John Fox hadn’t brought his team to the West Coast since losing the NFC title game to end the 2005 season. Given more than two years to mull a change in strategy, the head coach decided that, to start the 2008 season, his Panthers would fly to San Diego on Friday, one day earlier than usual.
But now Hurricane Hanna was spinning toward the Carolinas, and the NFL was telling Fox he had to leave even earlier.
So rather than practice on Friday and then fly to San Diego, he packed up his entire team —practice squad players and all — and jetted out early that morning. They landed and practiced at San Diego State, his alma mater.
Two days later, they stunned the Chargers on a 14-yard touchdown pass as time expired, handing San Diego its second home loss in 17 games.
“And they were good,” Fox said.
He became a convert.
That’s why the Bears boarded a four-and-a-half hour flight to Seattle after practice Friday.
They could use some mojo. They haven’t beaten a team in Pacific Time that went on to have a winning record since the topping the 49ers, 26-10, on Oct. 13, 1985.
“Usually that first sleep when you travel across a couple of time zones is pretty rotten,” Fox said. “So we just felt like with another chance to sleep, another day in that time zone, it’s been a little easier to adjust.”
Starting that day in San Diego, Fox is 11-2 when playing on Pacific Time.
Doing so in Denver wasn’t nearly as difficult — both because of location, where he didn’t’ feel obligated to leave a day early, and Peyton Manning — but he went 3-1 when having to jump across three time zones from Carolina.
His two losses came in Seattle — to last year’s NFC champ and the 2010 playoff team.
Fox had tried other methods. His first three years in Carolina, he kept his players on their regular body time — “Bed check was at 8, because there was a three-hour time change,” he said — after flying on Saturdays. It didn’t work.
“Looking back at the games and the teams, we beat the teams we shoulda, we lost to the teams we mighta/shoulda,” he said.
Since 2000, the Bears are 4-8 on Pacific Time. That 33 percent mark is lower than their road winning percentage of 44.7 during the same span.
Their wins came against three bad teams — the 2007 Raiders were 4-12, while the 2006 Cardinals, who play on Pacific Time half the year, and 2009 Seahawks were 5-11. Last year’s 49ers went 8-8.
Marc Trestman flew his team on a Friday last year before winning Sunday night in San Francisco. He had his players adjust their sleep cycles that week.
Fox didn’t do that, or even change his practice schedule, despite the fact the Bears don’t kick off until 3:25 p.m. local time Sunday. On most weeks, their games are over by then.
“I think it can help, for sure,” inside linebacker Shea McClellin said. “The first night you don’t sleep as well and the second night you sleep better, because you’re a little more used to it.”
The Bears will benefit from their relatively strenuous Saturday walk-throughs to get their bodies — and sleep clocks — adjusted.
Snapper Thomas Gafford, who traveled to California twice a year with the Chiefs, likes the decision, although it comes at a personal cost: leaving his twin daughters a night early.
“Professionally, it’s probably the best move,” he said. “It is nice to have a whole day-and-a-half to be ready to go.
“We’ll all feel fresh.”
If anything keeps the Bears up at night before their monumental challenge Sunday, it won’t be jet lag.
The Seahawks are another matter.
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