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Barry Hirstius

Will Training at Home in NOLA Help Saints Get Back to the Playoffs?

NOLA in the summertime. For fans of the New Orleans Saints that live in the Greater New Orleans metropolitan area and throughout the entire region of southeastern Louisiana, that phrase takes on a specific meaning that only they themselves can truly appreciate -- and unlike anywhere else across the entire nation.

While folks in other parts of the country (like the desert areas of the Southwest such as Arizona) may refer to their climate as a “dry heat,” when you're in New Orleans during the peak of the summertime there's a combination of heat and humidity which exists because of the city's geographic location; that leaves anyone who dares to venture outside to become"soak and wet", as they get literally drenched in perspiration from sweating through their clothes.

Pure science explains that this happens in NOLA thanks to a combination of warm air flowing upward from the Gulf of Mexico mixed in with the wetness from the nearby swamps and the humidity coming off the Mississippi River and Lake Ponchatrain, that makes activities in the outdoors become nearly unbearable and downright intolerable.

Regardless of whether you're a local native of the city or simply a just a tourist on vacation, any time spent in New Orleans can prove to be both a fun and fabulously rewarding experience -- but it can become a dreadfully difficult and horribly relentless experience you're when doing it during the summertime, and especially in the month of August.

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Now if that makes you feel uncomfortable just thinking about it, imagine then being an NFL football player dressed in a uniform with full pads on underneath, toiling in that heat and humidity for upwards of 2 to 2 and ½ hours.

Photo courtesy of The New Orleans Times-Picayune

Yeah, that's exactly what we thought, too.

Perhaps it's for that reason alone that the atmosphere surrounding Training Camp this year will have quite a different "feel" both figuratively and literally; as the team returns home to train at the franchise's Practice Facility in Metairie, La. (suburban New Orleans) after having spent the past 3 seasons at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia.

As some Saints fans are quick to point out: the team's current 3-consecutive year streak of losing seasons (and missing the NFL Playoffs in all 3 of those years) just happens to have occurred in the same years as the ones in which the Saints have been training at the Greenbrier --- a place well-known as a luxury vacation resort for its visiting guests and patrons (usually golfers or outdoor nature enthusiasts).

The implication being: the team didn't train hard enough in West Virginia, and will potentially do better now that they're returning home to train in New Orleans, where the unbearable south Louisiana heat and humidity will "toughen them up" for the rigors of the NFL season ahead.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Now whether you as a fan choose to believe in that particular type of a 'conspiracy theory' (for a lack of a better term) is entirely up to you; but it's actually true that the last time that the Saints trained in New Orleans, the team had a winning season and made the Playoffs (2013).

In the Sean Payton-Drew Brees Era (beginning in 2006), the Saints have held their training camp at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi (from 2006 to 2008), "split" their camp between Oxnard, California and Metairie (the 2009 Super Bowl season), and then remained in Metairie for all of Training Camp between 2010 and 2013.

And during those years in which the Saints have held Training Camp exclusively at 5800 Airline Drive for the entire summer?

They won a NFC South division title (2011) and made the Playoffs 3 times in 4 years (2010, 2011, and 2013), with their only time missing the Playoffs being the 2012 "Bountygate" season.

Coincidence? Well, perhaps.

While science is clearly able to explain why it's hot and humid in New Orleans during the summer, it can't logically explain why it seems that the Saints train better at home in New Orleans in recent years.

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

What we do know is that on average, The Weather Channel says it's about 20 degrees warmer in New Orleans during the month of August (not to mention considerably more humid) than it is in West Virginia. When you factor in the heat index (temperature felt by the skin rather than the actual temperature due to the humidity level), it can feel more like it's 30 degrees higher.

So for someone to say that the Saints had an "easy time" in West Virginia and weren't being "toughened up" enough to be prepared to play a full 16-game NFL season, it just might give a person a valid argument in that respect.

However, one can also speculate that football players are more than capable of adapting to their surroundings; which is why most of them can perform well and play at a high level just as easily in a warm and sunny stadium in early September, as they can on a snow-covered field in the middle of a winter blizzard in late December.

Another factor to consider:  this current generation of NFL players now has it much easier in Training Camp than their predecessors did in the golden age of Pro Football from the 1960's through the 1980's --- when players had what were known back then as "two-a-days" --- and practiced twice and sometimes even 3 times per day during Training Camp.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Which meant that with the NFL rules back in those days, NFL players would have to endure the physical rigors of anywhere from 50 or 60 Training Camp practices. Nowadays, with NFL rules only allowing teams to a have a 'one-a-day' practice and a walk-through, players have right at 30 Training Camp practices.

So if the Saints seem to train "better" full-time in NOLA because of the hotter climate and weather conditions, it's actually probably just more of a mental issue for the the team than it would be a physical one.

When you take into account that 50 to 60 Training Camp practices dressed out in full pads in the New Orleans area heat and humidity of August would be a hell of a lot tougher than only 30 of them, that fact can be quickly verified by the players themselves.

In other words: with the exception of the hotter weather, the Saints won't have it any "easier" in New Orleans than they did in West Virginia.

And that's only if you believe it to be true that they train "better" in NOLA.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hinton, New Orleans Advocate

Nevertheless, the team's return 'home' to Metairie for the entirety of the summer will once again provide the local fans in south Louisiana and the surrounding Gulf Coast region, with the chance to get an up close and personal look at their favorite players in what they consider to be a more accessible and intimate setting.

Not to mention it's a whole lot more convenient now both logistically and financially, for the local fans only having to drive to Metairie than it was having to travel all the way up to the Greenbrier (and having to spend additional money on a hotel or motel ). Unfortunately, that won't accommodate the Saints fans from other parts of the country that lived near (or not too far from) West Virginia and were able to make that trip.

Most of the practices at this year's Training Camp will be open to the General Public (weather permitting), and limited seating is available on a first come basis; along with SRO (standing room only) on the busiest of days when the fan turn-out is larger than expected.

What won't be determined until the very end of the year however, will be if having Training Camp back in NOLA for the entire summer will make this current Saints team -- the one that's finished 7-9 for 3 straight years and missed the NFL Playoffs in all 3 of those years -- become a better one in the win-loss column and get them back to the post-season.

(Photo by David Grunfeld, | The Times-Picayune)

That will more than likely be determined by a team that's able to stay healthy (or at least not suffer too many injuries for the most part) and is able to have a "few breaks" (a.k.a., good luck) that goes their way.

And of course, good performances on Game Days week in and week out --- something that the team as a whole hasn't managed to do all that well, for the past 3 years.

Will having Training Camp back home in NOLA this year actually help the Saints get back to the NFL Playoffs?

At this point, it sure can't hurt........

Big Easy Magazine contributing writer and Saints News Network columnist Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and writer previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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