I understand all the arguments about moving the players to an isolated location to minimize distractions, but having them stay in a campus dorm, as the Packers do with nearby St. Norbert College, accomplishes that.
Moving training camp and the entire football operation to a different location just creates another distraction within itself. If the players are practicing to prepare for the season, it makes the most sense to have them practice precisely where they would during that season – using the same locker room, the same facilities and much the same routine (other than sleeping) throughout camp.
Mike McCarthy likes to use the final two preseason games to get his players into the weekly regular-season routine. The players spend the two days after a game reviewing film and getting some down time, and then they practice three straight days, followed by a walk-through the day before the game. The Packers will begin that schedule following the second preseason game against Cleveland next month.
It would almost assuredly be more difficult for that routine to take hold if the players were in a foreign location. Moving the football operation back to its normal base for the regular season just adds another element of adjustment for the players, who are now getting ready to play the games that really matter.
Maybe it's easy to brush off the "distractions" argument in a place like Green Bay, which isn't New York or Chicago or Miami. The players are going to stay pretty focused on football around here regardless.
But there's also something to be said for developing habits and routines, which a coach like McCarthy strongly believes in. If practice matters, then those things must matter at least a little, too.
In the old days, nearly all teams left home for training camp, moving onto college campuses to help create a sharp focus on football. In recent years, the trend leaguewide has been for teams to stay at home, where they're assured of the best facilities available to them.
I've covered teams that have done it both ways, and I understand the trend toward staying at home, but I miss the days of going off to camp. I miss the days of the team I covered being a captive audience.
Back then, training camp had a mystique that camps these days don't possess. The end of two-a-days, of course, has done much to kill that mystique, but is it really training camp if you're practicing on the same fields on which you practice every other day of the season? What then is the difference between training camp and OTAs?
The Packers have long stayed at home for training camp. The Packers and their fans have always found a way to build tradition and mystique, and the bicycles did exactly that. Those bicycles are the symbol of Packers training camp. Without them, I'm not sure Packers training camp would be the event that it is.
So what if the Packers spent a week at another location in Wisconsin? What if they went off to one of Wisconsin's college campuses to signal the start of training camp? What if kids in other places had a chance to offer their bicycles to Packers players?
The Packers are a regional franchise. They've got fans all over the upper Midwest. By spending a week of camp here and there through the years, the Packers would be allowing those fans in the outer reaches of the region to get an up close and personal look at the team they love. They'd get a look at the players, get their autographs, experience Packers football firsthand and fall more deeply in love with the team.
Going away to training camp is more than about focusing your team. It's also about marketing the team, and even though the Packers are a team with one of sports' largest followings, is it ever a bad idea to broaden one's reach?
As for the players, going away to camp was always a way of distancing them from distractions. Cell phones make that impossible these days, but a fresh look and some fresh air have a way of breaking up the monotony of camp and its routine and, after all, it's a long season.
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