By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
Candlestick Park closed for good last week. Now, it’s training camps that are getting shuttered for the year. Everywhere but the Dallas defense, it seems, there are shutdowns across the NFL … which got me to thinking: What are the training camps we miss most — camps worthy of Hall-of-Fame consideration that are gone forever?
Answer: Start reading.
1. UCSD, San Diego, CA
Home of: San Diego Chargers
What We Liked: The weather was ideal, with light jackets required for late-afternoon practices. Then there’s the location. It’s across the road from the Pacific, with panoramic views of the ocean from the veranda off the Chargers’ cafeteria. The campus is gorgeous, ringed by eucalyptus trees and just up the hill from La Jolla Shores; the athletic facilities are superb; the primary color is blonde; and did I mention location? It’s a short walk from a nude beach. Quick, now: What’s not to like? I remember one afternoon practice when someone got on a mike to tell fans there was a familiar face in their midst. It was Joe Montana, who sheepishly waved after he’d been discovered. The point: There was something for everyone, and all of it was all good.
What We Didn’t: It didn’t last six months. Eventually, the Chargers would move, students would reclaim their school and the Bolts would sink in the AFC West.
2. Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ.
Home of: Arizona Cardinals
What We Liked: The weather was magnificent here, too. A two-hour drive north of Phoenix, it could be in the upper 70s in Flagstaff (it’s the elevation, people!) while it was 110 in Arizona’s capital. The sights here were spectacular, too, and I don’t mean the Cardinals; I’m talking about a campus of evergreens, soft, shaded walks and the San Francisco Peaks in the distance. Then there’s the proximity to Sedona and the Grand Canyon, ideal for getaway day. Of course, there’s always downtown Flagstaff, and if you’ve never been … start your engines. Positively exquisite.
What We Didn’t: Sooner or later, everyone had to return to Phoenix — and, usually, it was sooner. And hotter.
3. St. Edward’s University, Austin, TX
Home of: Dallas Cowboys
What We Liked: Austin is the best city in Texas and one of the best cities in the country. You have the music scene. You have the state university. You have the state capitol. And you have all those sweethearts of the rodeo. Oh, yeah, and you had the Cowboys for a month, too … minus angry Raiders’ fans … which meant it was a state attraction. If you don’t believe me you weren’t there in the summer of 1993 when then-Texas governor Ann Richards, stopped by to see practice and convince her favorite player, Emmitt Smith, to sign a contract. We don’t make ’em up.
What We Didn’t: The heat. It’s Texas, and it’s summer. No wonder these guys move to Oxnard every July.
4. Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa.
Home of: Washington Redskins
What We Liked: OK, so the dorm rooms were small, and the athletic facilities weren’t exactly what you’d call state of the art. But there were three things you couldn’t resist: 1) This college town of 19,000 embraced the Redskins, with one denizen once taking in a player who missed curfew, then hustling him back to campus before he was missed; 2) the access, with quarterback Joe Theismann emerging from the weight area one day to survey the scene, look in all directions and ask, “Anyone looking to interview me?”; and 3) Massey’s Frozen Custard. Not only was it refreshing on a blistering August afternoon; it was perfectly situated, so close to the practice field you’d sometimes catch the Redskins standing in line. Honest.
What We Didn’t: Once you were finished with Massey’s, you were finished, period. Heat and humidity usually wore you down, and there weren’t a lot of — how shall we put this? — distractions outside of the Gingerbread Man (the G-Man!) to keep you … well, distracted.
5. El Rancho Tropicana Hotel, Santa Rosa, CA
Home of: Oakland Raiders
What We Liked: The weather. It was the perfect wine-country combination of sun and breezes. The location. The mountains were a nice touch. So was the distance from Oakland. Then there was the access. Players lived together in “the annex,” and if you wanted them you simply went to their rooms and knocked on doors … or saw them at Pass the Pitcher Night … or talked to them at dinner. Players and the media ate all three meals a day together, so there was plenty of bonding. There were no closed practices or “I only talk on Wednesdays,” either. The Raiders talked on days ending in d-a-y.
What We Didn’t: Eight weeks in seclusion is too long to spend anywhere, especially at a Grade-C hotel, and there were times when Santa Rosa seemed more like 600 miles from Oakland than 60. Plus, there were few days off and numerous double sessions — unbearable for more than just the participants. “The only thing worse than practicing in the summer,” said our Ron Borges, “is watching it.”
Couresy of San Diego Chargers