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Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Getting a feel for the atmosphere

By Mike Rodak

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- When first arriving at the Atlanta Falcons’ training facility this morning, there was a distinctly different feel from the usual environment and pace at Gillette Stadium, where the Patriots conduct training camp.

Patriots practice
The scene Tuesday as the Patriots and Falcons hit the practice field.
Many NFL teams work year-round out of a separate complex away from their home stadium. The Falcons are no different, with the town of Flowery Branch (population: 3,994) located about an hour northeast of downtown Atlanta. Their facility is two stories, and boasts three full outdoor practice fields as well as an impressive indoor field. During training camp, Falcons players stay in upscale dorm buildings on site.

While the Patriots routinely draw crowds for training camp practices in the thousands, the crowds for the Falcons training camp are more often in the hundreds.

Keeping in mind that schools in Georgia are already in session, the large hill overlooking the fields was sparsely dotted with fans, and about half of them were sporting Patriots jerseys. It was reported to be the largest crowd of training camp this year at Flowery Branch.

From a media perspective, the differences between Flowery Branch and Foxboro are even more noticeable. The Boston media present looked like it might have doubled the media covering the Falcons.

The intimacy of the media with the team is also much greater in Flowery Branch. Between two of the fields is a large painted box where media members are allowed to stand during practice, feet from where coaches and players are also watching practice. In Foxborough, media members watch from a tent overlooking the fields.

The smaller-time feel extends into the media workroom, which has 10 cubicles. At Gillette Stadium, the press box is used as a workroom during training camp, and can hold hundreds of media members.

Following practices in Foxborough, the team conducts interviews in a specific area on the far end of the practice fields. In Atlanta, the post-practice rules are different, with media, players, staff, and families all inter-mingling at the edge of the practice fields.

Another difference from a media perspective came during lunch on Tuesday. In Foxborough, the media eats together in one level of the press box. In Flowery Branch, the media is invited to eat in the team cafeteria, where players and team staff are also present.