When it was reported this week that that the New Orleans Saints were thinking of moving their training camp back to Metairie, it caused a bit of pause for myself and I’m sure many others that cover the Saints, as well.
After all, the team had a contract with The Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia that they had signed in 2014, to have their training camp there last year and again this year in 2016 — so for them to suddenly want to change direction seemed to be a little odd.
Head coach Sean Payton raved about the facilities and accommodations provided by Greenbrier owner Jim Justice who also installed three practice fields along with a 55,000 square foot multi-purpose building for the Saints during their first year in 2014.
Also, a plus for the team was that the cooler climate would help with keeping players fresh for a more sustained and productive practice; verses the humid, dehydration prone climate of Southeastern Louisiana that invited injuries.
With all that being so inviting, I questioned what brought this change of heart on — but then just as quickly as the report came out, it was squashed.
May 29, 2014; Metairie, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis during organized team activities at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
In fact, general manager Mickey Loomis felt compelled to call Justice to confirm that the report was inaccurate, with Justice debunking the report himself as well.
Saints fans seemed a bit disappointed when they heard their team wouldn’t be headed back to the confines of old (as in, “home” in the metropolitan New Orleans area), but for another reason than you might think.
The first obvious hitch that they had was that after back to back 7-9 seasons, a segment of fans felt like the plush and luxurious life of The Greenbrier had spoiled the Saints and were too “soft” because of it.
Actually, this theory got spread around after the disastrous “what happened?” 2014 season —when it looked like a completely different team had taken the field after such a strong 2013 campaign that saw the team in the Divisional round of the NFL Playoffs.
The theory continued to gain some ground after the team sputtered early on in 2015; and then limped to the finish line to barely pull off a victory against the Atlanta Falcons on January 3rd of this year.
I understand where that portion of fans are coming from, since prior to their arrival at The Greenbrier, the Saints always appeared to have some ‘fire’ or ‘grit’ with them on both sides of the ball; compared to the dejected, “lost puppy” looks we’re used to seeing on the sidelines post-Greenbrier.
Sep 15, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; New Orleans Saints free safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) works out prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
But really this could be attributed more to the loss of the core group of veterans like former safety Malcolm Jenkins following the 2013 season and of course the pitiful draft picks and free agency signings that began to rear it’s ugly head as well.
Personally, I think you could have had the Saints training in a Mortal Kombat arena and we still would have had seen the same results.
Other chatter I’ve heard and seen from another portion of fans that wanted the team to return “home” for training camp, suggests that there may be another reason a disconnect is happening.
We’ve always heard the expression “Home is where the heart is” and that is ringing no more true than for Who Dats and their beloved team.
It’s not that they feel the team is soft as a marshmallow, it’s that they feel the team might as well as be in a foreign country if they are at The Greenbrier, half way across the country.
Saints fans have always had a strong bond with their team due to the fact that they literally for years represented what New Orleans was for them: “down to earth”, “blue collar”, “not your average city”, “different”, “when you’re here you’re one of us”, and whatever term of endearment you can imagine.
Aug 25, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints fans before a Preseason game against the Houston Texans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports
Any bond of course is built through constant interaction, which might be getting lost amongst the golf courses and rolling hills of West Virginia for a certain number of Who Dat Nation.
Talking to one fan he said,
"“Man I miss having them here for training camp. I mean some of us can’t just hop on a plane and fly to West Virginia and be there for a few days. When they do get back you only have that short amount of time to see them practice and that all depends on the freaky weather you might get here in Louisiana. It was always awesome when all the players would interact afterwards but now you’re having to get shoved around because everybody is trying to get their time with them since it’s so limited. I don’t know man it’s just different and they seem different.”"
Well the post-practice autograph session I’m sure gets a little chocked regardless, but I can agree to a certain aspect of what was said.
The thing that has made the Saints so appealing is the accessibility of the players during training camp for the locals; and that seems to have been diminished somewhat since The Greenbrier came into the picture and robbed many local fans of the opportunity to see their favorite team as much as they’d like.
So…. to answer the question: Does training outside of NOLA make the Saints “soft”? The answer is probably not.
While that might not sit well with some of the fanbase, the main thing to consider is if the team would truly benefit from returning back to training camp in New Orleans or not.
But hey — that “old green-eyed monster” can bite hard when you put something such as long distance, between a hardcore Who Dat and his favorite team….