Training camp is an exciting time for football fans. Not only does it mark the return to football for the entire team and coaching staff, but it’s the first time fans get a chance to actually see firsthand what the players look like working together (even without the national media). It’s exciting, it’s fun, and it can be a little overwhelming if you’re new to it. Now, I don’t mean to go all hipster fan and claim I was going to camp before it was cool, but there are a few things you should know if you’re planning on heading to Allen Park this weekend or next that will make it a little easier to get in and out while having the best time you can have.
It’s a ticketed event
Although it’s free, you will not get into Allen Park or Ford Field for training camp without a ticket. The first day requires an armband, which obviously you would need, but most days require you to get a ticket. It’s not difficult to do through the team’s website, though it requires a login at Flash Seats. It’s entirely electronic, so you won’t need to print anything out. Flash Seats ties your ticket to your credit card, so make sure you bring it with you when you show up to camp or you won’t get it.
There are rules, and they’re enforced
Not to make it sound like some kind of prison camp, but as the camp takes place at either Allen Park or Ford Field, both NFL facilities, NFL rules for entry are enforced. There are certain items that are not allowed at camp, and the list can be found here. If you show up with any of these items, they will turn you around and send you back to your vehicle. As it’s gotten pretty crowded the past few years, that means you might not get into camp as you have to get back in line. Most common offenders are cameras with telescoping lenses (you can have a camera, just no scoped lens), camera bags, purses (see the link above for size and specs of what you can bring in), and seat cushions. They don’t make you get out of line if you have a drink or food, but you won’t be able to bring it into camp.
It’s a good idea to get to camp early enough to find a good spot in line. That doesn’t mean you have to camp outside of Allen Park (I’m pretty sure this is frowned upon), but showing up an hour beforehand will see you standing in an already formed line but still able to get in. Depending on the weather and the day, showing up 30 minutes or less before they let folks in will see you far at the back of the line. If you show up earlier, obviously you’ll be standing in line longer. As I said before, you can bring a drink to the line but they won’t let you take it in, so if you’re one of those that needs to stay hydrated it’s not a bad idea to take a bottle for the line.
Allen Park is a pretty big place and while, as a fan, I’d love to tell you it’s set up like some kind of amazing football palace, that wouldn’t be close to true. It’s set up like a training facility, which means there wasn’t much thought for the viewing experience. There are plenty of bleachers, most of which are on the near side of the field with some in the corner as you move around to your left and more on the far corner of the field past the equipment shed. If you’re the type that likes or needs to sit, you might just pick where it looks most comfortable, but if you want the best view of the action the first thing you should look for is the lift. The Detroit Lions have a scissors lift they use to film the 7-7 drills and full team drills. This is usually the most exciting part of camp, so if you want to get the best view of these drills you need to locate the lift. If it’s on the near side of the field, directly in front of you when you enter the field area, these drills will be on the near side of the field so the large bleachers or near side corner is your best choice. If the lift is on the far side of the field, these drills are probably going to be on the far side of the field so your best spot will be the far side bleachers.
If you have it in your mind that players will casually walk over and sign your favorite football or shirt, yeah, that’s possible. It doesn’t happen often, however, and when it has happened in the past it is almost always in front of the near side bleachers. The players are really cool and most will stick around signing until they get everybody. This doesn’t happen every camp, however, and your best bet to get signatures that are more meaningful will come from these little colored tickets they give you at the gate. At the end of practice, they will draw a color randomly and anyone holding those tickets will get in line to have a more intimate signing experience.
Detroit Lions fans haven’t really been a rowdy group at training camp. I’ve been attending since 2009 (though I skipped a couple years while I was out of state) and have went every year straight since 2012. It’s a ton of fun and one of the biggest draws is the other fans that you will meet. Feel like saying something about your team? Favorite player? Speak up! Not the social type, that’s fine too. I’ve met dozens of fans at training camp and had great conversations about players, coaches, the state of the team. I’ve met fans who thought Carmen Messina was going to make the team because he was "Too hot not to." I’ve met fans that knew Joseph Fauria was going to be special because "That much swag in that size of person has to make waves." It’s a ton of fun to experience on your own, but even more so to experience with your friends, your family, and your fellow fans.
Training camp under Jim Schwartz were pretty slow but easy to follow if you were new to seeing them. Everything was sectioned off logically, but there was quite a bit of standing around. At the time, it was the only training camp I knew so I didn’t really question it. Love him or hate him, Jim Caldwell and his crew have brought a chaotic energy to camp and it’s a lot of fun to watch. The wide receiver group loves to jaw with the defensive backs, and ever since Darius Slay showed up, it has been a blast seeing him and his teammates dancing, taunting and having good-natured fun at the expense of their offensive teammates. The offensive line is normally on the far right corner of the field, almost impossible to view in detail from any vantage point, but the defensive line practice is incredibly aggressive and they are a lot of fun to watch once the two groups are on the field together.
If you’re into the under the radar camp battles, you can view most of them throughout the day at camp. The biggest draw is normally the WR and DB drills, where all four (currently only three, I expect one more by camp) quarterbacks throw to four wide receivers being blocked by four defensive backs simultaneously. It’s here where you get the best view of the arm strength of Matthew Stafford and how obvious the difference is between guys like Dan Orlovsky or guys like Kellen Moore. This is where we get to see if Jake Rudock can sling it, if Jay Lee can catch it, if Alex Carter can defend it. It’s where we get to see clearly, only a few yards away, what it means for a receiver to run a route well or sloppy, a DB to play tight or loose and a QB’s ball placement. You can see these if you watch the games closely, but you’re never going to get a closer view than you will at Detroit Lions training camp, and I hope to see you all there!