They call it their pilgrimage. One day every summer for the past 15 years, Norm Beatty and son Lewis drive from northwest New Jersey to Ashburn, where they meet Norm’s college roommate, Dave Jackson. Then, the trio spends the afternoon watching training camp at Redskins Park.
It’s a four-hour drive to and from Hope, N.J., for the Beattys. But Lewis, who “lives and breathes” the Washington Redskins, wouldn’t miss his first chance to see his favorite team for anything.
“For me it just kicks off the football year,” said Lewis. “It gets me all excited for Sundays.”
Their dedication will be tested next summer, when the Redskins will leave their Ashburn facility and begin holding training camp in Richmond.
Tuesday marked the final day fans were welcome to watch practice at Redskins Park, as training camp officially came to an end. Some of those who lined the practice field this week said the move will keep them away next year. But most said the 2½-hour drive south is more of an annoyance than a deterrent.
A change of venue
Desiring an updated facility, the Redskins explored moving their headquarters from Loudoun County to another nearby area, including the District of Columbia.
The commonwealth of Virginia gave the Redskins an incentive to keep their headquarters at its current location by providing $4 million in public funding over a three-year period to help the team renovate Redskins Park. To fulfill another part of the deal, the Redskins agreed to move their training camp to Richmond starting in 2013.
“It’s going to expand the fan base,” Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said at Fan Appreciation Day on Aug. 4. “The enthusiasm around Richmond is palpable. The fans have been there a long time, but they have to travel to Northern Virginia or Maryland to be able to see a game. And now to get the Redskins for three or four weeks in their backyard is a big deal for Richmond.”
Coach Mike Shanahan has expressed his desire to move camp away from Ashburn, largely in order to cut down on distractions and facilitate more team bonding. Many of the players don’t seem to mind the move, either.
“I kind of like the idea of going away for camp,” linebacker London Fletcher said. “I think from a team-building and camaraderie standpoint, that just helps so much more because it really forces guys to spend more time with each other. Guys hang out after the night meetings, maybe play some pool, play some cards, things like that.”
Jack Moyer, from Manassas, has been coming to Redskins training camp for the past four years. He understands the reason for the move and plans to make the drive to Richmond at least once next summer. But for Moyer, gone are the days of making the easy 30-minute drive to Redskins Park for training camp on a whim.
“It will definitely [affect my plans],” Moyer said. “But I’m sure if you’re from Richmond, you’re all for it.”
The crowd stretching the length of the practice field began to thin as the team started drills in the far corner of the complex Monday. But the Beattys and Jackson remained. Lewis, wearing his No. 28 Darrell Green jersey, isn’t going to miss a minute of the most anticipated trip of his year.
Lewis was in grade school in Fairfax County when Joe Theismann led the Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl victory in 1982. Two years ago, Lewis, his father and Jackson watched as the Redskins beat the New York Jets at New Meadowlands Stadium in the preseason, 16-11. After the game, the three got to go down on the field.
“I think we floated home,” Norm Beatty said. “We did not drive, we floated. As we will tonight.”
The Beattys pulled out of their driveway at 7 a.m. Monday. It would be almost 10 p.m. before they arrived back home. Next year, when the Redskins begin training in Richmond, the Beattys might be forced to spread the annual trip over two days.
Regardless of the change of venue, they plan to be right back on the sideline for 2013 training camp. Next year, the pilgrimage will just take a little bit longer.
“It’s one of my favorite things to do all year,” Lewis said. “It is [a long day]. But it’s worth it.”