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Eagles Swoop Into Lehigh For Training Camp

With the 14th Dalai Lama's historic visit just ending last week, and Lehigh's high school 7-on-7 shootout and the final Lehigh University Youth Football clinics slated to end on Wednesday, there certainly isn't going to be any rest for the support staff at the Goodman Sports complex this summer.

After hosting youth football players, believers in Tibetan Buddhism from all over the country, members of the media from around the world, hundreds more students and alumni interested and inspired by the Dalai Lama's teachings, and even some Buddhist protesters, the Goodman complex now has an even bigger challenge - the Philadelphia Eagles' training camp (admission: free) and the circus of fans and media that accompany this intriguing annual event. The first practice is tomorrow, starting at 8:45AM.

Lehigh is entering its 13th year of hosting the Eagles preseason camp - before 1995, the Eagles had chosen to host the camp in a variety of different non-D-I sites, including Widener, West Chester, Albright, and HersheyPark stadium. Lehigh's combination of location (it's close enough to Philadelphia, but not too close, while allowing for fan outreach to the football-crazed Scranton, Western N.J., and ABE Eagles fans) and facilities (three natural grass practice fields at the John C. Whitehead practice fields, as well as Lehigh's strength training center at the A. Haigh Cundey Varsity House) are hard to beat for an NFL preseason camp, and it's a great place to watch the "big boys" practice.

The training camp is also a real economic boost for Bethlehem in the summer. Channel 69 news estimates that on average it brings about 5,000 fans a day to showcase Goodman stadium - and these fans also stop in town at Lehigh Pizza, La Lupita Mexican Restaurant, Bridgeworks, Goosey Gander, or countless other local eateries. Not to mention that the players themselves get food there as well - as Jim Gouvalis, manager of Lehigh Pizza implies, many might use Donovan McNabb's name to get, well, that little extra-fast service.

In the years that Eagles camp has been at Lehigh there has been plenty of history, but three incidents in particular stand out. The first came in a bizarre situation in 1997 where the (in?)famous Mike Mamula was accused of exposing himself to a hotel worker - and where Mr. Mamula had been seen and reported hitting the local strip*- um, er, nightclubs. But that was before the media circuses that involved Terrell Owens' appearances in Bethlehem in 2004 (where a crush of 25,000 fans showed up to see T.O.) and 2005 ("Next question" and the drama of will he show in Bethlehem or won't he show?).

This year shouldn't have anything quite as dramatic as the T.O. years, but still should offer more interesting subplots involving RB Brian Westbrook's holdout, the health of QB Donovan McNabb (a never-ending concern, I might add), and, of course, how the rookies will do. Most intriguing, however, is the subplot that this might be head coach Andy Reid's last at the helm of the Eagles.

A fantastic guide for Eagles fans comes from the Morning Call for the best time to show up, where to go, and what is available at the camp for food, drinks, and merchandise. (The Eagles shirts available at the practice, IMO, are the best deal you'll find anywhere - and they have every Eagles thing under the sun there, too.)

Personally, I try to hit one day of Eagles camp a year with my wife (a huge Eagles fan) and my young son (a budding Eagles fan) while combining it with Musikfest. It's a fantastic family day for all of us: we see the Eagles practice in the morning while my son enjoys all the NFL Experience activities like throwing footballs, catching a pass in the inflatable games, and even doing art projects in the activities tent. Then in the afternoon, we hit Musikfest as it opens and enjoy the live music and food stalls into the early evening. We're really looking forward to doing it again this year.

Admittedly, it does give me something to do before Lehigh's freshmen report to Lehigh for the birds I follow more closely: the Mountain Hawks' training camp.

UPDATE: Nothing like Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Bob Ford pissing on Lehigh's parade, as he appears to be too much of a sissy to stand 100 degree heat. (Ever leave the press box, Bob?) Let's see, have the Eagles rip up their tendons at the NovaCare complex, or practice on the natural grass at Goodman? Memo to Bob: we don't give a crap about your trip up the Northeast extension. Take 413 and shut up.

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