Here are 20 tidbits after a tour of NFC South camps
Posted: Thursday August 11, 2005 5:21PM; Updated: Thursday August 11, 2005 5:21PM
Don't let this photo of Kris Jenkins fool you. Black makes people look thinner.
Craig Jones/Getty Images
The past week I've been in Spartanburg, S.C., Orlando, Fla. and New Orleans -- not because I was on a quest to find the most humid place in America, but because I was touring NFL training camps. I visited the Panthers, Buccaneers, and Saints to do reporting for Sports Illustrated's upcoming NFL preview issue. Here are 20 observations-memories from my week on the road, some of which actually have something to do with football.
1. Early flight from New York to Charlotte en route to the Panthers camp in Spartanburg. I'm always disappointed when they call first class and I see who lines up. It should be people who are better looking, or Ivana Trump or something.
2. At the campus of Wofford, I meet Panthers players and coaches. One has added significance, because it marks the first time in my 12 years in journalism I interview someone my height but exactly twice my weight: Kris Jenkins, the Panthers' 6-foot-4 , 340 pound defensive tackle. And while I don't ask him to compare, I'm pretty sure his upper arms are bigger than my thighs.
3. I also speak to the Panthers' Nick Goings, who had five 100-yard games for Carolina as an emergency starter and is now back toward the bottom of the depth chart. If Goings is really as egoless as he seems, Buddhists should put statues of him in their living rooms.
4. Mmmmmm. Spartanburg has a Chick-Fil-A. The best fast food sandwich in the country. New York needs a franchise. Bad.
5. Moving on to Orlando. You know, I usually disregard the national obesity epidemic statistics as exaggerated, and being the result of an overly strict definition of obesity. But as I look at the people on line with me to board a flight from Charlotte to Orlando I think, maybe they're accurate.
6. A friend of mine observed about Orlando when we visited in 2000 that the entire town looked like it was built six weeks ago. Four years later, it now looks like it was built five weeks ago.
7. At my hotel I log on for my e-mail I get the AOL sign-in screen news that Marilyn Monroe had a one-night affair with Joan Crawford. Some quick odds for you: Over/under on a stage play dramatizing that night opening in New York's West Village: 11 months. Odds of Monroe being played in this show by a man in drag: 4-1. Odds of Crawford being played by a man in drag: prohibitive favorite.
8. Tampa Bay holds it practices in Disney's Wide World of Sports complex. Like so much else in Orlando, it feels too much like a theme park. But in their defense, the Panthers fans who roasted on a bare hillside watching scrimmages at Wofford would have killed for a few moments under the covered bleachers here.
9. A security guard at the Wide World of Sports was overheard chatting up a young lady: "My name is Royce. As in Rolls Royce." After he walks away the woman says, "I bet you he doesn't drive a Rolls Royce."
10. During practice a couple Tampa assistants let loose with some quality profanity. If the Tampa practices were rated by the NFL the same way the MPAA rates movies, those kids in the stands would not have been allowed in.
11. My impression of Brain Griese: smart guy.
12. The Bucs signing of offensive tackle Todd Steussie, who had been released by the team about a week before, set off a target-practice session in the local press. Most outstanding in his criticism was Martin Fennelly of the Tampa Tribune. He called Steussie a turnstile, compared him to saloon doors, and proclaimed the tackle to be "back in the rotting flesh." Also, "we eagerly await his first motion penalty."
13. In the Orlando airport on the way to New Orleans, I totally fall for National Lampoons' phony issue of Premiere with its shrouded-in-black Remembering Tom Hanks cover.
14. In New Orleans. I owe thanks to Jeff Duncan, Saints beat writer for the Times-Picayune, who directs me to two outstanding local restaurants, Mandina's and Liuzza's. Although after those meals, its possible Kris Jenkins no longer weighs twice as much as I do.
15. At Saints practice, Aaron Brooks runs a play-action pass that gets blown up by the pass rush before it can develop. An angry fan in full earshot of the field shouts "Sell the fake, Aaron!" Safe to say that after 16 interceptions touchdowns last year, and four straight years missing the playoffs, Brooks is off the locals' pedestal.
16. My second day arriving at the Saints practice facility, I pull into the parking lot just as the song Build Me Up Buttercup comes on the radio. I decide to listen to the entire song before going in. I think I'm starting to show signs of wear.
17. Anyone who just knows Joe Horn from his cell-phone celebration should have seen him signing autographs after the Saints' morning practice. He was one of the last players to leave, and left no request unheeded.
18. The Saints, with the goal of community outreach, hold an evening practice at Hahnville High, home of the state 5A football champs two years ago. The school, well into the country, has an algae covered pond on its property and I am told alligators live there. No one worries about the gators because the bayou kids all know how to act around them. In fact, the biggest alligator ever pulled from that pond -- longer than 7 feet -- was lured out and wrestled down by two students. No wonder Louisiana produces so many good football players.
19. I may just be thinking this because I'm visiting all these camps, but I see the NFC South as the toughest division in the NFC. They have at least two, and maybe three playoff teams.
20. Headed home. If any scientists out there are studying the effects of extreme perspiration on five-year-old T-shirts, I've got a suitcase full of data for you.