Voice of the Fan: On your marks

EDITOR'S NOTE:Texans fan Alan J. Burge will be writing a "Voice of the Fan" column throughout the 2004 season. His latest installment is below. Alan's views do not necessarily reflect the views of the organization.

A famous sports commentator once said, "anybody who tells you that he really likes training camp is either lying or having big-time trouble at home."

Indeed, for the 90-something players heading to the Texans practice facility this weekend, there is most likely a mix of emotions ranging from nervous anticipation among the rookies to pure drudgery for the veterans.

Texans training camp opens this weekend, and while the players may be dreading the situation, it couldn't have come sooner for Texans fans who have patiently waited for the off-season to pass. It seems like so long ago (it was seven months to the day, in fact) that we all sat at Reliant and watched that Mike Vanderjagt field goal split the uprights, ending the 2003 Texans season along with their hopes for a major upset in Week 17. Why was the roof closed that day, anyway?

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Training camp has really changed over the years. Gone are the days when players went to camp to get into shape. Gone are the days when teams traveled to off-the-wall places and players stayed out all night as if it were spring break all over again. Gone are the days when a few players would pool their money to buy an old junker car for a couple hundred bucks to drive to camp only to leave it there or sell it after camp was finished. Gone are the days when some players ate Jell-O at the "fat guy's table" trying to get their weight down before the regular season started.

Just like everything else in the NFL, it's big business now.

What used to be the job of an overworked trainer has now been taken over by a highly trained medical staff, strength coaches, and dieticians. Many players, even some rookies, arrive at camp in luxury SUV's and Mercedes Benz's. What was once a seasonal occupation is now a full time occupation. At least it is for the players who want to make it.

It's even come to the point where non-NFL cities are bidding against one another to host NFL training camps. Last fall, the Minnesota Vikings were being courted by at least two cities trying to lure them away from their long time training camp home about an hour from Minneapolis. There were promises of multi-million dollar upgrades to existing college facilities and one out-of-state suitor went so far to offer state economic development money to support the effort, all in the name of tourism. And this was for a few weeks of training camp. Yes, the NFL has changed.

But while the NFL may have changed from the business aspect, it's still much the same or even better for us fans. Yes, ticket prices have increased over the years but so has everything else. I still feel the same (or even more) passion for the game now as an adult as I did when I was watching Joe Namath and Fran Tarkenton in their prime. There is no better game than NFL football and a new season is upon us.

Instead of venturing off to far away and obscure places like Oxnard, River Falls, or San Angelo, many NFL teams, the Texans included, now conduct training camp in or near their home cities. This is a tremendous benefit to hometown fans that want to see their teams up close and personal. It is a fabulous opportunity for NFL fans to see their favorite players, snap a few pictures, get a few autographs, and soak in the whole NFL experience. Conducting training camp in far away places might be good for developing the fan base outside the home market, but having training camp at home is a huge public relations benefit for the team, allowing thousands of local fans to attend training camp sessions several weeks in advance of the start of the season. It's a tremendous way for the team to bond with the community. Thank you, Mr. McNair.

I don't know about everyone else, but I am ready for camp. See you out at the practice facility!

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