History of Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Sites, 2008 Update

Last year about this time, I posted a piece about the history of training camp locations. This is an updated version of that post, incorporating additional information of interest.

Before we get to this post, the following video has been on the web for a few days, but it is so good I had to post it here.

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

Ron Smith provided some great information about the Cowboys’ 1962 camp from the book Dallas Cowboys, Pro or Con? by Sam Blair.

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

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.

2001: River Ridge Sports Complex, Oxnard, California

During one of the seasons that the Cowboys trained at Wichita Falls, they also spent time in Oxnard, California,which later became the regular site of their training camps.

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).”

2008: River Ridge Sports Complex, Oxnard, California

With the Alamodome unavailable for training camp, the Cowboys agreed in March to return to Oxnard. The team only plans to play there for one season before returning to San Antonio in 2009.

  • Fred Goodwin

    Early training camps were memorable



    The newborn Dallas Cowboys came out feisty.

    Because their first-year training camp conditions were so unpleasant, so shoddy, the players hanged Gil Brandt in effigy for putting them there.

    It was the summer of 1960 in Delafield, Wisc., and a group of players secretly fashioned a human figure out of feed sacks, then attached a large “Gil Brandt” sign to it.

    Brandt tells the story on himself. The players wanted the upstart personnel director of the upstart Cowboys to catch their drift: They weren’t happy.

    As castoffs of established NFL teams from New York to Los Angeles, many of these players felt it was quite punishment enough to be stuck with some expansion outfit from North Texas.

    Moreover, these early Cowboys were training-camp squatters.

    They had no fewer than five summertime sites in their first four years of existence, often going where the preseason schedule took them.

    “Money was paramount in those days,” Brandt said. “When you played one of those preseason games, you got $25,000.”

    But back to hanging Brandt in effigy …

    He painstakingly checked out each training-camp location in advance. That was his job — well, one of them. He had many.

    Brandt received a promise from St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy officers in Delafield, Wis., which was to be the second-half summer home for the ’60 Cowboys. (They began the summer at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore.)

    “Don’t worry, these dorms will be remodeled,” an officer on staff at St. John’s told Brandt. “When you come back, you won’t even recognize the place.”

    Famous last words.

    After spending a month in Forest Grove, Ore., which was 150 miles away from the team’s first-ever preseason game in Seattle, the Cowboys moved five states east to Delafield, Wisc., in late August.

    “The plan was to spend the last two weeks of camp at this military academy in Wisconsin,” Brandt said. “I was a young guy, and I took some colonel, or whatever the hell he was, at his word.”

    And so?

    “When we got there, the same 40-watt lightbulbs were in the dormitories. There were bats flying around the hallways, no screens on the windows, and mosquitos galore,” Brandt recalled. “It was a disaster!”

    As if this wasn’t professional hardship enough, players and coaches traveled four hours in a prop plane to get there, then took a 90-minute bus ride to reach the academy.

    “I noticed a big military statue out front when we pulled up,” Brandt said. “The next morning, some of the guys had tied together a couple of stuffed burlap sacks, with a sign that read ‘Gil Brandt’ … [and] that’s where they hung me in effigy.”

    It was probably warranted, although I’m guessing Brandt would’ve chosen the name of a certain colonel to use on the dummy instead.

    Frank Clarke: ‘The audacity’

    Middle linebacker Jerry Tubbs, an impact player on those early Cowboys teams from the get-go, remembers hearing that it was an offensive lineman behind the Brandt prank.

    “I guess one of the offensive tackles had a pretty good sense of humor,” said Tubbs, who came to Dallas in the ’60 expansion draft from the San Francisco 49ers. “Personally, I didn’t go into things like that too much.”

    No one interviewed for Old ‘Boys Club expressed any involvement or firsthand knowledge into what has remained something of a “whodunit” for 48 years.

    Receiver Frank Clarke, ex of Cleveland in the same expansion draft as Tubbs, looks back now and sees guys with no room to be petty … being petty.

    “Didn’t we have the nerve?” Clarke asked increduously. “Here we were — most of us has-beens with other clubs — yet we had the audacity to complain about training camp. We should’ve been grateful for the opportunity.”

    Eddie LeBaron, a star with the Redskins before he joined the Cowboys, knew paradise when he saw it. And this wasn’t paradise.

    “I remember it being cold and decrepted,” LeBaron said of St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy. “It looked like an old castle … [and it was] leaking.”

    Tubbs came up his own apt description: “Ancient fort.”

    It was easily the worst training-camp site in Cowboys history. Two weeks felt like an eternity to the players.

    LeBaron and his wife, Doralee, recently visited relatives in Wisconsin. They dropped by the old military academy in Delafield to see if it was still standing.

    “I have to say,” LeBaron said, “they’ve really shaped it up.”

    Today’s deal … yesterday’s dud.

    It happens.

    As a franchise, the Cowboys have strung together an NFL-record 20 consecutive winning seasons. They’ve appeared in a record eight Super Bowls, and won five of them.

    But in 1960, they were an 0-11-1 team.

    And not all of that could be blamed on training camp.

    Landry: Eyes for Oregon

    Brandt explained: “A big reason we held our first training camp in Forest Grove, Ore., was because we had a preseason [opener] in Seattle. That’s what you did then.”

    The Cowboys’ first baby steps in actual competition were taken Aug. 6, 1960, against a middle-of-the-pack 49ers team led by John Brodie, R.C. Owens and Hugh McElhenny.

    It was a typical first pre-season game, with a lot of lesser names on the field. The Cowboys lost, 16-10.

    “Tom [Landry] always liked Oregon,” said Brandt, “because the New York Giants trained at Willamette University in Salem, Ore,” about 40 miles from Forest Grove.

    Hall of Famer Amos Alonzo Stagg finished his legendary college coaching career at Pacific University (1933-46), and later served as “associate coach” for his son there, Brandt recalled.

    When the Cowboys arrived at Forest Grove in the summer of ’60, Stagg was still somewhat involved with the Pacific football program … and about to turn 98.

    NFL teams looked to the state of Oregon to play their so-called “exhibitions” in those days for another reason — money.

    “Everybody wanted to play in Oregon because of a promoter named Harry Glickman, who later became president of the NBA Portland Trail Blazers,” Brandt said. “The first $75,000 was split three ways right off the top — $25,000 for each team, $25,000 for the promoter.”

    After expenses, the three parties divvied up the rest.

    “We’d go home with maybe $30,000,” said Brandt.

    Eat ‘Cowboys’ bread, kids

    The distance between Forest Grove, Ore. and Oxnard, Calif., where the Cowboys now train, is 809 miles.

    But what separates the two camp sites in terms of facilities, media attention and fan draw can only be measured in light-years.

    It was a much simplier time in 1960. A two-column “invitation” appeared in the Star-Telegram that made Cowboys fans feel an actual part of the team.

    “Join the Cowboys,” it read. “Eat Cowboys’ Training Table Bread for gridiron go power … and grow power.”

    OK … it was a paid advertisement. So what?

    “Here’s the bread the Cowboys eat at every training table meal …”

    We were so much easier to please then.

    Of course, “extra minerals and vitamins” from a loaf of bread weren’t enough for the first-year Cowboys to find a victory.

    They did manage to tie the Giants, 31-31, in the next-to-last game of the season at Yankee Stadium. But the remainder of their games were lost by an average score of of 30.7-13.3.

    What Brandt found consistent with early training-camp sites was that none measured up to Cal Lutheran at Thousand Oaks, Calif. (1963-89).

    But in the summer of ’60, nirvana was a long way off for the Cowboys.

    Disgrunted players swatted mosquitos and occupied military-style rooms. They read playbooks by a 40-watt bulb and shared dorm space with bats.

    Castoffs or not, for some, it was the longest two weeks of their lives.

    NEXT WEEK: Cowboys’ early training camps, Part 2 of 2. Tom Landry gets his fill of cold-weather summers.

  • Fred Goodwin

    Cowboys’ early “Squatters” finally settle on Thousand Oaks


    Posted on Fri, Jul. 25, 2008

    The upstart Dallas Cowboys had to wonder: What were people trying to tell them?

    Aside from being the only team in NFL history to begin operation with no college draft to fortify its roster, the ’60 Cowboys played two of their six preseason games on fields laced with cow and horse manure.

    Eddie LeBaron can laugh about it — now.

    “Louisville [Ky.] and Pendleton [Ore.] were interesting places to play,” said the former Washington Redskins QB, who came to Dallas via the ’60 expansion draft.

    “In Louisville, they had just had their state fair. There was still some horse manure on that field. And in Pendleton, that’s where they hold a really, really big rodeo [Pendleton Roundup] every year, and there was cow and horse manure on that field.

    “The players had a lot of discussion after those two games.”

    Obviously inspired by something, the expansion Cowboys won their first game of any kind at Louisville’s Kentucky Exposition Center on Aug. 27, 1960.

    It took a pivotal offside penalty by future Hall of Fame middle linebacker Sam Huff, but Dallas beat the New York Giants 14-3, fertilized field and all.

    The next week, however, at Pendleton, Ore., the Cowboys lost to the LA Rams 49-14.

    Pity the poor equipment crew who had to have these Cowboys uniforms laundered after back-to-back games at Louisville and Pendleton.

    “It’s a dirty job but somebody has to do it” turned out to be something more than just an old saying for them.

    ’61 Camp: St. Olaf’s College

    The Cowboys became training-camp “squatters” — rolling out helmets and setting up tackling dummies at five different locations over their first four years in the league.

    (Last week, we reviewed Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore., and St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield, Wis., dual camp sites for the ’60 Cowboys.)

    A few NFL teams of the day would follow preseason schedules to determine training-camp location.

    Dallas would open the ’61 preseason against Minnesota at Sioux Falls, S.D., so the second-year Cowboys chose a training-camp site 188 miles away in the town of Northfield, Minn.

    Northfield is probably best known for two things: the James Gang’s ill-fated bank robbery attempt of 1876 and Cowboys training camp at St. Olaf’s College in 1961.

    For Frank and Jesse, it marked the beginning of the end. For Tom Landry and the Cowboys, Northfield was one and out.

    “It was a nice place,” former Cowboys personnel man Gil Brandt recalled. “But the college phoned us after that first year and said it would help them greatly if they could get out of their contract with us.

    “St. Olaf’s was in an academic conference, and having a pro team in town set a bad precedent for the school.”

    No problem.

    Said Brandt: “We agreed [to cut ties] with St. Olaf’s?…?of course, that meant we had to turn around and start looking for another training camp.”

    ’62: Northern Michigan College

    Brandt’s list of possibilities included Wisconsin State University-Superior. Landry was familiar with it because the Giants had trained there.

    But Brandt found the dorm rooms to be too cramped.

    Next, Brandt checked out a small college town located in the Upper Peninsula — Marquette, Mich — where he knew the head football coach, F.L. “Frosty” Ferzacca.

    Voila! The Cowboys had a camp and a personal contact, and felt pretty good about moving ’62 training camp there.

    “What I remember about Marquette, Mich.,” LeBaron recalled, “is how you’d go into a beer place and people would all be drinking with their heads down, very little talking.

    “It was an old town?…?[which] shipped in iron ore from the Mesabi Range in Minnesota but had fallen into the depths of despair because of the economy. When you describe a town as gray?…?that was it.”

    It was all wrong from the get-go.

    “A month before we opened camp, our practice fields were completely dirt,” Brandt recalled. “We had to hire out to bring a semi-load of grass from Green Bay which cost us $9,500, just so we could sod the field to hold practice.”

    Welcome to the NFL of the ’60s.

    “Frosty Ferzacca was quite a character. I had known him for awhile,” Brandt said. “I even asked him in advance: ‘How cold does it get here in the summer? I’d like to see a temperature chart.’ Frosty told me, ‘I’ll get ya one.’ Sure enough, he brought me a temperature chart.”

    Most of the numbers, as Brandt recollects, reflected temperatures around 63 degrees in the morning, 81 degrees in the afternoon.

    Picture-perfect weather for two-a-days.

    “Well, not exactly,” Brandt said. “We practiced one morning when it was 37 degrees!”

    How did that happen?

    “Frosty phonied up the chart,” said Brandt.

    ’63: Cal Lutheran, Thousand Oaks

    Landry was done with cold-weather camps.

    He asked Brandt to find a place moderately cool in the morning, moderately warm in the afternoon.

    Hello, Southern California.

    But no smog.

    Hello, Thousand Oaks.

    Cal Lutheran University is located about 40 miles west of LA, and welcomed the Cowboys with open arms. Dorms were freshly painted. Locker room expanded. Silverware polished.

    An NFL-model training camp was two or three years in the making, but Cal Lutheran delivered for the Cowboys.

    “When we arrived that first year [July 12, 1963] painters were still working,” Brandt said. “They had paint cans in the hallways, a few of the doors were still wet.”

    The Cowboys nearly had to share living quarters that first summer with the Russian track team.

    “Glenn Davis, the old Army football player and Heisman Trophy winner, was a friend of Tex Schramm,” Brandt said. “That February or March [’63], the three of us met to see if [Davis] knew of a place we could train in the LA area, without the smog.

    “Davis told us, ‘The Russians are coming over here for an American-Russian track meet that’s being sponsored by the LA Times. In fact, the Russian team will be staying at that new college out in Thousand Oaks.”

    As it turned out, the Cold War prompted the track meet to be canceled.

    “And so, the Russians didn’t show up,” said Brandt, “and we didn’t have to share the facilities with them.”

    “Squatters” no more, the Cowboys trained 27 summers at Thousand Oaks (through Jerry Jones’ first year as team owner).

    Brandt recalled how he felt a little bit like the Bill Murray character in the 1993 movie Groundhog Day.

    “When you woke up, it was the same every day — hazy, 60 degrees, not a cloud in the sky. Morning practice: 65 degrees. Afternoon practice: 80-85 degrees. And at night, you had to sleep under covers.”

    Oxnard, training-camp site of the current team, is 22 miles west of Thousand Oaks.

    But for most of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, there was only one place for the Dallas Cowboys.

    “Thousand Oaks was the greatest training camp of all,” Brandt said. “Lots of facilities, practice fields, nice stadium. Everything was good.”

    As you now know, that wasn’t how it began.

  • Fred Goodwin

    Sorry for the double post — the first time I tried it, I got some kind of database error, so I tried again and got the same error — I guess I should’ve left well-enough alone . . .

  • Thanks for these stories, Fred. I have been out of town, where I could post via my Blackberry but didn’t get a chance to respond to the comments.

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