Places to get up close and personal with NFL players
Posted: Wednesday July 6, 2005 1:59PM; Updated: Thursday August 11, 2005 9:37AM
A fan hitches a ride at Packers training camp in Green Bay.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Peter King will answer your questions each week in Monday Morning Quarterback: Tuesday Edition.
NFL training camps were once wide-open to the public. Used to be you could wave to Darrell Green as he rode his bike from the Redskins' practice field back to his dorm at Dickinson College in bucolic Carlisle, Pa., or bump into him in line at Massey's Custard Stand just off campus. Now, that Washington trains at its locked-down northern Virginia facility, fans might see LaVar Arrington wave from his Hummer. Might.
Fourteen teams still train in places that allow fans to interact with players.
I've traveled to camps nationwide since 1988, and it wasn't easy picking my top five. But here goes:
1. Steelers (St. Vincent's College, Latrobe, Pa.): Never mind the Rolling Rock Brewery is four miles from campus, and offers tours on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. But you may not want to leave this campus of rolling hills and cornfields. Get to St. Vincent's, an hour east of Pittsburgh, early in the morning -- Bill Cowher still loves the ol' two-a-days -- and soak it in. You'll be entranced by the fog rising up from the Laurel Highlands. You'll love the view south from the hill overlooking the practice fields, where it seems like you can see clear down to Maryland. You'll probably run into one of the Benedictine monks who still live on campus. If you're lucky, you'll witness the best live action at any training camp at one of the four or five afternoon practices that end with a live goal-line drill. Seven plays, full pads, 11 on 11. Collision city. Great stuff. Watch Joey Porter try to clean JeromeBettis' clock. And post-practice, it's an autograph-fest. No prima donnas here, just signers. "It doesn't get any better than this," Mr. Throwback, Cowher, told me a couple of summers ago. "This is football, classic football. I know there's been a lot said recently about where teams practice, and some teams are going back to their facilities to have training camp. But look at this place. How can football get better than this? Four weeks of being together, no distractions, everything within walking distance. Nothing but football. Nothing."
2. Packers (Don Hutson Center, Green Bay, Wis.): It's Packer paradise. Where else in sporting America is there a donut shop 150 yards south of the practice fields, and a tidy neighborhood of homes 200 yards north? The Hutson Center is across the street from Lambeau Field, and no team integrates the training-camp feel with fan-friendliness better than the Packers. On an early August day -- the Packers have open practices for the first three weeks of camp -- fans can watch a morning practice from just off the sidelines, examine football lore at the Packers Hall of Fame inside the refurbished Lambeau Field, have a Curly's Special Ale and Grandma Lambeau's Meatloaf (served with garlic-whipped potatoes, gravy and crisped pub onions) at the brewpub inside the Lambeau atrium, hustle over for the afternoon practice, and come back to the best gift shop in the NFL (Bubba Franks bobblehead, anyone?) before it closes down. And there's the cutest tradition in training-campdom: Local kids line up with their bikes pre- and post-practice. Players, as many as 50 of the 80 on the roster, climb on, and the kids ride on the back or the handlebars across the street to the locker room. Perfect. This place blends not-yet-crass merchandising of today with the charm of the '60s.