For players and coaches, training camp is a time to prepare for the coming season. For Green Bay Packers fans it's a rare opportunity to get an up-close look at their favorite team.
Thursday the Packers announced their 2003 training camp schedule, which unfolds over six fan-friendly weeks, including 46 open-to-the-public practices, starting with an afternoon practice for rookies and first-year players July 19.
The Packers are opening training camp a week earlier than last season due to their participation in the Hall of Fame preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Canton, Ohio, August 4. Open practices continue until August 26, two days before the Packers' fifth and final preseason contest against the Tennessee Titans.
Whenever weather and field conditions allow, the Packers will hold their open practices on either Clarke Hinkle Field or Ray Nitschke Field, across Oneida Street from Lambeau Field. Only if poor weather makes field conditions unfit for play would those practices be moved inside the Don Hutson Center, where workouts are closed due to space limitations.
Certainly a highlight, open practices aren't the only aspect of fan-interaction at training camp.
As they have done for decades, players will arrive at the practice fields on foot -- walking from the team's Lambeau Field facilities -- or via a lift on a youngster's bicycle. It's a custom that makes informal autograph and photo opportunities many, but formal autograph tables will be conducted after many morning practices, presenting the chance of a lifetime for fans lucky enough to get a ticket, which are handed out at random beforehand.
Packers vice president and chief operating officer John Jones explained that the close proximity of the players to the fans at training camp creates an intimacy that is at the foundation of the Packers' storied relationship with their legions of supporters.
"Green Bay Packers training camp is one of the greatest traditions in the National Football League, not just because our team is here practicing right across the street from the stadium, but because it gives the people in the community a chance to come together with our team," Jones said.
"The tradition of kids exchanging rides with players on bikes goes across generations and we're very proud of it. It's a great way for all the new players, either rookies or players recently signed to the roster, to experience this relationship with our community.
"Training camp is a time when our youngest fans make relationships with these players, and it's a lifelong relationship."
Adding to the fan experience this summer will be the Lambeau Field Atrium, which will be open to the public in a limited capacity. The Packers Pro Shop will maintain regular store hours, and Jones is hopeful that the four Atrium eateries -- Chili John's Café, Brett Favre's Two Minute Grill, the Meat Packing Co. and Fratello's Presto -- will make their collective Lambeau Field debut.
"That is contingent upon construction progress, but it's a goal we have," Jones said. "The interior space of the Atrium is air conditioned, so families could come over between practices and get the kids out of the heat and have something nice to eat while they relax. We're very hopeful that we can have that available and we'll work with our construction team to meet that deadline."
Unfortunately not available due to continuing renovation construction will be the Packers Hall of Fame, the Atrium's to-be-announced brewpub or Lambeau Field stadium tours.
For the second straight year, the Packers also will be unable to hold their "Family Night" scrimmage, as Lambeau Field won't even host a preseason game until late August to give construction crews enough time to complete the stadium renovation.
"We're really looking forward to next year's training camp when all of the attractions of Lambeau Field will be available to present a wonderful training camp experience unlike any we've ever had before," Jones said. "Because of construction we're not quite there yet. This will be a great experience, but we'll top it in 2004."
The first practice of the preseason will run from 2:30-3:45 p.m., July 19, and is for rookies and first-year players only. Veterans will debut July 22, in conjunction with the beginning of the traditional two-a-day format.
From then until August 21, most morning practices are scheduled for 8:45-11:15 a.m. (see schedule for days), with afternoon practices generally running from 2:45-4:10 or 4:40 p.m., or from 2:15-3:15 p.m.
Throughout training camp, the Packers will hold six practices inside Lambeau Field, which are closed to the public. Following games, players will have a day off.
In addition to the Hall of Fame game in Canton, the Packers will hit the road to meet the Atlanta Falcons (Aug. 9) and Cleveland Browns (Aug. 15). The Packers will host the Carolina Panthers (Aug. 23) and the Titans (Aug. 28) in preseason competition.
The Kansas City and Cleveland games will be carried by ABC and CBS, respectively.
The Atlanta, Carolina and Tennessee contests will be televised by Green Bay's WFRV-TV in conjunction with Milwaukee's WTMJ-TV over an expanded, eight-station network throughout the state of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. In addition to WFRV and WTMJ, the games will be televised over WKOW/ABC, Madison, Wis.; WAOW/ABC, Wausau/Rhinelander, Wis.; WXOW/ABC, La Crosse, Wis.; WQOW/ABC, Eau Claire, Wis.; WYOW/ABC, Eagle River, Wis.; and WJMN/CBS, Marquette, Mich.
The regular season will get underway against the Minnesota Vikings, September 7, on a day set to include the rededication of the renovated Lambeau Field.
2003 Training Camp At A Glance:
July 18: Rookies and First-Year Players report to camp
July 19: Rookies and First-Year Players debut
July 20: Veterans report to camp
July 22: Veterans join practices/full-squad two-a-days begin
46 - Number of practices open to the public (weather and field conditions permitting)
22 - Number of open morning practices
24 - Number of open afternoon practices
21 - Number of pads practices (16 in the morning)
7 - Number of special teams practices (afternoons)