I do plead guilty one of the charges leveled at me by some readers, that I was “selfish” in requesting that Joe Gibbs open more camp time to observation. That is certainly true. The amount of time that the public and press can watch the Houston Texans’ camp practices is of zero interest here and there couldn’t any less interest in how John Gruden chooses to operate access to the Bucs’ camp. I only care about how much I can watch the Redskins’ camp because that affects me and people I know and converse with.
However, there were a few things mentioned about the concept of having fans at camp sessions or not that I thought were off base and I want to comment on them here.
First, there were some comments that the presence of a lot of fans and reporters during camp sessions will distract the team. First of all, it didn’t seem to prevent Gibbs’ teams from focusing enough on practice when they were winning three Super Bowls in ten years. And if you can’t focus in front of a few thousand friendly fans, most of whom are just conversing among themselves while trying to catch a glimpse of what’s happening out there, what’s going to happen on September 19 in front of some 60,000 hostile folks in Dallas who will be trying like crazy to distract you? Trust me, if you can’t block out the training camp crowd, you can’t even block out the friendly home crowd much less a fiercely hostile throng on the road.
Others expressed fears that writers, or fans, or scouts from other teams will reveal secret strategies that the team will be working on during camp. These fears are unfounded. Scouts from other teams are prohibited from going to training camp unless, as the Redskins did a few years ago, the team charges admission. Fans can’t see much. And if someone can find a single instance of a writer revealing a specific strategy that he unearthed while observing Redskins camp practices, before, during, or since Gibbs I, please cite that instance for me, because it will be the first one I’ve ever heard about. Remember, Gibbs always said that he changed about 40 percent of his offense from year to year, so it wasn’t like there wasn’t a lot of new material to be installed every year.
Another line of thinking was that if it leads to more wins, it was the right way to go. That’s would be great if it were that easy. If closing camp practices equals more wins, then why not close all of them? Why not hold them in North Dakota or someplace where only the most sophisticated satellite surveillance could see what’s going on. I’ve beaten the theme of Gibbs’ previous tenure to death here, so let’s skip over that easy one. Look around the league and you’ll find no correlation—zero—between the number of closed camp practices and the number of games a team wins. It’s just nonsense.
That leads in to another chorus of folks who said that if that’s what Joe Gibbs wanted then that’s all they need to know, it was fine with them. Now, anyone who has read what’s been written in this space more than once or twice knows that I am not one who is quick to be critical of the Hall of Fame coach. If anything, I’ve drawn heat for agreeing with his actions too often. I just think that in this particular case Gibbs is doing the team and its fans a disservice and perhaps he wasn’t looking at the whole picture when he decided to have so little of camp open to the press and public.
In what way is Gibbs doing them a disservice? Other than in the ways that I discussed on my original blog, training camp is the only chance that many—make that the vast majority of—Redskins fans have to see their team in person. With preseason tickets now being part of the season ticket package there is no opportunity to see them there. Training camp is the only opportunity.
And this leads to the point about the harm being done to the team. Maybe the Redskins don’t think that they need to attract and keep new fans, but they do. There is constant competition for the dollars and attention of the sports fan everywhere and Washington is no exception. The team has been hit from the south by the Carolina Panthers and from the north by the Baltimore Ravens and internally by the Nationals and Wizards. Many a casual fan has been turned into a lifer with an autograph and a smile from a Redskin player at camp and the loyalties of many impressionable kids have been sealed for life as well with the same.
One of the few readers who tended to agree with my position was a poster on the WarpathInsiders.com board who goes by Tennessee Carl. He summed it up better than I could:
When I was up at Carlisle, there were little ol' couples who'd been to camp with the Redskins since the 1960s. It was their vacation. How do you measure that sort of loyalty in your fan base? And don't you lose something when you close that door?
As I said earlier, give us Ws and nobody will care much. But we aren't winning. So when the franchise goes into seclusion and comes out with another crappy product on the field, it just breeds more fan alienation.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, has more respect for Joe Gibbs than I do. I just respectfully disagree with his stance here. And if I told him my opinion it’s very likely that he, just like most of the readers here, would tell me to just shut up.