For decades NFL teams took their training camps on the road, practicing at college campuses. But now more and more teams are holding camps at their own dedicated practice facilities. Former NFL player Ross Tucker doesn’t like that trend, and he wrote about it in a column for The Sporting News.
BL: Long before you became an NFL player you were a regular at Philadelphia Eagles training camp in West Chester University in Pennsylvania. This would be in the late ’80s and early ’90s. What’s your favorite memory of attending camp as a kid?
RT: Oh my gosh, I have so many, and I really believe that’s what fostered my love and appreciation for the game. I can remember Keith Jackson was driving a Jeep, the All-Pro tight end, and it started to rain, so he pulled over. We saw him. My mom pulled over, we all hopped out and had a picture taken with him really quickly. I remember Randall Cunningham coming out of the cafeteria with an ice cream cone in one hand, and I went right up to him, and as he was licking his vanilla cone with one hand he was signing my magazine with the other. Those are the things I [will] remember forever. I really thought that was a cool aspect of the NFL was that you could get up close and personal with your heroes.
BL: More and more teams are holding training camp at practice facilities right next to their home stadiums, and teams can save some money by doing that, and of course it allows players to stay at their own home during camp, but from a fan’s perspective, that intimacy, I guess, is what’s lost.
RT: It really is. And some of them you really can’t even have fans. You look at like the Baltimore Ravens and the Philadelphia Eagles they’ve had to bring in 50 fans a day because they just don’t have the parking to accommodate the fans at their permanent, year-long facility. So they try to make it up by having a couple practices inside the stadium, but that’s totally different. I mean what was cool about it growing up, I used to be able to go right down and be, you know, five yards, ten yards from some of the drills.
BL: You played for five NFL teams during your career, and you experienced camp on the road and at the stadium. From a player’s point of view, what are the pros and cons of each arrangement?
RT: I think most guys, maybe not most guys, but some would tell you they like it at the year-long facility. They’re comfortable there. Typically the team will have you staying at a hotel for a week or two. Then you can stay at home. But for me there was something about being on college campuses. You know I thought the setup that the Buffalo Bills had at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y. was excellent. You know, ok, maybe you had to walk a little bit longer, but I just thought there was something about going away with the guys. Plus you just don’t get the same level of interaction with the fans. … I’d be walking to the cafeteria, I’d see a fan and say hello. That just does not happen. You lose all of the intimacy, on both ends, for the fans and the players, when you’re at a year-long facility.
BL: This year the New York Giants are holding camp in New Jersey at their home facility. But since the mid-90s they had trained the University of Albany. Last summer several linemen on the Giants complained that the beds at the university were the reason they had aching backs. This would seem to me a good argument for staying home, no?
RT: [Laughs] Probably, but I don’t know. I always rented a mattress, you know, when I went to camp like in Buffalo. Those guys have enough money. They don’t need to just go with the regular beds that are provided. It’s not that hard to do.
BL: You’ve got two kids, as I understand it. Are you planning to take them to any training camps?
RT: Well, they’re little girls right now — they’re both under a year and half, so not this year, and I don’t think they’d get much out of it. And I think my wife would probably kill me if I wanted to take the three-week-old, but someday for sure. I can’t wait to show them what it was like, you know, what daddy did before they were born.
To me, how do you really make life-long fans? It’s those stories. It’s that personal interaction: “I saw so-and-so at a restaurant or in the airport or whatever.” Well, a large percentage of those stories and those memories were made over the years at training camps on remote locations, usually college campuses.