West Virginia’s unique, sprawling geography results in a strange blend of fan loyalties. In one area of the state, the Redskins rule. Elsewhere, it’s the Panthers. Toward southern Ohio, the Bengals become the preferred franchise.
I grew up in the Northern Panhandle, created when an encounter by Mason and Dixon with Native Americans caused them to stop their push to the Ohio River. While the sliver of four counties ended up not being Pennsylvania, it’s still an annexation of Steelers Country.
There’s now a new team for West Virginians to follow. This year, the Saints will conduct a portion of their training camp at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs.
Coach Sean Payton spent time there last year during an annual PGA event, caddying for Ryan Palmer. Payton realized that the climate, with much less heat and far more infrequent rain, is conducive to getting the most out of the limited reps of permitted during preseason practices under the 2011 CBA.
“No different than we do every year, we evaluate all areas of our operations and look for ways to improve,” Payton said in a team-issued release. “By splitting training camp between New Orleans and The Greenbrier, we will have a great opportunity to further enhance our training camp in 2014. We all understand the importance of training camp and ultimately, that’s to get the team ready for the regular season. As far as the time we will spend at The Greenbrier, it offers a tremendous opportunity to our team in a more moderate summer climate.”
G.M. Mickey Loomis echoed the notion that the climate will help the team better prepare for the 17-week grind.
“We feel like this decision will allow our team to best prepare for our 2014 season by practicing at our facility and also taking advantage of a more moderate climate and setting in West Virginia, similar to what we did in 2009 when we went to southern California for a week,” Loomis said. “I have always been a proponent of mixing up training camp every few years which I believe is a good strategy as we prepare for the season. With this plan, we get the best of both and that is important. We get quality practices in both locations and we get the benefits of having our fans support us during our time at home in Metairie and we get the opportunity for our team to unite at a location away from home.”
Regardless of what it means for the Saints, it will be a very welcome development for a state that remains one of the best-kept secrets in the nation. Some residents would prefer to keep it that way. Once the world gets a closer look at what West Virginia has to offer, that could change.