Countdown to training camp was more hyped and anticipated than ever this year. The reasons were obvious: The Phillies stink and the Eagles are coming off a surprising NFC East title in Chip Kelly's fast-moving rookie season as the team's head coach.
It's finally here now. The Eagles reported for work Friday, went through their first practice Saturday and another Sunday. The venue moves across the street Monday for an open-to-the-public workout at Lincoln Financial Field, which should provide a little more sizzle than the opening two sessions at the sterile NovaCare Complex.
For all the hype and anticipation, training camp just isn't what it used to be, which is good if you are a player and bad if you are a hard-core football fan into watching the speed, precision, and brutality of the game with which most of our country has been consumed.
If you were one of the sponsors or selected season-ticket holders at Sunday's practice, you could have received some free water ice, sat in a shaded tent, and maybe even gotten a player autograph or two after Kelly's two-hour practice in the searing heat at the NovaCare Complex. If you went to watch the football, you would have been disappointed. The closest views are from an end-zone angle, and they are obstructed by inactive players standing in front of the action.
You also will not see any live tackling, a staple during the Andy Reid era that made training-camp practices at Lehigh University intense and entertaining. Morning hitting sessions at Lehigh were an event unlike any other during a football season. With bleachers on three fields, fans could watch the game they love at close to the speed and intensity it is played during the regular season.
"It's a lot different," said guard Todd Herremans, a veteran of eight Reid training camps.
Like every other player, Herremans believes it is a good different. The new collective bargaining agreement that went into place before last season limits on-field practices to one per day during training camp, and has Tuesday as a built-in off day even during camp. Kelly, like almost every other coach in the NFL, does not want his players tackling to the ground.
"I was here for the old CBA, and I felt like Coach Reid was the hardest coach in America during training camp," linebacker Brandon Graham said. "My first year, I didn't know if I wanted to play football anymore. The new CBA has a lot more rules, and we get all we can out of it. Coach Kelly has done a great job adjusting to it. We still get in good work, but we just don't have to do it twice a day."
It's the move from a college dormitory to the home practice field that veteran tight end Brent Celek likes most about the new way of doing things. At 29, he also is happy to refrain from hitting until the games begin.
"There are no cons," Celek said of being at the NovaCare Complex. "No disrespect to Lehigh, but there are no cons. This is better all the way around. Sleeping, being at our own facilities, having good meeting rooms, not having to drive back and forth to places. Everything is here."
Well, not everything.
"I would say the one con would be that the fans don't get to come out and enjoy it as much as they did at Lehigh," Herremans said. "I really enjoyed having the fans out there every day. There was definitely more atmosphere, but it would be impossible to get everybody out here to the NovaCare Complex. Yeah, I miss that. We do get some of it when we go to the Linc, and we're going to go to Franklin Field this year. I think that will be awesome."
Still, it's not the same. There was nothing like the summer of Terrell Owens when the masses flocked to Bethlehem and sang Hymn No. 81 - "T.O., T.O., T-ohhhh" - over and over again. It was like a football version of Woodstock for Philadelphia fans.
Now, there's no tackling, no atmosphere, and, on most days, no admittance for the fans who have so rabidly anticipated the start of this training camp. Kelly's way and the new NFL way are better for the players, but not nearly as good for the fans.
"It's still fun because there are people out here, but it's not as live as it used to be," Graham said. "I guess you have to wait for the games to get it live."