A month ago, the 49ers ran a promotion in the San Jose Mercury News that gave out free tickets to select training camp sessions. Not being a subscriber to the Mercury, I didn’t think I’d be able to go, but Chrystie’s coworker found a website to sign up for tickets, so Chrystie and I signed up for the August 7th training session. I had never been to a 49ers practice session, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was excited to watch it.
The 49ers training facilities are a quick 10 minute drive from my place – in Santa Clara right next to Great America, much more convenient than the drive to Candlestick. In fact, I’m really excited for the new 49ers stadium to be built right next to the training facilities. Its far enough away that game or other event traffic shouldn’t be noticeable around my place, but close enough that I could ride my bike down the San Tomas Aquino bike trail which goes right by the stadium, so I won’t even have to drive to games.
Chrystie and I arrived half an hour before they opened the gates to the practice. There were maybe 50 people in line in front of us when we arrived, and the line grew to maybe 150 people before the gates opened. Upon entering we were given swag bags – a bag with a 49ers season schedule and some ads in it.
Inside the facility, there were sponsor booths to visit and get swag, and activity areas to throw footballs at targets or run through inflatable dummy defenders.
We stopped at some booths, got some swag and, took a spin at a prize wheel, and got some autographs from the Gold Rush cheerleaders, but there wasn’t all that much else to see or do so we continued towards the practice fields to scope out a spot to watch from. Near the first practice field, I noticed a big food vendor stand, which I got a kick out of – they were selling nachos, burgers and soda like it was a game at Candlestick.
The practice fields were blocked off by rope, and regular visitors were directed to the bleachers that lined one of the practice fields. Season ticket holders got to go to a special tent area where they were fed and enjoyed a shaded view of the practice in folding chairs. I would guess that at least 1500 fans came to the practice. Chrystie and I arrived early enough to get front row seats on the 30-yard line of the main field. After about half an hour, the bleachers became packed and the players came out of the locker room in small groups and made their way to the field.
Once they were all out on the field, the centers and quarterbacks did some snap drills.
After that they did some sprints, which excited the spectators who got to see them up close.
Then, they huddled up and began stretching out.
I felt weird about taking photos of players as they stretched, but others had no problem snapping away as players adjusted themselves and stretched in many unflattering ways.
One they finished stretching, they ran some kickoff return drills, with the non-special teams players just spectating.
It surprised me that they didn’t all break off into their respective groups, and instead players not involved just watched. After hearing about coach Singletary and his ball-busting workouts, this seemed like a rather light practice.
The 4th string QB threw catching practice for the wide receivers, and he was good at making them work to catch the ball with many throws completely off target. The lineman did some blocking drills. The QBs did some ball-handling skills, simulating stepping up in the pocket protecting the ball while players swatted at it.
The QBs took turns running passing drills.
The passing drills got more involved, with lineman and cornerbacks playing defense.
A few passes got intercepted and returned for would-be touchdowns, which fired up the crowd.
I was confused by the referees they had on the field. Were they there to make it feel like a game? Or to be in the way so players could practice avoiding where they would be on the field or using them for screens? Maybe to enforce practice rules that teams must follow? I didn’t see them make any calls, so that wasn’t it.
As the practice neared its end, some fans began making their way to the autograph area, and I naively thought I had the chance to get a few signatures, so I skipped the final few drills of practice. Getting autographs proved unfruitful – many players weren’t interested in stopping to sign, and those that did only signed a thing or two, except one of the kickers (either Joe Nedney or Andy Lee) who spent some time signing for the kids in the special kids-only signing area.
Its cool to be able to say I’ve been to a 49ers practice session, but I decided not to go to any of the other open practice sessions. Its great that the 49ers did this for their fans, and I’m definitely more excited for this season than I have been in a while. With the recent addition of Brian Westbrook, and Kurt Warner’s retirement, I foresee a playoff spot for the Red and Gold this season.
See all my photos from the event here.