If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what follows must be worth one one-thousandth of a picture.
As we slowly approached the intersection of Ventura Rd and Vineyard Ave in Oxnard, California in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I looked at the upper middle-class neighborhood around me and thought out loud to my wife and five-year old son, "Can you imagine living here? Just walk down the street and watch the Dallas Cowboys practice for free every day, or twice a day." It seemed like some people were doing just that, as sidewalks on both sides were filled with families pushing strollers and carrying bottles of water and the latest way to fold up a chair, young boys with footballs, etc. And these people were moving faster than the cars. I then realized they couldn't all be residents of the neighborhood--they were just Socalifornians and/or camp veterans who had parked on the surrounding steets to beat the $5 parking fee, and the traffic that was paying it. I briefly considered leaving the line to drive into what would surely be this maze of winding streets myself, as it was already 9:15 and practice had started 15 minutes ago, but decided it was best to stay put. Heed this: Leave early for Oxnard.
The line of cars filed past a sign that mysteriously read, "parking lot closed" and into a dusty lot almost full of cars, where a police officer with her hand full of bills collected the fee. Then on past a large inflatable Cowboys helmet and even larger souvenir stand and eventually to our final destination, about a five-minute walk from the practice field. The weather could not have been better--overcast, with no breeze, but room temperature. There was straw mixed in with the dirt, which was watered down pretty regularly by a big truck. The four of us, including my 11-month old, followed the masses past a steaming vat full of free chilli samples toward the practice field.
Practice was about 30 minutes old when we sat down at the bottom of some metal bleachers near an end zone and found that we could only see about 25% of what was happening on the field, due to a combination of tree trunks, most of the players being at the other end of the field, and a line of people standing in front of the fence, which you're not supposed to do, and which is inconsiderate anyway. The five-year old's first words, "Where are the Cowboys, Daddy?"
There were about 50 more souls standing in a line to go inside the fence (As soon as someone came out, another one could enter.) I figured that, if we got in that line, we might manage to get inside the fence to catch the last five minutes of practice. That's when Jerry Jones touched my shoulder and said, "Gotcha!" and laughed out loud.
Not the real Jerry of course, who was out there on the field (somewhere), but a sort of Jones-ish presence in the form of the realization that here we were, and we couldn't see that
well, so we might as well wander around and buy something. Probably just a tiny taste of the feeling Papa John's Pizza had when Jones announced a multi-million dollar deal between that company and the Cowboys, then released his QB amid rumors of a failed drug test the very next day. Anyway, we could see just enough of the action on the field for just long enough periods to justify staying where we were. 30 minutes passed and another guy came in with his family and sat down beside us. He fixed his attention on the field, and our wives started talking to each other while my 11-month old studied the wood chips on the ground, and my five-year old secretly fiddled with the door to the battery compartment of my digital camera.
The mom of the family mentioned that they were made to park in the overflow lot. ("Gotcha!") I explained the line to go inside the fence to them.
I was hyped. "There's Parcells. There's T.O" My son noticed that many of the players didn't have stars on their helmets and said, "Hey there's some Cleveland Browns out there!" I explained that these players had to earn their stars, which started a complicated discussion about earning. Meanwhile, first team offense was going against first team defense, but with Bledsoe alternating with Romo. Numba nine unleashed a dart to the near sideline which T.O caught and took to the house. The crowd went nuts. "THAT'S T.O!" I said to my wife. Owens jogged back upfield and threw up his arms, drawing more cheers. I wasn't watching how Romo responded to the play.
There were more plays. Glenn caught a 25-yarder on the far side, don't remember who threw it or who Glenn beat. TG is easily my favorite player, but you get the feeling he would prefer to be practicing without anybody in the stands watching him. The absolute antithesis of that other guy. Julius bobbled a pass, then controlled it. There were several runs into the line that were all instantly bottled up.
Later the team all gathered down at the far end (far from us) and worked on goal-line offense. We were completely screened off by the rest of the team, which had moved out onto the field to watch this. Practice ended with kickers and returners. Vanderjagt and Romo both stayed and signed autographs, long after Owens and Bledsoe finished interviews in the media area in the end zone far from us. I was just mindlessly taking it all in and didn't even think to take pictures until we left the field and went over to where the five Lombardi's are on display. I got close to them and pushed the power button on my camera but nothing happened. Then I flashed back to a thud I'd heard and not paid any attention to while I was still sitting in the bleachers. I opened up the battery compartment. Empty. My wife, who I love dearly: "I saw those (four new AAA batteries) on the ground and wondered what that was."
Like I said, I was in a semi-shock state about being where I was, and totally forgot about taking pictures of the action anyway.
They have on display a full Emmitt game uni, as well as the 1960 jersey, and there's a guy holding five Super Bowl rings if you want to pay to take a photo with them. And if you've got batteries in your camera. Somebody (an adult) actually asked this guy if he knew Jerry Jones personally. As we walked back to the car, (and after I had fumbled through a shameful and selfish attempt to convince my wife that we all stay for the afternoon practice) I started looking at license plates and saw only one from out-of-sate, and even that was Nevada. Safe to say 95% of those in attendence were California residents. Guess I'll have to count the Cal plates in San Antonio next year.
On the way to the car we passed what seemed to be a rather heated meeting of security personnel. "Perhaps I wasn't explicit enough," was all I managed to pick up. If I'd been alone, I'd have found some excuse to hang around within earshot of this meeting.
Going to training camp is likely a great family experience if you have kids older than mine. My kids are a little young yet, and they actually had more fun after the practice at the Quizno's on Ventura Road, watching all the airplanes circle in to land at the airport across the street. (Also there's a huge beach at Port Hueneme with grassy area and lots of palms that I highly recommend.)
I've read some outstanding camp reports in this forum, with pictures, and I really respect some of the reporting. It's better than what the so-called professionals do. This report is not so in-depth, and may have too much of a family flavor for some of the people here. But it's my contribution.