be the extent of their trip into the city. Next on the agenda was lunch, a practice at a local high school, and further preparations for their meeting with the Midshipmen. Then MacIntyre got a different idea.
“I’m looking back [at the Mall], and I see all my guys walking up, and I go we need to have a walkthrough,” he recalled. “It just kind of hit me. I said ‘This will be a great, memorable moment they’ll always remember.’ “
So suddenly there was a makeshift sideline, and college football players in sweats, without a ball, going through their plays in the middle of the National Mall. Tourists stopped to take photos. Players grinned. The video staff got footage. And then the trip continued as planned.
“It was kind of a surreal moment,” said MacIntyre, who had never before held an impromptu walkthrough. “They’ll always talk about it and remember it. They’ll tell their kids about it. A lot of them said ‘Coach, I’m bringing my kids here, I should have saw this when I was younger.’ “
The next day, the Spartans handled Navy, 12-0, to run their record to 4-1. Parents later texted and called MacIntyre to thank him for taking their kids through D.C. The video staff incorporated the footage into a highlight package, players put the images on their Facebook pages, and coaches handed out the group photos from the Mall at their team banquet.
And then, after the season, they learned that their first bowl game since 2006 would be right back in the District. San Jose State will face Bowling Green at RFK Stadium Dec. 27 at 3 p.m.
“I think it’s very appropriate,” said MacIntyre, who’s already considered taking his team for an early-morning jog past the White House. “Every one of them to this day will tell you, that trip was phenomenal for them. I wouldn’t say it’s life-changing, but I would say it made them look at our life and our country through a different lens.”