Before the Browns began practice in Berea on Monday, two days before the team had their first joint practice in Indianapolis with the Colts, a few members of the offensive line had a request.
They wanted a shuffleboard at the team hotel. The Browns have five or six offensive linemen who constantly play shuffleboard in the Browns team headquarters, and they didn’t want their games to go cold when they spent five days west for training camp.
Left guard Joel Bitonio approached Bryant Swindle, the Browns’ manager of team travel, with the proposal. Within 30 minutes, a shuffleboard table was ordered to the team’s hotel before the Browns arrived Tuesday.
“It's things like that that just pop up that people want, but may not have thought about it,” Swindle said, “and it's kind of our job to accommodate.”
Check out photos from the first day of joint practices with the Colts in Indianapolis by team photographer Matt Starkey
Swindle is one of several employees on the Browns operations department, which coordinates each flight, hotel, and dining plan the team needs when they journey away from Cleveland.
The Browns’ current trip to Indianapolis will likely be the hardest for the operations department. Normally, it only plans for road trips that last just over 24 hours, but the Browns will stay in Indianapolis for five days.
Preparation for Indy started months ago. In March, the operations department visited the city to scout multiple hotels they believed could be a good fit for the Browns, and it detailed everything to a T.
Where would the bus arrive? How would the team enter the hotel and pick up room keys? Where would meals be served? Was there enough room in the hotel conference areas for team meetings?
The operations department wanted to have an answer for every question that might be asked and ensure the hotel had as much of a homey vibe as possible.
Food was one of most important concerns. Since the Browns will spend significantly more time at a hotel in Indianapolis than any other road trip this season, the operations department coordinated with team nutritionist Katy Meassick and the hotel’s dining crew to create a meal plan that matched the diet options players have at the cafeteria in the Browns’ headquarters.
“When we travel, we want to keep that consistency we have at home so that even though we're bringing the team here for a week, we do certain things in a way that gives our guys a home feel,” Swindle said.
The bulk of the operation department’s work, however, began two or three weeks before the Browns left Cleveland. Over that span, the operations department has made hundreds of phone calls to double-check that everything is in place.
Those calls weren’t just made to the hotel, though. Earlier this week, the operations department sent an advance representative, Chavis Cook, to Indianapolis International Airport to see exactly where the team plane will land, where the buses will arrive and where the police escort will take the team to the hotel. The operations department also scouted Lucas Oil Stadium to assess where the Browns will unload equipment before the preseason game Saturday.
That’s all standard procedure when the Browns travel outside of Cleveland. Most of that work goes entirely unnoticed by team personnel, and that’s what the operations department wants.
“(Head coach) Freddie Kitchens just wanted to see a smooth trip overall,” Swindle said, “and, knock on wood, I think that happened so far.”
When players and coaches arrive at the lounge area the operations department created in one of the hotel’s conference rooms in Indianapolis, however, they’ll definitely notice the shuffleboard table. That’s usually never at a Browns hotel, but when Bitonio brought the idea to Kitchens for his approval, his reply to Swindle was simple.
“Make it happen.”
In Indianapolis, that’s what the operations crew was all about.