A little traveling music, please, for Clay Hampton, Aaron Degerness and the New York Jets, who recently received the first NFL Travel Manager of the Year award from the hotel community that serves the NFL's 32 teams.
"It's pretty humbling," Hampton, the Jets' longtime senior director of operations, who began advancing the team's road trips in 2006 before fully handing the job over to Degerness in '09, said of the award. "You know how Mike [general manager Mike Tannenbaum] stresses 'relentless, obsessive attention to detail.' That's how we approach every trip, and that's a tribute to Aaron."
"I was flabbergasted. I didn't know what to say at first," said Degerness, the team's senior manager of operations, when he and Clay received the award at the travel managers' annual event in Phoenix last week. "Three or four days later it really hit home. Our department was voted the best in the NFL."
The two are shown today in the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center fieldhouse in our Centerpiece photo, Degerness to the left, Hampton to the right, and their crystal awards in between. (Photo by team photographer Al Pereira.)
Both cited the organizational support and contributions of others in helping secure this award: owner Woody Johnson, Tannenbaum and head coach Rex Ryan for their support, and vice president of security Steve Yarnell.
The NFL has honored the hotels for several years with a Most Valuable Partner award, and the hoteliers decided this year to return the favor.
A survey was sent to all hotels that hosted a team stay in the 2012 preseason or regular season. The hotel directors developed five criteria for the individual hotels to rate and comment: professionalism, organization, ease of doing business, communication, and on-site event execution. Each question had a scale from 1 to 5 and allowed the hotel to add verbatim comments.
The ballots were tabulated by the selection committee and were used as the basis to reduce the field to the top three clubs. Those clubs were then discussed by the Global Hotel Directors and a final secret ballot was conducted to determine the award recipient.
"On behalf of the committee and all the hotels that support the NFL, we are delighted to recognize the Travel Managers for the New York Jets as our recipient for the 2011-12 season," Thomas Kay of Marriott wrote to the Jets. "You are a pleasure to work with. You are tough but fair negotiators and stand out amongst your peers for the respect you show to our hotels and to our associates. One verbatim may be the best illustration — "They conduct their business with 'please' and 'thank you' and our staff really appreciates the respect. ... Thank you for the business you bring to our hotels and the manner in which you conduct it. You guys are the BEST!"
Degerness said last year's road schedule went smoothly compared to 2008, for example, when the Jets had to cope with 1½ feet of unexpected snow in Seattle, or 2010, when the team's return home from Chicago was delayed for almost a day due to a snowstorm back in the North Jersey area.
"One trip that stood out was the trip to Oakland," said Degerness of the Jets' Week 3 game against the Raiders, when they stayed for the first time in a while in Santa Clara, Calif. "It was a two-night trip, and logistically there's a lot more going into those — buses, walkthroughs, finding a practice field site, 'Where should I go to eat,' not just the players but the coaches and staff. That stay I felt went very, very well."
Now everyone will want to know: Can the Jets repeat in 2012? No guarantees from Hampton or Degerness, just the promise of relentless, obsessive attention to detail for another Green & White season on the road.