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July 27, 2005

Posted: Wednesday July 27, 2005 1:49PM; Updated: Friday July 29, 2005 5:37PM
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SI.com's Peter King will keep a daily blog as he travels across the country visiting NFL training camps. Click here to read all Peter's entries.

THIS IS NOT GOING TO BE A VERY GOOD NIGHT

Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport -- 10:35 p.m.

Thunderstorms on the way to the airport. Bad. Very bad. I knew I was in for it. Flying to Chicago tonight, renting a car, driving 70 miles to Kankakee, sleeping for a couple of hours (I hope it's that much), then an 8 a.m. breakfast with Lovie Smith in the middle of Illinois at Bear camp.

I am in the "Relax and Recharge" area of Terminal B, writing on one of the stools put here by Delta and plugged into their electricity, and smelling some really burned Taco Bell taco meat. Aaah, the fun of the job.

SO THIS IS WHAT A WESTIN HOTEL IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE LOOKS LIKE

Arthur Blank
Atlanta owner Arthur Blank stands in the living room of one of his luxury condos for players and Falcon staff Wednesday.
Peter King

Flowery Branch, Ga. -- 3:10 p.m.

"Mr. Blank's got us livin' in luxury!'' safety Keion Carpenter was crowing on the sidelines this afternoon. "I don't want to ever go home!''

A strange thing is happening here. Arthur Blank, the former Home Depot czar now owning the Falcons, has taken a very nice NFL training facility 45 minutes northeast of downtown Atlanta, made it nicer, and spent $11 million on four luxury dormitories (it is a sin to call them dorms, because they're basically three-and-a-half-star condo units) to house Falcons players, staff and coaches during training camp. Crazy thing is, for the rest of the year, they'll be unoccupied. Maybe some players in for workouts will stay overnight, and some sponsors will have a boys' night out, but these units will be empty 11 months a year.

Imagine having that kind of dough. I can't.

"The Falcon Four Seasons," president Ray Anderson calls it.

"Can I show you around?" Blank said to me at the start of the sweltering (I think I see fish swimming by) afternoon practice.

"Love to see it," I said.

We start in the community house, a large room of maybe 50-by-50 with three pool tables, a shuffleboard table, three two-person PlayStations, two PCs with internet access, and a small auditorium with theater seating and a flat-screen plasma TV. Then we go past the outdoor ping-pong tables (Alge Crumpler and Mike Vick were playing till 10:30 last night) into the four-bedroom unit Anderson shares with other front-office folks. Lovely sitting room with four ridiculously comfy deep leather chairs (six players, including Vick, helped Blank's wife design the pads), a common bathroom with a seven-foot high shower head, common kitchen, and four 10-by-15 bedrooms with queen beds and long mattresses, and cable and internet hookups in every room.

In Anderson's bedroom, Blank looks at the venetian shades and says:

"It's a work in progress. One thing I know we need is those blackout shades, so players who want to take a nap during the day will be able to have a really dark environment. That helps some guys sleep."

If this is the future, I want to be a Falcon when I grow up.

"I read your column with the five best NFL camp sites," Blank told me, back outside on the sidelines of practice. "I told our people, 'Go to those sites. Look at them. Take my plane. I want us to be a destination for people in Georgia. I want to do things right."

"But," I said, "those places, most of them anyway, have the tradition that you don't have. Pittsburgh has been in Latrobe forever, and it's a destination for all Steeler fans. They've got to go there once a summer. Same with Packer fans in Green Bay."

"You're right," he said. "That's their advantage. We haven't had their tradition. But we want to build it. This place is a long-term commitment to the fans of Atlanta and this state. This complex will be here 30, 40 years. It's an investment in the future."

I have only one nit to pick.

"When the Browns came back in 1999," I said, "Al Lerner and Carmen Policy built the most player-friendly facilities ever. They had the players' dry cleaning done. Valet parking at the stadium. Grocery-shopping for the players. I think they questioned that a couple years later, making it so comfortable. Have you made it too nice for these guys?"

"I don't think so," he said. "You're looking for any edge you can find in getting good players, and I think this will help us. These guys work so hard. You want to say to them, 'We want to build a family environment, and this is part of that.'"

I HAVE DROPPED A FEW. THANKS FOR ASKING.

Flowery Branch, Ga. -- 12:45 p.m.

Jim Mora does a double-take when he sees me in a hallway in Falconville.

"You look like a little boy!" he says. "You lost weight!"

"Wow," I say. "Thanks for noticing. I lost a few."

"A few?" he says. "More than a few."

Well, it was about time. At the end of last season, I looked like the sportswriting Ted Washington. Now we'll see if I'm any good at this in-shape thing. Getting on NFL time again -- weird time, late-night time -- will be a challenge. I make no predictions, other than to say I plan to do myself immense personal harm if I become immense again.

PAUSE TO SEND GOOD VIBES TO MATT CLEMENT

Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. -- 5 a.m

Wakeup call.

Find the remote.

Alex Smith and his guaranteed $24 million welcome me to SportsCenter.

I haven't seen the highlight yet, but I heard about it on the radio last night. I've got to see it. Matt Clement of the Red Sox (OK, my Red Sox), takes a Carl Crawford laser up the middle right off the side of his head. God, you can die from a shot like that.

They think Clement is going to be OK, and all you can do is hope he is. And hope Theo Epstein still is in the A.J. Burnett derby.

The Red Sox are a constant on my summer trips. After watching 60 percent of their games over the last four months on MLB Extra Innings, I'm basically going cold turkey. Most nights I'll stay up to see the highlights,  read the boxscore and check out Gordon Edes' and Dan Shaughnessy's daily takes.

My vote, by the way, is for the Red Sox to avoid dismembering the farm system to get a short-term answer this year. No Larry Anderson-for-Jeff Bagwell deals, please. I was encouraged last year when I met Epstein and he told me he knows they'll never be able to spend dollar-for-dollar with the Yankees. So his goal was to make sure he built up the farm system and produced more and better players than the Sox have in the last few years. Amen, brother.

Enough of that.

Click here to read more of Peter's diaries.

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