As training camp is upon us and the Eagles start to prepare for the season ahead, they will running plays at a different venue this year. For the first time in 17 years, the Eagles will be holding training camp at Lincoln Financial Field instead of Lehigh University in Bethlehem. This is not the only thing to change within the Eagles organization with new coach Chip Kelly and uncertainly at the quarterback position. But as a Lehigh Valley local that has gone to a fair share of training camps, I would lie if I said I wasn’t missing camp this year.
I understand why the Eagles made the change to practice close to home this year. There are certainly advantages to practicing in the same stadium you play in, and the players also prefer staying at home rather than in college dorms. Staying local also reduces travel and housing costs for the team. Additionally, there is significantly more seating at the NovaCare complex and Lincoln Financial Field, allowing more fans to get in on the action and watch practice.
There were so many great things about having training camp at Lehigh though. As important as it is to feel comfortable on home turf, practicing on different fields allows the team to become more adaptable playing under different conditions. Local businesses also prospered when training camp was held at Lehigh. When the Eagles came to town, “Welcome Eagles Players and Fans” signs adorned many restaurants’ and other businesses’ windows. If nothing else, Eagles training camp outside of Philadelphia was a great way to reach out to fans that could not make it to games during the season. Players frequented local businesses, and it was not uncommon to see some players at the local diner and other restaurants, which was really cool! They were so friendly, willing to talk to fans and sign autographs, which was great publicity for the team too. Free tickets to watch the team practice offered anyone in the area the opportunity to see the team play.
Although I get why the Eagles, and many other NFL teams, have decided to stay close to home for training camp, I will sadly miss their visit to Lehigh University this year. One of my best memories was when I was thirteen, standing on the practice field, right next to the team as they ran through plays. Jevon “the Freak” Kearse was standing less ten feet away from me, and I was so close I could see how big his arm was compared to my waist. It was such a cool experience and made watching the Eagles on TV that much better. I hope that by hosting training camp in Philly this year, with more seating and reduced costs, more fans can have this kind of experience. However, I will always miss the Eagles’ visit to Lehigh and would love for the team to return.