A Short History of Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Locations
This week, the Cowboys return their training camp to the Alamodome in San Antonio, after spending the last three training camps at River Ridge Sports Complex in Oxnard, California. In keeping with the trivia and nearly useless information theme of this site, here are some tidbits about training camp sites:
1960: Pacific University, Forest Grove, Oregon
From Landry’s Boys by Peter Golenbock:
The Cowboys’ first training camp was at the University of the Pacific in Forest Grove, Oregon. It was in the middle of nowhere, a haul from the nearest big city, Portland. [Tom] Landry intended to run a boot camp, and Forest Grove was the perfect place to conduct it away from any distractions. The town had one movie theatre and one bar. Nearby was a maraschino cherry factory. The sweet, syrupy aroma permeated the place as the players sweated under blue skies.
1961: St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota
From Golenbock, quoting Bob Lilly, who was a rookie in 1961:
“I went to St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, for training camp. That was a beautiful campus, except you had to walk down 386 steps– I counted them– to get from the dorm to the playing field, plus I was on the third floor of the dorm.”
1962: Northern Michigan College, Marquette, Michigan
After I originally posted this, Ron Smith provided some great information about the Cowboys’ 1961 camp:
In mid July the Cowboys found themselves moving into a new training camp again. This time they almost wound up in Canada.
The site was Northern Michigan College at Marquette, where the temperature rarely rose above the fifties during the day and a 20-m.p.h. wind frequently blew off nearby Lake Superior.
Marquette had become a rather sudden second choice for the Cowboys.They had planned to return to St. Olaf College at Northfield,Minnesota, but the athletic conference to which that school belonged ruled at its spring meeting that no member could house a professional team on its campus. So, with little time to check out prospective sites, the Dallas club settled on Northern Michigan, which greeted the players and staff cordially but assigned them to a girls dormitory which wasn’t occupied during summer school. The beds were shorter and the doors were lower than they were accustomed to and the taller men suffered some bruised noggins during their stay.
To those who had known some scorching Texas summers, the weather at Marquette was almost unbelievable. Water fountains on the campus were left running all night so as to not risk frozen pipes and rare was the July or August evening when the temperature didn’t dip into the thirties.
So many players were shivering that equipment manager Jack Eskridge laid in a large supply of thermal underwear.
Although the air was invigorating,the weather was not conducive to the hot and heavy work which players need during a training camp. There was an extremely high number of
injuries,particularly pulled leg muscles and damaged knees,and you have to believe some of them resulted directly from the players’ inability to warm up properly.
1963-1989: California Lutheran College, Thousand Oaks, California
Most of us who are older than 30 or so remember that the Cowboys trained for years at the campus of California Lutheran College (now University) in Thousand Oaks, California. Here is a clip from Wikipedia:
. . . California Lutheran University served as the training camp location for the Dallas Cowboys. The CLU football practice field used by the Cowboys as well as the CLU Kingsmen football team was replaced by a large sports complex in 2006. The Cowboys Clubhouse in Thousand Oaks still stands across from the complex, and is currently a family residence.
1990-1997: St. Edward’s University, Austin, Texas
This is from NFL.com:
Before Johnson’s arrival, the Cowboys spent 27 years training at California Lutheran College in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Johnson held camp there his first season (Aikman’s rookie year), but he and owner Jerry Jones moved the operation to Austin, Texas, in 1990. Jones wanted to move camp closer to the team’s regional fan base. Aikman says Johnson supported the move because he wanted his players to experience the Texas heat, a weather condition he considered ideal to train a football team.
“Jimmy believed in a lot of contact, being physical and practicing in the heat. It was about 100 degrees [in Austin], the humidity was 90 percent,” Aikman said. “We were a young football team, and I think that maybe at that time, it was good for us. You certainly can’t argue with the results we got.
“But as the team got older and we continually practiced in that kind of heat, I think it had diminishing returns. It probably wasn’t until we made the playoffs in 1991 and achieved a pretty good level of success that Jimmy didn’t keep the foot down on the guys as much as he had in previous years. Early on, when he was trying to put the team together, it was really, really tough.”
1998-2002: Midwestern State University, Wichita Falls, Texas
Apparently, there was once a site known as CowboysCamp.com, which had this to say about the Cowboys’ camp location in 1999:
As part of the team’s commitment to keeping their training camp in Texas, the Cowboys selected Midwestern State as the home of the Cowboys preseason preparations in 1999. This will mark the 10th year the Cowboys have held camp in Texas.
The new surroundings proved to be a success in 1998 as new head coach Chan Gailey helped lead the Cowboys to a 10-6 finish and the NFC Eastern Division title. Since making the move to a Texas-based training camp, the Cowboys have had just two non-playoff seasons.
In retrospect, however, the move to Wichita Falls wasn’t particularly positive:
For the last four years, the Cowboys trained in Wichita Falls. At first, people swarmed onto the campus of Midwestern State University. By 2001, however, attendance was way down.
Nick Gholson, sports editor at the Wichita Falls Times Record News, says 100-degree temperatures helped chase off the crowds, as did the fact that the Cowboys tumbled to last place in their division.
Also, fan expectations didn’t mesh with training-camp reality.
“A lot of people thought they were going to games, but they’d go there and see (the players) stretch for 30 minutes and realize they were watching a practice,” Gholson said. “And there is not much more boring than watching a football practice.”
Having the team in Wichita Falls brought about $16 million into the local economy over four years, and having the camp raised the North Texas city’s visibility.
In appreciation, a team photo was put on the cover of the 1999 Wichita Falls phone book.
Townspeople in Wichita Falls never got ho-hum about having the Cowboys, Gholson said, but they also stopped swooning when they ran into a player at the shopping mall.
2002-2003: The Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas.
The Cowboys moved south to San Antonio in 2002.
For the players, the differences between Wichita Falls and San Antonio will be noticeable.
The dorms at Midwestern State will be replaced by rooms in a luxury hotel on the bustling Riverwalk. And where the limited nightlife of Wichita Falls tempered opportunities for preseason mischief, San Antonio will present more than a few temptations.
The two towns do have one thing in common, and that’s heat.
August days in San Antonio average upward of 95 degrees. When the sun is high in the sky, however, the plan is for the Cowboys to practice inside the Alamodome on an artificial surface.
2004-2006: River Ridge Sports Complex, Oxnard, California
The Cowboys moved their camp back to California for three seasons, though the team hardly had the same success as it did for many of the years when camp was held in Thousand Oaks. Scheduling conflicts forced the Cowboys to move from San Antonio in 2004.
2007- : The Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas
The Cowboys signed a five-year contract in May 2006 to return to San Antonio. Here is a clip from that press release:
Remember the Alamodome? The Cowboys do.
Jerry Jones confirmed here Thursday the team will be making San Antonio its training camp home once again, the Cowboys’ owner and general manager announcing a five-year year contract has been struck with the city to return camp to the Alamodome starting in 2007.
“It’s great to be home,” Jones said in a joint announcement with San Antonio mayor Phil Hardberger inside the San Antonio City Council chambers. “We have a phrase in football that we like a player in a game to completely empty his bucket with his effort and emotions. When he’s done that, we’re satisfied that he’s given the Cowboys and our fans all he can do.
“That’s what we will represent to (San Antonio).”