Since the Arizona Cardinals began preseason training sessions in Flagstaff years ago, football fans from around the state have flocked to Flagstaff for a free, up-close look at the NFL team.
This summer, with the start of the professional football season just over the horizon, fans will again be afforded the opportunity to enjoy weekend trips to Northern Arizona University where the Cards will be tuning up.
The Cardinals report to training camp today (Friday) and will be housed at the south end of the NAU campus. There, the team uses the school's dormitories, practice fields, dining halls and classroom buildings.
Practices, which are open to the public and free of charge, begin Saturday.
Training camp workout times are subject to change, but the normal regimen will be to hold morning practices beginning at 8:50 a.m. and afternoon session at 3:10 p.m. The two-a-days continue through the end of training camp Aug. 17 with some exceptions.
They are: July 29 (intrasquad scrimmage), July 26 and Aug. 2 (morning weight-lifting, afternoon practice) July 23 (afternoon practice only), Aug. 4 and 11 (afternoon walk-through only), Aug. 8 and 9 (in San Diego for joint practices with the Chargers) and Aug. 6 and 13 (days off).
Daily outdoor workouts in Flagstaff are held on the three practice fields east of the Walkup Skydome. In the event of inclement weather, practices move inside the dome.
At the practices, it's popular for fans to flock to where the quarterbacks and receivers are working, hoping to get a glimpse of Jake Plummer lofting aerials to wide-outs Rob Moore and Frank Sanders.
But many other fans consider visits to the passing and receiving sessions sissified. They opt instead to attend the offensive and defensive linemen drills where the big men are waging one-on-one warfare. Action there can get extremely spirited and it's not uncommon for a fist fight or two to break out. Former Cardinals coach Buddy Ryan and his staff were known to allow the fisticuffs to continue unabated.
Sun Devil fans usually mosey over to the defensive back drills where former ASU head coach Larry Marmie now a Cards assistant is tutoring a group that includes former Arizona State star Pat Tillman. Taken in the seventh round (226th pick overall) in the 1998 draft, Tillman is a crowd favorite at Flagstaff. With a motor that runs in overdrive, the hard-nosed Tillman could start at strong safety for the Cards.
For those seeking autographs, the best time to approach the players is after practice, when they are returning to their dormitory rooms. Also, never hesitate to ask a player to have your picture taken with him, provided you have a camera. Most willingly oblige.
For youngsters seeking a little more to do than watch grown men beat on one another, a bevy of interactive games are on site designed to tickle the fancy of the kiddie corps.
Another feature at training camp is the annual arrival of the "Rock 'n' Roll Ride" parade of motorcycles that attends the first day of practice.
The group, usually about 300 strong, is scheduled to leave a Mesa restaurant at 8 a.m. and arrive in Flagstaff at noon.
The cyclists will be motoring through Payson about 9:30 a.m. and make a stop here.
Admission to scrimmage
For the scrimmage at 2 p.m. July 29 in the Skydome, Northern Arizona University will charge admission ($8 for reserved seating and $6 for general admission). Tickets are available through www.tickets.com or the NAU box office in the Skydome.
During training camp, the Cardinals will participate in two preseason games in Tempe Sun Devil Stadium. The first kicks off at 7 p.m. against the Denver Broncos. The other begins at 7 p.m. Aug. 12 against the Seattle Seahawks.
The Cards preseason clash Aug. 18 in the Metrodome against the Minnesota Vikings is scheduled to be nationally televised by ESPN. Game time is 5:35 p.m.
Cardinals officials encourage fans to call the training camp hotline at (520) 323-2273 for up-to-the-minute scheduling information.