Everything about the Dallas Cowboys seems to speak TEXAS, but what many people might not realize is that the team spends half its training camp period in Oxnard, CA. For the longest time, I’d intended to travel north to see the squad preparing for the regular season, but it wasn’t until this year that I got around to doing so. It also helped that my friend Mark (who famously snapped a photo of Jeff Schroeder holding a bottle of B-Side wine) has some NFL connections (he’s an agent) and managed to hook me up with a sweet VIP pass for the training camp. Clearly, I was destined for greatness.
Pics of my adventures to Oxnard after the jump…
Things began on quite the optimistic note as I found myself trailing behind a reality star as I merged onto the 101 North. Which reality star might that be?
Sugar from Survivor: Gabon! This wasn’t the first time I’d come across Sugar in traffic. I blogged about that initial encounter back in 2008 — something that irked Sugar enough to literally call me out during the live Survivor reunion special. Good times. Well, here she was again. This could only mean good things.
A breezy hour later, I arrived at the training camp. Here’s an exclusive view of the VIP parking lot. Take it in…
My VIP pass, issued to a Todd Williams, who I imagine is NOT the same Todd Williams from my high school graduating class. Although, maybe… Todd? Is this you?
Outside the field, I was surprised to encounter a small concession area full of many tents, but not a lot of patrons. I guess since this was a Tuesday, the masses were not teeming at the camp.
A nifty truck displayed an exhibit of great Cowboys of yore. It was stirring.
I noticed a clump of people hanging out in one area. Clearly, this was where I had to be.
This was actually a prime autograph zone, and as such, only little kids were really allowed in. I lurked in the back for a few moments to see who might emerge down the green carpet.
Huzzah! A player!
Meanwhile, a lonely wheel of fortune display went largely ignored. I almost gave it a whirl, but then I discovered it would cost $10 to do so. PASS.
Finally, I made my way to the VIP box, which was located at the endzone of a practice field. Note my proximity to the goal posts.
The field was still empty as only a few players had emerged from the locker rooms. Along the sidelines, the hoi polloi gather for a cramped and clearly unpleasant experience.
Soon the players began trotting out onto the field. I am regrettably not the most ardent of Cowboys fans; so many of the faces went unrecognized by me.
This player looked in dire need of a hug.
Meanwhile, the autograph area had become mildly frenzied as more and more players emerged.
I was hoping to get a spot at the fence, but these portly gentlemen seemed unwilling to consolidate space. This was the people version of double-parking.
As the players warmed up, I kept an eye out for Marc Colombo, who is not only an offensive tackle on the team, but one of my Twitter followers! That’s right, I have a real life football player following me. In fact, I have TWO! Cory Proctor from the Miami Dolphins too. Yeah, I’m bragging. Whatchu gonna do about it?
Turns out Marc Colombo had had surgery the day prior; so he wasn’t at camp. However, these guys were. And they were very big. In fact, EVERYONE was very big.
As more players streamed out, I became excited that some of the big names would be appearing soon too. I was really hoping to see Miles Austin.
The first major sighting: Jason Witten!
Suddenly, like a gazelle running across the savannah, Coach Wade Phillips made his triumphant entrance.
The grace of a million unicorns galloping on starlight.
And so concludes this triptych of Wade Phillips’ glory.
Wide receiver Sam Hurd jogs onto the field. He seems leery of me.
See? (He actually seemed very nice and promised to come back later to give the kid in front of me an autograph.)
Soon practice began. As the players all performed stretches and exercises, the squad looked not unlike a massive dance company strutting its stuff.
There was a lot of high stepping. A peppy jazz number would have scored this nicely.
Meanwhile, I’d spent all my time so focused on the green carpet area that I hadn’t realized players were also quietly entering the field from this staircase RIGHT BEHIND ME!
And thus I totally missed Miles Austin!! (seen here tying his shoe). He’s one of my favorites (up there with Hines Ward, LaDainian Tomlinson, Santana Moss, and Larry Fitzgerald). This was an epic fail by me. EPIC.
Making a late entrance was none other than the biggest star of them all: Tony Romo! Or as I like to call him, Tones Romes.
Now that I was aware of the secret staircase of the stars, I was able to snap this pic of Marion Barber (I think — it all happened so quickly).
Soon Felix Jones followed suit. I knew this was him for sure, mostly because people started yelling out “FELIX!!”
When it became clear that no one else was emerging from the locker room, I took a break at the VIP snack corner. Free soda and popcorn? Don’t mind if I do!
Upon return to the fence, I found this coach happily signing autographs.
Soon the drills began. There was nothing inherently interesting about them, and yet they were really cool. These guys are sort of like machines. Particularly Miles Austin (did I mention he was my favorite?), who did this nifty and very speedy stutter step exercise with his feet. Other players spent time sidestepping along the sidelines, all while tethered by rope to a trainer. Clearly, the same regimen I partake in before I blog.
#43 (Gerald Sensabaugh) dropped a pass during the drill and thus had to do punishment pushups. Claaaaaaaassic Gerald Sensabaugh.
Meanwhile, this guy (whose name I don’t know) spent a good amount of time doing sprints back and forth in front of me. He was fast and imposing. Inversely, I frequently am described as sluggish and delicate.
After about two hours, I had to head off, but I snapped this pic of the crowds (the NON VIP crowds, no less) on the sidelines. There were a surprisingly huge number of people there, more than this photo depicts.
Then… as I was leaving… the most amazing thing happened. I RECEIVED A COUPON FOR A COMPLIMENTARY BLOOMIN’ ONION!! Of course, I’ll have to travel back to Oxnard to claim it, but I’m sure I can wrangle my friends to join. The only thing that could have made this better would have been if this coupon had been autographed by MILES AUSTIN. And then the only thing that could have been better than that would have been if Miles Austin had said, “Hey, mind if I tag along to Outback?” And then we could be best friends. And I would have the most awesome, braggy Facebook photos ever!
But hey, the free Bloomin’ Onion is just fine too.
Thanks again for the VIP pass, Mark. I had a blast!!
Who else is ready for football season to begin??