The topic of the New Orleans Saints holding their training camp at The Greenbrier in West Virginia has been a hot topic of debate for the past few seasons, among many fans and media members that cover the team.
When your team has gone 7-9 in back-to-back years, people start looking for excuses and naturally the plush resort became a target as the reason the Saints had become “soft”.
I can say I fell into the trap somewhat after being raised around a family whose motto was when you were injured to simply “put a little axle grease on it” and suck it up.
But it was evident the reason behind the woeful last few years had more to do with bad overall management and even worse — team chemistry — rather than golf courses and a humidity level that doesn’t feel like you’re breathing in water.
Aug 3, 2015; White Sulphur Springs, WV, USA; New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton speaks with a member of his staff following a day of training camp at The Greenbrier. Mandatory Credit: Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports
When the deal was struck with the resort to hold training camp there, head coach Sean Payton lobbied the idea of having it there permanently for years down the road.
However the recent flooding that occurred had put that idea possibly out of reach when pictures and reports came in of the devastation that we all viewed on the news in gut wrenching detail; of what was said to be a “1,000 year storm” phenomenon — with USA Today saying some areas had a foot of water in just a few hours of rain.
The lush scenery that players and Saints beat writers took selfies of on their days off were replaced with newly formed rivers after the rolling hills and valleys drained massive amounts of water into the lower areas.
The loss of life has been said to be currently in the mid 20’s and the iconic footage of a house on fire floating down a flooded road seemed to be something out of a Hollywood apocalyptic film.
Payton gave prayers to those impacted by the flood and even posted a picture on his Twitter account to show how the floodwaters had overtaken a normally calm piece of land close to The Greenbrier.
Along with the many condolences given by the Saints coaches, players, and fanbase to the region, the question that lingered was would the team be able to hold training camp in West Virginia that was merely a month away?
Jun 14, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) stretches during the first day of minicamp sessions at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Conflicting reports then came in a few days ago about that very situation; with NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt saying the team was going to remain in Metarie while NOLA.com’s Katherine Terrell reported the exact opposite that the team was in fact going and that them being there could be a “positive thing”.
Terrell’s report was solidified on both counts when the team released a statement not long after that they fully intended to hold training camp at The Greenbrier and also were looking “for ways that our team/organization can contribute in a positive way while we are there this summer.”
The Greenbrier has since sent out a post on Twitter that really hit a note with me:
A simple word that means so much especially if you put “Saints” in front of it because it might as well be the blowing of a battle horn for a call to action.
The Saints said it best in their press release about the hard hit area that the Gulf Coast and New Orleans communities realize all to well about the impact such natural disasters can have on lives, homes, and businesses.
People in this area are all too familiar with haunting images of standing flood waters, grieving families, and people standing on empty concrete slabs where a home once stood that contained memories of holidays and laughter which are now gone.
(Big Easy Believer editor Barry Hirstius’ street in St. Bernard Parish, after Hurricane Katrina — September, 2005)
It’s one reason people of the Gulf Coast latched onto the Saints so tightly following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina because it represented something beyond just the return of the long-suffering but lovable underdog, it meant family.
Or better yet, a Saints family.
People outside of the Saints fanbase never quite understood the significance of the blocked punt by Steve Gleason in the reopening of the Superdome because “it’s just another blocked punt”.
It meant so much more, because it was a way of saying, “Hey this community is back and we aren’t going quietly” and there is a reason there is a statue of this moment standing outside the Dome with one simple word: Rebirth.
October 7, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; A statue titled Rebirth featuring the likeness of former New Orleans Saints safety Steve Gleason blocking a punt by former Atlanta Falcons punter Michael Koenen on September 25, 2006 as seen outside before a game against the San Diego Chargers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
The Saints being in West Virginia in the following weeks is an opportunity for them to share not only their time and efforts, but hope and perseverance as people like Payton, quarterback Drew Brees, and members of the team that were around in those dark times following Katrina.
The Greenbrier and residents of the West Virginia area are counting on their Saints family to help in any way possible and in some way, the Saints are counting on them too.
Because in times of hardship or crisis when a family comes together there is a moment of self reflection that occurs and you are forced to see how strong your bond is and what unified direction needs to happen.
Yes the Saints being there at The Greenbrier will be positive for the local community, but it will be for the team as well in return.
In the end though this summer at The Greenbrier will be much more than about football as it is about family.
I encourage those of you reading this article to to visit this page to offer assistance to the West Virginia area at unitedwaygreenbrier.org.
And if you’d like to help Jim and Tasha Allder — the Big Easy Believer readers and West Virginia natives pictured above whose young family has been affected by the flooding, you can visit their Go Fund Me page, to render assistance at https://www.gofundme.com/2bcbss4c