Find a sharp pencil and dust off your calendar, because today GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman announced the dates for the Green Bay Packers' 2002 training camp, which will open with an afternoon practice for rookies and first-year players, Wednesday, July 24.
What Spring Training is for Major League Baseball, training camp is for the National Football League. More than a warm-up for the coming year, it's an important opportunity for fans to get to know their team, and for the team to get to know its fans.
Nowhere is the importance of this time better understood than in Green Bay, where a chance to see the Packers in person is a rare and coveted experience. And while construction at historic Lambeau Field will unfortunately prohibit the Packers from holding the traditional "Family Night" scrimmage, followers of the Green and Gold will still have many opportunities to see the team up close and personal.
"Family Night has been such a great success for us in the past and we're very disappointed that we can't do it this year," said team president Bob Harlan. "Because of construction deadlines, we've also asked the NFL that this year and next year we not play our first two preseason games at home. For those reasons and for purposes of fan safety, we'll forgo Family Night this year and most likely next year, and we'll look forward to its return in 2004."
Said Sherman, "We look forward to the future return of Family Night because it has been a huge success for us in that past. We will hold a normal training camp practice that day (August 3), with emphasis on special situations that come up during the season.
"It will be an important practice, which will involve some scrimmage situations. At the present time, that practice is scheduled for 2:45 p.m., but may be changed with regard to weather, be it rain or the heat index."
In all, the Packers will conduct 49 open-to-the public practices from July 24 through the end of August, rotating between Clarke Hinkle Field and Ray Nitschke Field, across Oneida Street from Lambeau Field. Only if poor weather causes field conditions to be declared unfit for play would practice be shifted inside the Don Hutson Center, where workouts are closed to the public due to obvious space limitations.
"By practicing in Green Bay, we benefit with the relationship we have with the fans that come to watch practice," Sherman said. "It makes for an electric atmosphere as the railbirds 'Oooo' and 'Ahhh' at every play we run.
"The players feel the energy from the crowd and respond favorably to it. There cannot be a better place to have preseason than right here in this tradition-rich town."
Remaining as always will be the time-honored tradition of fan interaction. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor stadium construction could interfere with the Packers' custom of arriving at practice on foot, or via a ride on a youngster's bicycle.
And with formal autograph tables running after morning practices, training camp will continue to be a time when signatures and photo opportunities are nearly as plentiful as the snowflakes in December.
"Players are always encouraged to take part in the tradition of riding bikes to practice," Sherman said. "It is one of the many links the players have with the fans here in Green Bay, particularly the kids, which makes this place so special to coach, play and live. I think it's also a good indoctrination to young players as to what being a Green Bay Packer is all about . . .
"As far as autograph tables are concerned, this is a nice way for fans and players to get together for autographs without risking a chance for injury to either party. All of our players and coaches will take part in this daily ritual during training camp at some time."
The first practice of the season will run from 2:30-3:45 p.m., July 24, and is for rookies and first-year players only. Veterans will debut in accordance with the beginning of two-a-day practices, July 27.
From then until the end of the preseason, morning practices are generally scheduled from 8:45-11:25 a.m., with afternoon practices generally running from 2:15-3:15 p.m., or from 2:45-4:10 or 4:40 p.m.
The Packers will hold five closed-to-the-public workouts in Lambeau Field. Four of those dates are routine 'walk-through' practices the day before preseason games. The other date, the evening of August 4, has been established for players to get a feel for the stadium's new and improved lighting conditions.
The Packers open preseason competition on the road versus the Philadelphia Eagles, August 10, not making their first Lambeau Field appearance until August 26, against the Cleveland Browns.
The regular season officially begins September 8, when the Packers play host to the Atlanta Falcons.
2002 Training Camp At A Glance:
July 24: Rookies and First-Year Players debut
July 27: Veterans join practices/two-a-day schedule begins
49 - Number of practices open to the public (weather and field conditions permitting)
26 - Number of afternoon practices
25 - Number of pads practices (21 in the morning)
23 - Number of morning practices
10 - Number of special-teams-only practices
All practice times are subject to change.