The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

March 15, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Saints to be pampered at Greenbrier

MORGANTOWN — Somewhere Tommy Nobis is shaking his head.

His name now is little more than a fading memory to old-timers, but back in the mid-1960s, as he ended a College Football Hall of Fame career at Texas, he was the real deal, the first player ever drafted and signed by the Atlanta Falcons.

He became NFL royalty that year, 1966, right up until he headed to training camp.

See, in those days, there was no royalty in NFL training camps.

The Falcons then spent their summer at Johnson City, Tenn., in the dorms of East Tennessee State University.

If it was the site of Nobis’ first training camp, it was the site of my first training camp as a reporter, too.

And, I can tell you firsthand, it was not The Greenbrier Resort.

That’s why Nobis and all the other football players of his era are shaking their heads this morning.

They’re picturing an NFL team like the NFL’s New Orleans Saints living in the lap of luxury, while they were pinned to their room … room service being maybe a pizza joint from downtown that delivered, hardly the image of a breakfast-in-bed option summer at The Greenbrier.

Your muscles were sore in Johnson City?

Get in line. The trainer will eventually get to you, toss you in the whirlpool, maybe give you a rub if you really needed one.

At The Greenbrier this summer, as it will be for the New Orleans Saints with a deal they just worked out with Jim Justice, they’ll be heading for the spa and a masseuse, nose guards come out smelling like some Broadway dandy, complete with their nails manicured and hair neatly trimmed.

Haircuts in training camp?

Yeah, they had them in Nobis’ day, at least for the rookies.

There was hazing then, real hazing.

Part of it was veterans giving rookies haircuts, cuts you wouldn’t exactly call coifs like they’ll be getting now.

A lot of the hazing’s gone or toned now, the NFL going from a beer and pretzels league to wine and hors d’oeuvres.

Funny thing, the Saints have kept the tradition alive.

This was written last year out of the Saints training camp:

No doubt, Saints rookies Kenny Vaccaro and Rod Sweeting are all wrapped up in their first NFL training camp. They sure were Thursday afternoon!

The two were taped to a goal post and hosed down with water. Vaccaro and Sweeting were just the latest victims in an annual rookie hazing that happens all around the NFL.

Saints DB Malcom Jenkins explained why the pair was taped and doused.

“You know coach wants us to get hydrated. We got a game tomorrow. We just wanted to make sure our rookies got hydrated,” Jenkins said.

Wonder what hazing will be like at The Greenbrier. Not allow them to eat eggs benedict for breakfast?

It’s strange, really, to think about this, considering the training camp I remember.

There was the Cincinnati Bengals first year, at Wilmington, Ohio, College, founder and coach Paul Brown bringing players in for tryouts right after breakfast, working them out and having them on the bus back to Cincinnati before lunch if they didn’t do well in the workout.

Not even a meal.

In those days, no one thought about training at The Greenbrier.

Players then thought having a window air conditioning unit in your room a luxury.

But like we say, this deal Jim Justice has worked out with the Saints to bring the team to his place for a month each summer through 2016, holding free public workouts and avoiding the unbearable humidity and heat of the Louisiana summer, gives summer camp a whole different look.

In the old days, players couldn’t get their wives anywhere near training camp.

Now it will be harder to keep them away than it will be to keep Bruce Irvin away from quarterbacks.

“This isn’t about me,” Justice said on Talkline today. “It’s for West Virginia. It’s for jobs. It’s for us. There’s not a living human being more than me loves our state.”

He says that was why he brought the PGA Tour to his resort, noting that “Every year that golf tournament costs me $10 million.”

And if you want to know why he does it, he’ll gladly tell you.

“Because it makes the average West Virginian proud to be a West Virginian and puts the spotlight straight on us. At the end of the day, that’s what I want. I want greatness for our state.”

Who knows, maybe we can even get those Saints over to Morgantown for a little football and to see how High Street compares with Bourbon Street.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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