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More NFL Teams, Including Redskins, Stay At Home For Camp

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Training camp once meant two-a-day practices in some remote locale, far removed from family and friends.

In the interest of building camaraderie and chemistry and limiting distractions, teams packed their equipment and their players off to college campuses across the United States for a month of work away from prying eyes.

It's a new world now.

In 2001, only five teams held training camp at their own in-season facilities. This season, 17 of the 32 stay home, including the Redskins for an eighth consecutive year.

"Training camp is the time our players build their identity as a team and we are pleased to begin laying the foundation of the 2010 season in front of Redskins Nation," head coach Mike Shanahan says.

The later start of the regular season means later opening dates for camp, which created problems using college dorms and fields. Many schools start welcoming their freshmen for orientation by mid-August and need their beds back.

When the Green Bay Packers opened camp in 1996, the season they'd win the Super Bowl, they practiced July 11. The earliest report date of 2010 belonged to the Cleveland Browns, whose rookies came in on Friday.

Camp at home cuts costs. That's a factor in some of the thinking. Many of the teams that traveled swapped time away for hometown benefits in the form of stadium renovations or construction at some public expense of new facilities.

Consider the Kansas City Chiefs. They'll be training at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Mo., giving up their annual sojourn to River Falls, Wis. That was a bargaining chip in gaining improvements to Arrowhead Stadium.

The Chiefs' exit from Wisconsin truly marks the end of what used to be called the Cheese League, in honor of Wisconsin's extensive array of dairy products.

At one time, Wisconsin was the summer home to not only the Green Bay Packers but the Chiefs, the Chicago Bears, the New Orleans Saints and the Jacksonville Jaguars (one year). The Minnesota Vikings were honorary members, easily accessible from western Wisconsin in Mankato, Minn.

The Bears moved camp to Illinois from Platteville, Wis., in conjunction with the rebuilding of Soldier Field. The Jaguars surrendered the summer beauty of Stevens Point for the steam heat of Jacksonville. The Saints hung out in La Crosse, Wis., for a number of years, then moved to Jackson, Miss. They took camp back to their state-built facility in Metairie last year.

"As NFL training facilities evolve and develop, there is a trend to want to maximize the exposure your team has to all of the amenities that make training camp successful," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis says.

The Packers hold the longevity record for staying put. They've been training at home while calling St. Norbert University in nearby DePere their summer home for 53 years. The Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers (44 years in Latrobe, Pa.) are tied for second.

The proximity of the Wisconsin campuses allowed teams to stage scrimmages or dual practices with others. The Saints and Chiefs got together occasionally for scuffles and the Vikings would also serve as hosts or visitors to the Chiefs in River Falls.

The teams always looked forward to lining up against each other and inevitably blew off a little steam in nasty brawls. Ah, boys will be boys.

Practices are much different now as well.

After all the off-season training and workouts, there's no call to beat on the players to get them in shape. You won't see a team in pads twice in a day anymore, nor do the workouts run as long as those sessions of nearly three hours that Dick Vermeil loved with the Chiefs. Two hours, maybe an extra 15 minutes or so and that's the end of the major work.

The Redskins will hit the field at 8:30 a.m. most mornings and be done before 11, with a walk-through scheduled in the afternoon. (The walk-through is closed to the public.)

I well remember Denver Broncos camps in Greeley, Colo., a cattle town with a distinct odor when the wind blew the wrong way. You can put the emphasis on 'stinct' in distinct. The Bears' occupancy of Platteville, Wis., brings to mind an odd little campus built around a cemetery, with a smokestack that loomed over all.

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The neat little town of Hudson, near River Falls and the Chiefs' camp, became the hospitality center once the day's work ended. The drive between the two towns took a visitor past one of the great tourist attractions: Aves Taxidermy and Cheese. Really.

Dinner at a restaurant on the banks of the St. Croix River provided respite after a day on the field. Oh, for one more run to Barker's in downtown Hudson, with its sassy wait staff and tasty hand-cut fries.

Those hopeful of catching the Chiefs out for an evening libation stuck around in River Falls, usually at Bo's and Mine.

Green Bay's tradition centers around bicycles. Kids line up near the stadium tunnel used by the players and lend their bikes to the players, who ride down through the parking lot and over to the field house.

Lunch could be had at Kroll's West, a place seemingly lost in time. Sit down in a booth. Look at the menu. Then push the button in the wall to summon your server. Kroll's put butter on everything – including your hamburger. I drew the line at fried cheese curds.

The Dallas Cowboys seem to have trained everywhere, from Thousand Oaks, Calif., to Austin, to Wichita Falls, to San Antonio and Oxnard, Calif. No wonder they're America's team – they've practiced in most of it and will do so again.

The Cowboys moved operations to Wichita Falls in '98 and the heat routinely ascended into triple digits. Those reports might have been slightly skewed by Denne Freeman, a reporter for the Associated Press, who bought a thermometer and kept it tucked in the waist band of his shorts. Maybe Wichita Falls wasn't really 115 degrees. That might only have been Freeman's body temperature.

On the opening day of the '99 camp, one player told me 17 players and coaches needed intravenous fluid after practice.

The Cowboys continue to stay on the move. They opened camp Saturday at the Alamodome in San Antonio in preparation for the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 8. They go back to Dallas for a few days and then move camp to Oxnard for two weeks.

This literally flies in the face of the logic displayed elsewhere in the league. Home is where the heart is.

Camps and practices grow shorter, with less travel. Teams like to reduce wear and tear, not induce it. Once upon a time, the preseason included six games. Now four. Some day maybe two. Double sessions of padded workouts and no water allowed gave way to smart methods and an emphasis on hydration.

Time marches on. It just doesn't march as far when training camp opens.


Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for Redskins.com and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at *Redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.*

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