Attending a Lions training camp session is the Lions fan’s equivalent of making a pilgrimage to Lourdes, or making the Haj to Mecca. Something that should be on every Lions fan’s bucket list.
I’ll give you the lowdown in my daily practice reports, but for those fans who have the opportunity to visit the Lions Allen Park HQ and training facility, I will give you some helpful hints and tips that will make your visit a memorable one.
Getting There, Parking There and Things You Do, and Do Not Want There
Take the Rotunda Drive exit off of the M39 (Southfield Fwy.) The indoor practice building is obvious once you reach Rotunda Drive. Go east to the first light and turn right on Executive Drive. Parking is across the street and you will be given a paper to put on your dashboard as well as directions to the fans’ parking area.
Do bring a bottled water, or other non-adult hydrating beverage that you must finish while waiting for the gate to open. No food or beverages are allowed inside the gate.
Do not bring a chair, umbrella or a camera with greater than a 50 mm telephoto lens. No weapons (as if you needed to know…). Ladies' purses will be inspected, as will any bag containing merchandise to be autographed. Baby strollers are allowed, but will be also inspected.
Parents and guardians with children, and those with special needs will receive gracious attention when entering. Some kids will be given V.I.P. passes and be conducted to the entrance to the locker room where they will meet the players when they come out on the field and get to carry their Lions helmet. The player will sign his escort’s V.I.P. pass and hang out for a few minutes.
Do get there early. The first week of training camp sees crowds of 2,000 and up. The wait seems like a drag, but everyone near you is a kindred spirit. Strike up a conversation and the time will fly.
If big crowds aren’t your thing, wait until the second week of training camp. The crowds are half the size by then.
Do apply a sun block if you are sun-sensitive.
When the Gates Open
First, let me give you a mental image of the training facility. Behind the HQ building and indoor training facility there are two football fields set side by side and separated by 10 yards. The end zones are at the North and South ends of the facility. Both fields are natural turf and immaculately maintained.
Needless to say, the fields are roped off for fan control and security is tight.
You will approach the fields from the East. At the rear of the indoor facility there is a Lions merchandise stand well-equipped with that must-have swag. Then there’s a concession stand with eats and drinks (no alcohol). You might spot the local sports talk radio station doing a live show—usually with a special guest.
Fans are restricted somewhat due to the property size. There is plenty of seating available in bleachers situated along the East sideline of the East field. They run only 50 yards in length and are situated at the South half of the field.
There is additional bleacher seating behind the Southeast end zone (East field) and the Southwest end zone (West field).
There is no seating along the West field sideline and fans are restricted to the southern half of the West field.
The tip-off as to which field the Lions will use for practice that day comes when the camera teams raise their sideline camera platform. Every practice segment is filmed by a sideline and end zone camera.
If you are in luck, it will be the East field being used. The views are much better and there’s plenty of seating available. Some seating will be shaded for the first hour, or so.
Expect the Unexpected
Weather can ruin the experience. If there’s rain, the Lions will move indoors and practice will be closed. Watch the weather closely before leaving the house.
While waiting in line, don’t be surprised to see past players, coaches or executives greeting you while you wait patiently.
Every day at camp there seems to be a different surprise.
Interacting With Players and Coaches
Practice segments are rigidly choreographed. Players and coaches are usually pretty busy. Occasionally, a player or coach will wave, or even say howdy.
Do not disrupt players during drills! Nothing will get you ejected faster.
Cheering a great play is encouraged. Louis Delmas and Nate Burleson will usually get the crowd in an uproar as cheerleaders.
Autographs can be had before and after practice. Before practice, go to the North end of the bleachers. Players might stop by for a few quickies along the ropes. Some nice photo ops can be had here.
The “official” autograph session is held after practice. Now, listen up! If you want an autograph after practice, start queuing up in line an hour (you heard me…an hour) before the end of practice. Only four to five players will be available at that time.
The players not involved in the official signings are usually very generous with their time after practice. Take full advantage of this opportunity.
Enjoy the Day
There’s something for everyone from seasoned analysts to rabid fans at training camp. There’s plenty of eye candy—both on, and off the practice field. You’ll see your favorite media members stalking the field with notebooks in hand.
Geez…I’m really gonna miss Tom “Killer” Kowalski this year. He always caught my eye at camp, winked and then slowly shook his head. Killer always knew how to push your buttons.
This is the closest that you can get to the players in a setting that seems intimate and friendly. Make some new acquaintances, and renew old friendships from training camps past. I promise you will have a memorable experience.
My first Lions training camp report will be published Thursday, Aug. 2.