Something missing from most Eagles camp workouts: Fans

New England fans thronged to Tuesday's practice between the Eagles and Patriots.
New England fans thronged to Tuesday's practice between the Eagles and Patriots. (CHARLES KRUPA / Associated Press)
Posted: August 15, 2014

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - They remain, by far, the most infamous words of Jeffrey Lurie's 20 years as Eagles owner.

Gold standard.

Those two words have stuck to the man like Gorilla Glue. Eleven years have passed since Lurie uttered that ill-timed and poorly conceived phrase that has been used against him in the court of public opinion.

The funny thing is, Lurie's intended message was not that far off base. It's important to point out the entirety of what the Eagles owner said that day in 2003.

"When I'm talking to other owners or other GMs in the league, we're kind of [looked at as] the gold standard," Lurie said. "I'm very proud of the fact that I think we're the model of where NFL franchises want to be."

At the time, the Eagles were coming off three straight playoff seasons and consecutive appearances in the NFC championship game. The loss in the second of those two NFC title games is what irked so many about Lurie's statement, but the Eagles had more regular-season wins in the first three years of the 21st century than any other team. They also had a state-of-the-art practice facility that was only two years old and were about to move into Lincoln Financial Field.

A really good team and really nice digs did make the Eagles one of the most attractive teams in the NFL in the summer of 2003. Eleven years later, despite the still vacant spot reserved for that first Vince Lombardi Trophy at the NovaCare Complex, the Eagles remain an attractive team, but not the gold standard.

The Eagles are no longer the NFL leader in regular-season wins in the 21st century. The San Francisco 49ers' Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., is about to become the sixth NFL stadium to open since the Linc. In an effort to keep up, the Eagles poured $125 million into a two-year stadium renovation that is now complete.

A good amount of Lurie's money also has been spent on upgrading the NovaCare Complex, but plenty of NFL practice facilities have surpassed the Eagles' in terms of square footage and overall appeal.

Patriot Place is one of them. In fact, New England's training facility and the overall footprint of Patriot Place, which surrounds Gillette Stadium, probably leaves every NFL owner, including Jerry Jones, (the color of money) green with envy. Patriot Place is an expansive outside mall built around the stadium that is owned and operated by the Kraft Group, a holding company for Patriots owner Bob Kraft and his family.

There are things to do and see before and after the game and practice. The Eagles are never going to have anything like it and neither are most other NFL teams. The New York Giants, however, also have a better practice facility than the Eagles now and the Dallas Cowboys are a couple of years away from opening the biggest practice facility in the NFL at 225,000 square feet. The NovaCare Complex is 108,000 square feet.

It would be nice if the Eagles could at least build some bleachers and turn the NovaCare Complex into a better training-camp facility for fans. An estimated 25,000 fans attended the joint practice between the Eagles and Patriots on Tuesday, and the atmosphere was reminiscent of what we used to see at Lehigh University when the Eagles trained on the Bethlehem, Pa., campus.

"It's really cool," Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin said. "You get that added incentive with the fans being there. The pressure is on, so it's just like a game and that's kind of what you want to make yourself better."

It's not going to happen at the NovaCare Complex.

"Our practice facility is landlocked and there was a provision as part of the stadium deals [for the Phillies and Eagles] that prohibits us from having public practices at the NovaCare Complex," Eagles president Don Smolenski said in a phone interview. "The genesis of that is the neighbors were concerned that there would be crowds like the one you saw in New England [Tuesday]. They didn't want that for their neighborhood."

To their credit, the Eagles have found other ways to bring the masses to their practices by staging workouts at the Linc and most recently at Franklin Field. That could be the start of a cool tradition, but it would be better if they could hold public training-camp practices at the NovaCare Complex on a daily basis.

Even though it is smaller than a lot of the newer practice facilities, Smolenski still believes the NovaCare is a state-of-the-art facility.

"Even though it's a little more than 10 years old, the facility is still highly regarded within the NFL," Smolenski said. "The 49ers' people were here last Thursday for a tour because they're contemplating updating their facility. The AF Roma Italian soccer team was here and they told us it was one of the best facilities they've ever been in."

The most important thing is that Eagles coach Chip Kelly is happy with the NovaCare Complex, even though he concedes the overflowing crowd Tuesday added something to the joint practice with the Patriots.

"There's not much you can do with the NovaCare Complex, and I know there's some city limitations in terms of how many people you can put in there," Kelly said. "You put me in a parking lot and we'll go practice. That's not a big concern of mine."

His concern, of course, is winning a Super Bowl, and that is the one thing that would allow the Eagles to finally be considered the gold standard.


bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob

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