The Eagles moved Training Camp from Lehigh for the first time since the 1990s. That was a great tradition. The players enjoyed it. The fans loved it. The people of Lehigh and the surrounding areas made a lot of money because of TC. Everybody won.
Chip Kelly changed all of that when he took over as coach. That was an incredibly disappointing decision, but Kelly feels the team will be better off by staying in Philly and practicing at the NovaCare. It if helps the team win, who am I to complain?
“I just think we have everything here. The fact that we would pack everything up and move, that didn’t make sense to me,” Kelly told reporters last month. “All our video stuff is here. Our servers are here. So you’re dealing with portable laptops and hoping you get practice on it. You have issues when it rains . Where do you go? Our training facility, in terms of how we want to lift, how we want to do this, why would you move everything to go somewhere else?”
Of course, neither Lehigh nor Bethlehem has closed down because the Eagles aren’t coming. Hosting a football team for 2 to 3 weeks is an economic boost – Vaclivik estimated his business increased at least 25 percent during camp – but this isn’t quite like when Bethlehem Steel died. The locals who worked at camp did so to pick up a little extra money, not to feed their families.
“For the fans up in this area, it’s disappointing. It’s very much disappointing,” said Dave Rank, who operates two Starters Pub locations in the Bethlehem area, including one on Route 378 near camp that was a popular nighttime hangout for players. Rank has an Eagles helmet flag that he contends has been signed by every Eagle who attended camp since 2001. Autographed Eagles photos adorn the walls.
I was lucky enough to go to Lehigh in 1998, 2005 and 2006. I had a great time on each trip. The atmosphere was just right. There was football going on, but the setting was intimate. Players would interact with the fans when they could. Between the lines, it was all business. When guys came to the sideline, you could have some fun with them.
We’ll see how things go in Philly. I don’t think it will be anywhere close to the vibe from Lehigh, but that will be forgiven if it helps the team win.