Sometimes, the suits are right.
This became ever more obvious Sunday evening, as thousands of people streamed into Lincoln Financial Field for the third and final open practice of Eagles training camp. It was a decidedly different and more diverse demographic than the demographic that was able to sacrifice an entire summer day to watch the daily gladiatorial theater of NFL training camp at Lehigh University.
In 2013, the Eagles ended a 17 year relationship. New coach Chip Kelly agreed with team president Don Smolenski that the Eagles would be better served to stay in Philadelphia for training camp rather than bunkering down in Bethlehem.
Like most change, this concept was met with resistance and no small degree of nostalgia-based outrage.
Like most change, it has been for the best.
Andy Reid embraced the concept of isolating his players from their families and most outside influences, in an attempt to build camaraderie and intensify preseason focus. It also behooved the Eagles to reconnect with distant fans whose attention might be straying northeast, toward the Giants, or southwest, toward the Steelers. All of those goals were realized. Crowds usually hovered between 2,000 and 5,000, peaking above 20,000 a day when Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens shared the field.
But the crowds began to shrink as social media supplied fans with more instantaneous information. Also, training camp gradually became a gentler undertaking thanks to renegotiated collective bargaining agreements.
Only 12 of 32 teams now go away to training camp, down from 26 teams 15 years ago. The sports science integrated into palatial NFL practice facilities became impossible to replicate, and the benefits of a traveling circus like three weeks of training camp diminished.
The fact that the Eagles have, since 2013, held a handful of open practices at their stadium further amplifies the benefits of staying at home. It was a financial burden on most fans to visit Lehigh, often incorporating a day off of work, and sometimes resulting in a disappointing experience; the weather and the whim of a head coach are largely uncontrollable.
That throng of nearly 18,000 fans Sunday evening parked for free, watched for free, were able to take public transportation, and got into the stadium that has priced itself out of the budget of most of the 99 percent. Every time the Eagles have one of these practices at the Linc there are hundreds of people who otherwise would never set foot in the place. Those same people could probably never afford the luxury of the Lehigh Valley trip in August, either.
Finally, practicing in the stadium where they will play actual games helps acclimate young players and new players to the environment where they most need to succeed.
Yes, Lehigh was homey and you sat closer and you got some autographs.