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.”

–Bob Lilly

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).”

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Article by Matt Cordon

Blogging impatiently about the Cowboys since 2006. Being a fan since 1977 hasn't required quite as much patience.
  • melonball

    If you remember, the Cowboys split training camp in 2001 between Wichita Falls and Oxnard, which was a really strange thing to do. But it allowed me to see training camp since I was living in Sacramento at the time, albeit it was one of the worst Cowboys teams ever. lol The motto was- A New Beginning, although it should have been Season Already Over! I remember not wanting to wait in line, so I collected autographs from Quincy Carter, Tim Seder, Tony Dixon, Brandon Noble, and Clint Stoerner. Talk about irrelevant. Still, it was cool to see Emmitt Smith and Larry Allen up close.

  • Ron

    Here is a few little diddies about Northern Michigan College at Marquette, the site of Dallas’ second training camp from the book Dallas Cowboys Pro or Con by Sam Blair 1970.

    “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.”

    Just thought you might like to know.
    I really enjoy you site, have it bookmarked and go to it frequently. Thanks for putting it together. RON SMITH.

  • http://www.knowyourdallascowboys.com kickholder

    Many thanks for all of that information. I checked all of my books but could find nothing. That is very helpful.

  • http://www.mrmedia.com Bob Andelman

    You might be interested in this audio interview with Peter Golenbock: http://www.mrmedia.com/2007/03/fridays-with-mr-media-peter-golenbock7.html .
    Thanks!
    Bob

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  • Fred Goodwin

    Once upon a time, goofiness reigned in training camps

    http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/columns/story?
    columnist=luksa_frank&id=3484474

    By Frank Luksa
    Special to ESPN.com
    (Archive)
    Updated: July 19, 2008

    The story, as fabricated by Don Meredith, is that Tom Landry once flew over an obscure village named Thousand Oaks in Southern California, then looked down and was pleased with what he saw. So he blessed the scene by saying, “Let there be a college.”

    Sure enough, California Lutheran University was founded on the site, though Landry’s benediction had nothing to do with it. Much later, the coach and the Dallas Cowboys spent 20-odd summers there during the Landry era for their preseason training camp. The town was perfectly located for its all-football purpose — too far from the glitter of Los Angeles and too semidesert-rural to offer many temptations.

    This left the Cowboys ensemble isolated, short-tempered from workout fatigue and dependent on in-house humor for amusement. As the names and events confirm, the following vignettes belong to the distant past, a period before corporate hucksters invaded training camps.

    Now many camps are as Jimmy Johnson noted during his coaching term when the Cowboys trained in Austin. Johnson’s gaze circled the practice field in disgust at the sight of banners, pennants, flags and corporate tents clogging the fences and sidelines.

    “This place looks like a minor league baseball park,” he grumbled. Johnson then paused to consider the revenue stream created by the new owner’s merchandising schemes.

    “But then, Jerry [Jones] didn’t get rich being dumb,” Johnson said, shrugging.

    The future had arrived as a source of income. The past was still the best time to cherish because goofy things happened during those camps that will never be repeated. These Cowboys anecdotes from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s provide some examples.

    Gator raid

    As soon as Clint Longley sucker-punched Roger Staubach as he dressed for practice, the shocking news traveled coast to coast. But Andy Anderson was alone in the team’s public relations office at the time, and chaos reigned. Phone calls from print, radio and TV outlets around the country overloaded the switchboard.

    Anderson’s frustration increased with every ring because he still wasn’t sure what had happened. His angst peaked when a Dallas radio station made a connection.

    “This is KRLD, and we have Andy Anderson of the Cowboys’ public relations staff on the phone live from Thousand Oaks,” a voice from Dallas said. “Andy, what can you tell us about the Longley-Staubach incident?”

    Anderson blurted for the benefit of KRLD’s all-ears listeners:

    “I don’t have time to tell you anything! I’m up to my ass in alligators out here!”

    There was a pause known in the radio business as dead air. Then, the voice from Dallas told his audience, “Heh, heh, we’ll get back to Andy later.”

    The vet’s Rx

    Trainer Larry Gardner tired of the same player claiming injury day after day. On this occasion, the bogus complaint was a sore knee.

    “This could be serious,” Gardner lied after a brief exam. He pushed a table out of the way to clear floor space. Now get down on all fours, he said, and the player did so on hands and knees.

    “Can you lift your right leg without extending your knee?” Gardner asked. The player was able to comply.

    “A little bit higher,” Gardner said. “It doesn’t hurt, does it?”

    “Well, no,” the player agreed, and lifted his right leg as high as it would go.

    “Now bark,” Gardner said as he left the room.

    Funning Waters

    Walt Garrison placed Charlie Waters in a fanciful yarn after Waters had been scalded in his debut as a defensive back. According to Garrison’s joke, Waters was so concerned about his play that he consulted a psychologist. After hours of intense therapy, the shrink announced his findings.

    “Charlie, you do not suffer from an inferiority complex,” he said.

    Waters sighed in relief.

    “No,” said the doctor, “you’re just physically inferior.”

    On second thought …

    Guard Blaine Nye announced he was retiring forever and even longer if necessary, and he left training camp for home. One week later, he was back.

    Asked to explain his abrupt turnaround, Nye said, “You can’t take anything I say and chip it in granite.”

    Humbling the “Manster”

    There was a steep hill behind the practice field at Thousand Oaks that was famed for the movie scene in which actor John Wayne as a Marine helped win the WWII battle for Iwo Jima. The Cowboys used it as a conditioning aid, and Tom Landry often ran the up-and-down route with players.

    Future Hall of Fame defensive tackle Randy White was a rookie when he made his first round-trip. Landry showed up as company, and White wondered whether the 50-something-old coach might embarrass himself running against youngsters. Landry looked firm and fit, but really …

    Off they went. At least Landry did, as quick and agile as a mountain goat. In fact, when White stumbled off the peak, he saw Landry already standing at the base checking his wristwatch to time his panting stragglers.

    “I thought to myself, ‘I’ll never make this team,'” White later confessed. “I can’t even outrun the coach.”

    Rookie orientation

    During a scrimmage, rookie end Pat Toomay heard veteran linebacker Chuck Howley audible a call he’d never heard before. Toomay froze after two steps. Howley ran up his back.

    “Uh, what do I do?” Toomay asked.

    “I don’t care what the [expletive] you do,” hard hat Howley snapped, “just stay out of my way!”

    Special delivery

    Veterans sent kicker Toni Fritsch to town for pizza one night and didn’t get him back until the next morning. Police stopped Fritsch for speeding at 85 mph on his return to camp. Fritsch lacked a wallet, driver’s license and, as a newly arrived Austrian native, much knowledge of the English language.

    Fritsch identified himself as a “keeker” for the Cowboys, which amused the cop. Fritsch was 5 feet, 8 inches tall, pudgy and balding, and he spoke with an accent.

    “If you’re a kicker for the Cowboys, I’m Cary Grant,” the cop announced. He handcuffed Fritsch and hauled him to jail, where he spent the night. Fritsch paid fines to the locals for speeding, then to the Cowboys for missing curfew.

    “Goddom,” Fritsch sputtered, “one cold pizza for you bastads cost me six hundred and forty marks!”

    Fashion police

    There were no dress codes for reporters during training camp, a fact that the normally stoic Landry once addressed with mock alarm.

    As four scruffy newsmen approached after practice, all of them bearded, in need of haircuts and dressed from Goodwill discards, Landry shook his head.

    “Every time I see you guys coming,” he said, “I want to call security.”

    Breakfast for champions

    Players complained that their food was tasteless enough on a daily basis. But once a week the master chef combined the past week’s leftovers into a … well, no one knew how to describe the mixture.

    “Well,” Garrison said, eyeing the leftover offering, “it looks like we’re back to the star of ‘Stagecoach.'”

    “You mean, Ann-Margret?” someone asked.

    “No. Slim Pickens,” Garrison said. “I’ll have some from that trough there, please.”

    And a new nickname is born

    During a film review, Landry kept returning to the play of guard John Niland to censure Niland for lack of second effort.

    “John, you’re only taking one shot at it,” Landry observed. Minutes later it was, “John, it’s a one-shot deal. And again, ‘John, you’re only taking one shot at the man.”

    Landry’s critique earned Niland a new nickname. Once known as Gorgo, the Frog that Ate the World, he now became Johnny One-Shot, and that explained one of the basic rules of the game to Larry Cole.

    “Do you know why there’s thirty seconds between each offensive play?” Cole asked Toomay.

    Toomay didn’t know.

    “So Niland can reload.”

    The ultimate fan

    Before every game, the equipment manager made his rounds of the locker room making last calls for Will Call tickets.

    “Any more tickets for Will Call?” he hollered. “Brown, you got any tickets for Will Call?” he shouted to a confused rookie.

    “Man, that Will Call is some rich dude,” the rookie said. “He’s been to every game since I’ve been here.”

    Precisely

    On his first day as the Cowboys’ receivers coach, the meticulous Raymond Berry demonstrated how to run a sideline route to rookies. Berry made his usual precise numbers of steps, cut toward the sideline and landed — 1 foot out of bounds.

    “The field is too narrow, Tom,” he announced to Coach Landry.

    “No, Raymond,” Landry said, “we’ve been out here forever.”

    This was the sixth year the Cowboys had practiced on the same field without complaint, yet Berry instinctively found it out of line.

    “Either the hashmarks aren’t right or the field is too narrow,” the former Baltimore Colts star receiver insisted. Landry shrugged, called for a tape measure, and field dimensions were plotted to the exact inch.

    Berry’s sense of precision was validated. The field was 11 inches too narrow.

    A Cowboy’s work is never done

    Public relations man Doug Todd kept compiling a list of funny lines from country western songs until he had enough to publish in book form. A wry foreword of the contents informed readers that, “If you’re not used to very much, you’ll like it.”

    Among Todd’s favorites were these:

    “My wife ran off with my best friend, and I miss him.”

    “When I’m alone, I’m in bad company.”

    “Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone.”

    “I wouldn’t take you to a dogfight, baby, even if I thought you could win.”

    “I don’t know whether to kill myself or go bowling.”

    “I gave her a ring, and she gave me the finger.”

    Stone-faced

    Someone asked Walt Garrison if he ever saw coach Tom Landry smile.

    “Nope,” said Walt, “but I only played for him nine years.”

    Frank Luksa is a freelance writer based in Plano, Texas. He was a longtime sports columnist for The Dallas Times Herald and Dallas Morning News.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BVDTOJJE2S5LFHJEVRN74FJ3SE fgoodwin

    The link for the Luksa article is broken; try this:

    http://tinyurl.com/57kowz

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