The Philadelphia Eagles and New York Jets will be the first to open camps on Thursday, July 20, followed by Cleveland and Houston on Sunday. By July 30, all teams will be encamped. It’s where those camps start that is a subject of debate in the NFL.
More and more, teams are training at their regular-season headquarters. The theory is, things are familiar, surprises are minimized, you get to go home to see the family. Numbers show the trend towards that approach.
Ten years ago, only 23 percent of clubs (7 of 30) trained a home. This year, 41 percent will (13 of 32). The numbers may prove growing home-base popularity, but, at least last year, the titles went to teams with the “old-time” philosophy of encamping away.
The two Super Bowl XL teams – the Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks – both left home for college training sites. The Steelers once again trained at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania (this will be their 40th year at the school). The Seahawks summered at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington.
“I think there is something to be said for getting away from home and coming together as a team,” says Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren.
If where you train in the summer is considered important, how you play during that time is even more so. A look at the numbers suggests that NFL preseason games are important:
• Last year’s four championship-game teams had a .688 preseason winning percentage (11-5).
• Five of the past six Super Bowl champions had winning preseason records, two going 4-0 and three 3-1.
• The past 10 Super Bowl champs have compiled a .707 preseason winning percentage (29-12).
Training camps are a productive, exciting time of year – especially for fans.
One fan survey (ESPN.com) shows that sports fans in July look forward to NFL training camps more than to major summer events in other sports. Another (Columbus Dispatch) says that fans like to watch NFL preseason games more than the preseason games of any other sport. That interest has helped forge a change in modern-day NFL camps. More and more, teams have scheduled evening practice sessions. The players get out of the heat and more fans, with their workday over, can see those players.
The Green Bay Packers, for instance, will have eight night sessions this summer. That, says the Packer Country Visitor & Convention Bureau, will help in the economic boost that training camp brings to the area – estimated at close to $50 million for the summer.
This summer, every NFL team will host a “Gatorade Day at Training Camp” complete with interactive events, youth football drills and family entertainment.
Two weeks after camps open, it’s “Hall of Fame Weekend” – a salute to the past, present and future – in Canton, Ohio on August 4-6.
On Saturday, August 5, the Pro Football Hall of Fame will induct its class of 2006 – TROY AIKMAN, HARRY CARSON, JOHN MADDEN, WARREN MOON, REGGIE WHITE and RAYFIELD WRIGHT. This year, history will be made in Canton when LESLEY VISSER, longtime TV broadcaster, receives the Hall’s Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award for her contributions in covering pro football. Visser will be the first
woman to be recognized by the Hall of Fame.
The following night, it’s the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame Game featuring the Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles at 8:00 PM ET. The matchup will mark the return of NBC as an NFL television partner. The network televised NFL games for 28 seasons from 1970-97.
The game also marks the debut on NBC of former Monday Night Football broadcast partners AL MICHAELS and new Hall of Fame member Madden. As a tackle out of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, Madden was a 21st round draft choice of the Eagles in 1958 (No. 244 overall).
The future of the game also will be nurtured during Hall of Fame weekend as the annual NFL Youth Football Summit takes place. A group of 150 youth and high school football coaches and administrators from all 50 states will convene to discuss topics vital to their programs with football experts and NFL greats.
The Hall of Fame Game will be the first of 15 nationally televised contests this summer. Add to those the “wallto-wall-ball” schedule of NFL Network – 52 games in 28 days (including two of the national TV broadcasts) – and NFL fans will be able to see first-hand the intensity of preseason competition.
Two teams – the New Orleans Saints and Tennessee Titans -- will encamp at new training sites this year. While some clubs have changed their training sites in the past decade, others return to familiar venues where they have spent their summer months for years.
The NFL training camp longevity king? The Green Bay Packers, who return on July 28 for their 48th consecutive summer at St. Norbert College in DePere, Wisconsin.
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