New football facilities bigger and better

In this era of free agency, a team's facilities are almost as important an instrument in retaining players or luring new players as the team itself. It is no coincidence that the Green Bay Packers went to the extreme to create facilities that will surely impress players arriving for training camp this week, or new players in the future.<p>

The team's new facilities, which were displayed to the media today, probably played a role in Hardy Nickerson's decision to sign with the Packers over the Philadelphia Eagles in June.

Featuring a large football-shaped locker room, the team's new football facilities are located on the east side of the stadium. Players, coaches and personnel made the move from their older facilities, outside of the north end zone, last week. The players who have arrived early for training camp, which starts Wednesday for rookies and Saturday for the full team, have been very impressed.

"I mean, we've outdone ourselves," said guard Marco Rivera. "It's a great thing that happened."

Most everything in the facility is bigger and better. Here's a look at some of the highlights:

Football-shaped locker room: It has a total of 64 lockers, including 26 in an additional area for training camp. It features a large G in the center of the locker room, four large televisions, and lights above that serve as the laces to tie the football theme together.

Training room: Features 10 treatment tables, up from six in the old training room. More room for exercise bikes. The stadium also has a fixed X-ray room (standard for stadiums in the NFL) compared to a portable X-ray room, which is what the Packers had to use in the past.

Weight room: A total of 8,200 square feet. It features free weights and machines, televisions and stereos.

Team dining area: Seats up to 125 people with a pantry.

Gymnasium: Full court parquet basketball court. Two racquetball courts are adjacent to basketball court. The gym also will double as a meeting area for friends and families of players after games.

Meeting rooms: Nine individual meeting rooms for position meetings. Each room has tiered seating complete with the latest computer and video equipment.

Team auditorium: Features 150 seats and tiered like the smaller meeting rooms.

Media auditorium: Seating for 63,up from 47 in the former auditorium.

"The players who have walked in during the course of this week are in shock to see how things have changed," said Packers coach and general manager Mike Sherman.

At Harlan's request, Sherman had a hand in the design of the "whole thing." Harlan wanted to make sure that everything would be the way Sherman desired with no regrets.

Fortunately for the Packers, most of the facilities were near completion when Nickerson visited Green Bay in early June. Left to decide between the Eagles and Packers, Nickerson went with Green Bay because of the history and tradition of the team. But the facilities played a role.

"I have to think that was a factor," Harlan said.

The Packers also have instituted an artwork program for the hallway walls and meeting rooms to remind players of the tradition-rich team. Sherman has gone as far to move three slabs of the former tunnel leading to the field and placing it in the new tunnel on the southeast corner of the stadium. Much like a strip of bricks are still part of the track of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Packers will have a strip of the former tunnel on the north end of the stadium surrounded by new concrete.

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