Cardinals Camp Flies Away From Cool Flagstaff

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Okay, so we now know Arizona Cardinals football fans living in the Rim Country were spoiled.

Late each summer for the past 25 years, we made the leisurely 90-minute trip over the Rim to the campus of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff where we watched up close and personal the Redbirds conduct preseason training in what was once called “the most scenic training camp in the NFL.”

It was our football fix.

On the campus, the mountain air was cool, the action was fast and furious and a certain charm about watching football in such a pristine, uncluttered environment existed.

At the conclusion of each session, some of the players were gracious enough to hang around the field to meet, greet and sign autographs.

Our biggest worry was how to flag down Larry Fitzgerald on his Segeway long enough to get an autograph.

After practice, we could retire to one of the city’s many college-themed waterin’ holes to mull over the prospects for the upcoming season.

In the sports bars, there was a small-town-like camaraderie in which Arizona fans could mull over draft choices, argue choices for starting quarterback and recall the pass-catching antics of Fitzgerald and Patrick Peterson’s kick returns.

For a special treat during the return trip to the Rim Country, we sometimes stopped at the famed Mormon Lake Steakhouse to enjoy one of their savory, open pit, mesquite-cooked steaks.

Some of us even took the opportunity to rent one of the lodge’s cozy log cabins or secure a space in the RV camp or campground where we could commute back and forth to several days of Cards practices.

It was the stuff football fans’ dreams are made of.

But, the wheels have come off the wagon.

Because negotiations between the City of Flagstaff and the Cardinals broke down last spring, the Cardinals will this year hold their training camp at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.

Yep, that’s the same stadium in which the team plays its home games.

Which means Rim Country fans will no longer enjoy the scenic trip through Pine and Strawberry, to the tiny hamlet of Clint’s Well, past Mormon Lake Village and along picturesque Lake Mary and on to Flagstaff to enjoy a team practice.

Rather we’ll high-tail it down Beeline and through hectic big-city rush freeway traffic to catch our home state team’s practice.

Although the practices will be indoors, outdoors the searing desert heat will reach 100-plus degrees — a far cry from the 70- and 80-degree summer temperatures in Flagstaff.

Although the Cardinals have said they will attempt to duplicate some of the amenities of Flagstaff, fans have plenty of questions.

Will practices be open, as they were at NAU? Is there access for autographs? Will we be able to get as up close and personal with the players as we did in Flagstaff?

Although almost every Rim Country football fan had grown to appreciate the charm and uniqueness of training camp at NAU, Cardinals officials are asking us to forget Flagstaff and to embrace a new preseason training home.

It’s going to be a tough sell.

Camp schedule

For the 2013 camp in Glendale, Cardinal rookies report July 23. Veterans report July 25.

Camp wraps up Aug. 22 and on Aug. 24 the Cards host the Chargers in University of Phoenix Stadium.

All open practices will be in the afternoon, most often 2 p.m. to 4:35 p.m. The team will also hold morning walkthroughs, but those will not be open to the public.

Cardinals officials say more camp details will be announced in the coming weeks.

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