GLENDALE, Ariz. — It may not be the cool pine setting of Flagstaff, the Cardinals’ training camp home since 1988, but University of Phoenix Stadium is home.
That’s the resounding sentiment so far as the Cardinals go through their first training camp at their home stadium. Training in Glendale is different, they say, but a good kind of different.
“I like that we’re having training camp here,” linebacker Daryl Washington said. “It’s going to be a new look, but I think it’s going to be better.”
“It’s different,” receiver Andre Roberts said. “It’s a change, and we’ll get used to it like everything else.”
The setting in Glendale is certainly starkly different from the one “up the hill” in Flagstaff. Tall pine trees and mountains no longer surround the practice field; instead it’s the roomy confines of a dome and its rafters. There are no packed bleachers and lawn chairs along the sidelines, rather rows and rows of gray and red seats, most of them empty.
The colorful scenes and perfect weather of training camp in Flagstaff may have been lost, but the move to Glendale has been almost universally praised by players. If anyone is disappointed they’re not in Flagstaff, they aren’t saying.
The reasons players would prefer Glendale to Flagstaff are fairly obvious: better accommodations, less travel, no rain-soaked practices, proximity to home and families on off days and the comfort of their own locker room.
“Being able to practice in the stadium we play in really kind of gets us in the mentality of football mode,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “When you’re in here, typically it’s only on game day. You’re mind is, “Let’s put in work, let’s win a game.’ So right now, being able to practice in the stadium and get that same sense, that same feeling, I think is really going to help our practices.”
Added cornerback Patrick Peterson: “It’s not that much different, but I’m happy that we’re down in the Valley. We can have more fans attend. We’re closer to home, don’t have to worry about that two-hour drive up and down the hill taking away half our days off.”
The Cardinals moved their training camp to Glendale after a complicated saga with Northern Arizona University ended on a sour note. It was the end of a tradition that the team had upheld for all but one year — due to a norovirus outbreak in 2005 — since moving to Arizona.
But for a tradition — the team’s only Arizona tradition, some say — so lasting, it is hardly being lamented inside University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Cardinals are emphasizing the positives of the move, like greater accessibility to the fan base and buzz for the team growing locally with the team in town more as the season approaches.
“I’m excited about the fact that we have access for so many fans who didn’t get a chance to come up to Flagstaff,” Cardinals president Michael Bidwill said. “It’s a big drive and a big investment in gas and hotel rooms. I’m excited that a lot more people are going to have a chance to come out to University of Phoenix Stadium and see the team up close.”
The team estimated a crowd of 8,100 fans for the first day of training camp. An estimated 8,800 showed up the second day, spreading out on the lower level along both sidelines and cheering after big plays from the likes of star receiver Larry Fitzgerald and new quarterback Carson Palmer.
Fitzgerald, whose nine seasons with the Cardinals are matched only by Darnell Dockett, has publicly expressed his preference for training in Flagstaff but said Saturday he’s happy to train in Glendale as well.
“It’s our home,” Fitzgerald said. “Coach (Bruce) Arians touched on it in a team meeting (Friday) that we need to find a way to protect our home-field advantage, and I think coming here and practicing here every day gives us a more heightened sense of awareness of how important it is to play well here.”
Veterans may have been more appreciative of the tradition of a training camp getaway, which just 12 teams in the NFL still take, but the pros and cons of the move are not lost on some of the younger Cardinals.
“I’m happy that we’re down here,” Peterson said. “It kind of works both ways. The weather up there is phenomenal, the cafeteria was phenomenal, but here the hotel is better and practicing in the stadium is better. It’s a toss-up, but I’m happy we’re closer down here where our fan base is.”