New Orleans Saints running back Deuce McAllister has told local fans that the Saints' desire to return to Jackson this week for training camp at Millsaps College was based on two things: conditioning and karma.
The Saints griped quite a bit about Jackson's weather during the 2006 camp, the team's first at Millsaps. (Sure, New Orleans is hotter than Jackson, but at least the Saints can practice indoors at their team facility in Metairie.) But McAllister has said that the Saints emerged from camp last year as the best-conditioned team in the NFL. That paid dividends in the best season in Saints' history, which included a 10-6 regular season, an NFC South Championship and the club's first trip to the NFC Championship.
Saints coach Sean Payton reportedly pushed to take the team out of New Orleans for his first training camp in 2006. He wanted to take the players away from the distractions of home life in New Orleans. As it turned out, Payton had the right idea.
With their success in 2006, McAllister has said that the Saints believe they exorcised many of the old ghosts hanging over this hard-luck franchise. And the team didn't want to tempt fate by bolting Millsaps.
McAllister grew up in Scott County and became a statewide football hero at Ole Miss. His successful six-year career with the Saints has only enhanced his status. And McAllister's investments have made him one of the fresh young faces of Jackson business.
"I'm happy," McAllister told the New Orleans Times-Picayune on the Saints' decision to train again at Millsaps. "Millsaps did everything they could to accommodate us and make it quote-unquote 'NFL standard'. We can't do anything about the weather. The camp brings us closer together and makes us better as a team."
The announcement of the Saints' return to Millsaps was delayed until June while the college and the team worked out details on more "NFL-standard" facilities. The school has begun work on an enclosed outdoor practice field, and the Saints and Millsaps are raising money to build an indoor practice field and more laundry facilities.
When you read this, the Saints will have already reported to Millsaps. Physical fitness tests are scheduled for Thursday, July 26. The team will hold the first of its 25 practices at Millsaps on Friday at 8:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.
There's no cost to attend the practices, most of which are open to the public. It costs $5 to park on the Millsaps campus, and concessions will be available.
Approximately 15,000 people attended the 2006 practices. Both the Saints and Millsaps considered the team's first year at the college a success.
"We learned last year the value of having the team together as a group in the atmosphere that Millsaps provides," Saints owner Tom Benson said in a statement. "Everyone at the school and in the city worked hard to make our stay a success last year, which is something we all appreciated."
"The presence of a professional football team on the Millsaps campus was a very positive experience for the college and the community last year, and we look forward to opening our doors to them again this season," Millsaps President Frances Lucas said.
For all their griping, the Saints apparently enjoyed themselves in Jackson last year. A few players reportedly returned to the Jackson for social events during the season, including some related to Jackson State's homecoming.
Fenian's Pub Manager Damon Hogben told The Clarion-Ledger that business increased during training camp.
"It wasn't huge, but there certainly was an impact," Hogben said. "The best part was Deuce (McAllister) and some of the other players would come by and hang out in the evenings."
There's one big difference between this year's Saints training camp and last. When the Saints came to town in 2006, they were coming off a 3-13, Hurricane Katrina-ruined season and little was expected of them.
An 0-4 record during the 2006 preseason did little to inspire confidence, but that showed what a team's record in the NFL preseason is typically worth. Thanks to free-agent quarterback Drew Brees (who was coming off a shoulder injury), McAllister (who was coming off a knee injury), rookie running back Reggie Bush (who was coming off winning the Heisman Trophy) and a resurgent defense, the Saints shocked the NFL—and their fans—by finishing one victory short of the Super Bowl.
This season? Sheldon Mickles of The (Baton Rouge) Advocate recently called what's about to unfold at Millsaps "the most anticipated camp in franchise history."
Much more is expected of the Saints this season. The team's preparations at Millsaps to meet those expectations should be fun to watch.
Thought y'all might be interested in seeing the TP's 'Around Jackson' video on their site that they've posted with the start of camp.