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Little but memories remain of Cardinals training camp in Flagstaff

Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald, with son Devin Fitzgerald on the Segway, signs autographs after the first day of NFL training camp football practice at Northern Arizona University Wednesday, July 25, 2012, in Flagstaff, Ariz.(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – When the Cardinals opened training camp at University of Phoenix Stadium on Friday, it marked the sixth season since team president Michael Bidwill decided to move camp from Flagstaff to Glendale.

In that time, the coaching staff and nearly the entire roster has turned over, leaving few people in the organization with memories of the team’s traditional training ground at Northern Arizona University.

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and cornerback Patrick Peterson are the only two remaining players who trained in Flagstaff. Both have fond memories of their time in the Ponderosa Pines.

“I do remember Flagstaff – a lot — because I’m a member at Pine Canyon [Golf Club in Flagstaff],” Peterson said, laughing. “I was actually just there the day before camp. I miss it up there. I train up there still because I think the altitude up there is really, really good for athletes so we when we come back down here, running in this heat, running in this lower altitude, it’s almost like a piece of cake.

“My first two seasons here, we always started faster than everybody because we had that illegal blood doping (the thinner air) up there in Flagstaff. That’s probably the only thing I miss about it.”

Fitzgerald agreed that the altitude training gave him an edge for the season but he misses more than the preparation.

“You’re so close to each other, you’re sharing rooms, there’s so much more bonding, staying up until 11 or 12 o’clock, talking about family and playing chess and just getting to know your teammates,” he said. “Here in the hotel, we’ve got plush room service.

“Everything has its pros and cons, but Flagstaff was great. Whiz [former coach Ken Whisenhunt] was the best in terms of the schedule. We worked hard but he allowed you to get off your feet and rest so that schedule was lovely.”

Former Cardinal Bertrand Berry (2004-2009), who still does broadcast work for the team, said the interaction with the fans was more intimate in Flagstaff than it is at University of Phoenix Stadium.

“The thing about Flagstaff is the fans got to be right there,” he said. “They had the stands where you could literally reach out and touch your favorite players and you can’t do that at University of Phoenix Stadium because they’re away from the field.

“As you walked up the hill to go up to that first practice field at NAU, fans could take pictures of players, hug them, have a conversation, whatever you wanted. Once you got to the upper level, it was the same thing where the fans were so much closer to the action.”

Aside from the fan interaction, both Fitzgerald and Berry said there was a feel to camp in Flagstaff that can’t be replicated in Glendale. Fitzgerald acknowledged that Glendale makes camp accessible to more fans, but he appreciated those that made the trek up north.

“They were loyalist fans to drive three hours up and watch a practice. It takes a little more commitment than just driving 30 minutes to get to Glendale,” he said. “We have more fans here consistently because it’s closer, which is nice and gives fans an opportunity to see us, but that weather in Flagstaff was amazing and looking at that mountain every day on the practice field …”

Berry said there was a more esoteric feel to camp that was lost when the Cardinals left Flagstaff.

“On some level, with padded camp in the dome, I think the players miss out on an element of what training camp was meant to be and this is a sign of the times,” he said. “A lot of teams are moving indoors and with so many domed stadiums, if you have a home domed stadium, you could play anywhere from 10 to 12 indoor games so there really isn’t that need to practice outside when most of the games are inside, but when you talk about building a team and going through adverse situations and bonding together, I think they miss out on a little bit of that.”

Despite all those fond memories, there were plenty of drawbacks to camp life in Flagstaff.

“I didn’t like dorm life, especially my first year with [former coach] Denny [Green],” Berry said. “He made it as tough as he possibly could; 2004 was one of the worst camps of my life. We had what looked like a double room and four guys shared it. I know Dennis was trying to prove a point and we were a close-knit group but I enjoyed those last two years much more when we moved into those new apartments.”

Like Peterson, Berry said he’d choose Glendale over Flagstaff for training because the proximity makes more sense for the fans and the players. He also said the nearby accommodations at the Renaissance Hotel in Glendale provide better service and better bedding – not that that was ever a problem for Fitzgerald and Peterson.

While many players slept on NAU’s awful, thin, dorm mattresses, Peterson said he got a pro tip right when he arrived for his rookie camp in 2011.

“I was a rookie and a second-year player bringing my own bed and refrigerator and all that stuff,” he said, laughing. “I was in the room with William Gay, Adrian [Wilson] — I was in the room with a lot of older guys so they kind of put me up on game very early.”

Fitzgerald and Peterson have the same corporate connection when it comes to comfort.

“I always get a bed [brought in], even at the hotel,” Fitzgerald said. “My buddy, [CEO] John Merwin, over at Brooklyn Bedding, he makes the best mattresses and he takes care of me and Patrick. I have his mattresses in my home. I have his mattress in the hotel. Wherever I go, I always sleep good. Make sure you put that in the story.”


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