Saints go marching in to White Sulphur Springs
Down in Huntington, football fans closely watch the happenings with the Cincinnati Bengals. Over in the Northern Panhandle, the Pittsburgh Steelers are the people’s choice. The Eastern Panhandle has its share of followers tagging the every move of the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens.
Geography and a close proximity to those NFL teams brings feelings bubbling to the surface where those four teams are concerned.
Dallas, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Denver, the 49ers and now Seattle all have their scattered followings.
But what about the New Orleans Saints. Creole and cajun. “Swamp People” and the Big Easy.
Even though the Saints are located in faraway Louisiana they are going to have more West Virginians in their corner.
That’s because the Saints are holding their training camp in a corner of this state.
Entrepreneur Jim Justice, owner of the Greenbrier Resort and his share of coal mines, built a complete practice facility for the Saints. Built it next to the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs. Built it in 130 days from the ground up. Three football fields. Two of natural grass, the other of artificial turf. There’s a large building replete with a state-of-the-art weight room, trainer’s facilities and locker room.
There’s seating for 1,500 near one field, and every practice is open to the public.
It’s not exactly the most spartan of camps for the players, coaches and the Saints’ staff. They have quarters in the Greenbrier Hotel itself. Justice has made sure the food is what growing NFL players want to devour.
New Orleans’ coach Sean Payton told the gathered media after a couple of days tucked into the corner of West Virginia: “It’s amazing. The fields and facilities are what we wanted. We don’t have the distractions we faced back home where we trained. The weather is cooler, less humid and we can get more done under these conditions.”
Justice wants the Saints back for other summers. They bring additional publicity to him and his Greenbrier Resort facility. They bring in tourists that came with the purpose of watching an NFL training camp. Those same tourists might just go back home and bring word-of-mouth salutations to their friends and on-the-job colleagues about the world-class goings-on over in Greenbrier County.
There is no NFL team located near White Sulphur Springs, Lewisburg, Charmco or any other outpost in that secluded neck of West Virginia. With the Saints in the area . . . saying all kinds of good things about the treatment they are receiving and training facilities they are sparring in . . . and showing a preseason roster with enough talent surrounding quarterback Drew Brees to be a contender for postseason honors . . . the would-be converts to crayfish, gumbo, okra and high-scoring football could give New Orleans a black-and-gold path to the people’s football hearts in that part of the world.
The Greenbrier Saints. At least it has a preseason training camp ring to it.
And it brings publicity of a positive nature to a country that knows black lung, mining disasters, Appalachia and out-of-work adults as the symbols of West Virginia.