WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — The mountains. The cool temperatures in mid-August. The pig races at the State Fair.
There’s no doubt the Saints training camp here is definitely different from things back home in Metairie.
But some things remain the same.
Look through the stands of fans, and there’s no shortage of Drew Brees’ No. 9 jerseys. Brees’ jersey is No. 8 in the NFL in sales, a figure probably enhanced by the Saints coming here to train.
Of course, there are others: No. 12 (Marques Colston), No. 80 (Jimmy Graham), No. 94 (Cam Jordan) and even a No. 47 (deep snapper Justin Drescher) sported by a fan who wanted to be different.
But there’s no doubt No. 9 is No. 1.
“It’s an honor, and it’s also humbling,” Brees said Tuesday after signing autographs long after the rest of his teammates had left the field after the morning practice. “Seeing someone wearing your jersey gives you a sense of responsibility about how you’re impacting someone’s life by the way you play or the way you conduct yourself off the field.
“I know what it was like to wear the jerseys of others when I was growing up. So I’m proud to have them wear mine.”
And every jersey, it seems, has a story. Here are a few:
- Buck and Becky Hall are season-ticket holders from Pensacola, Florida, who never attended minicamp or preseason practices because it was either too hot or the team would go inside if it rained. But an 800-mile drive to get here was worth it.
“That’s part of the reason we came,” Buck Hall said. “You can see the guys out here in cool weather, and West Virginia’s just beautiful.”
And they’re not disappointed Brees isn’t practicing.
“We rather him be ready for the regular season,” Hall said. “We’re still getting to see him up close. That’s good enough.”
- Jared Dufrene recently relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina, from New Orleans. And even though they’re in Panthers country, the Dufrenes — wife Jonetta and sons Colton 7, and Kaleb, 11 — remain loyal to the Saints.
So much so that if Kaleb’s new school has a dress down day Oct. 30 when the Saints visit Carolina, he’s going to wear his No. 9 jersey.
Even if he gets beat up for it? “Whatever,” Kaleb said. “I’m not going to change.”
- Summer Kelly, 11, may live in Baltimore, but she’s a die-hard Saints fan. Her little brother, Miles, is 8, and pulls for San Diego, Brees’ old team. But on this day, Summer loaned Miles one of her spare Brees jerseys. She’s got a white one at home, too.
“This is the first time I’ve ever got to see Drew Brees in person,” Summer said. “I hope he signs my jersey.”
- Maryel Julius and five of her friends from Hampton, Virginia, are transplanted New Orleanians who have remained loyal to their favorites, even if they had to stand in the rain to watch them Tuesday. Julius covered herself, and her Brees jersey, in a plastic poncho.
“We still love the Saints,” she said. “And we all love Drew. We don’t mind if it’s raining or not.”
- Ken Grantham of Baton Rouge is using the Saints training here as a business opportunity. His company, stainless steel supplier Crompion International, is a sponsor of the Saints. He has clients from Roanoke, Virginia, and Pennsylvania on hand. They’re getting jerseys, footballs and visors.
“They all think it’s fantastic,” said Grantham, who brought his Brees jersey from home. “We’re able to bring our customers to this unique venue and get to see the Saints practice as well.”
- Davis Tatum. 11, of Louisville, Kentucky, has an inside source to get his jersey. His uncle, Doug Tatum, is the Saints director of digital media. He’s also got a Drew Brees Fathead on the wall of his room.
So is Brees his favorite player?
“I guess,” Davis Tatum said. “I like them all.”
- Juliet Saffold of Richmond, Virginia, was first a Saints fan while she was growing up in Many, and she’s had her Drew Brees jersey since he signed with the team eight years ago. She wears it for every game she can see on TV.
Saffold came with her son, Bryan.
“When he told me the Saints were training here and asked me if I’d like to go, I said, ‘I’m there,’” she said. “He’s a good son.”
- Most people associate Brees with the Saints.
But Michele Watson of Middleburg, Ohio, will also think of his time at Purdue. She was a twirler in the school band a few years before Brees was a Boilermaker.
“He’s done so much for Purdue,” said Watson, who was celebrating her birthday along with her father, Larry “Bur then he’s given back in New Orleans, and before that, San Diego. That’s the kind of person he’s always been.”
- C.J. Torres, currently stationed at Andrews Air Force Base, adopted the Saints in his native Virgin Islands.
When Torres stationed at Hickam AFB in Hawaii a few years back, Brees signed one of his jerseys for him while on a visit during the Pro Bowl.
The signature has faded since then, though. And on this day, Torres is hoping to get it signed again. This time, he said, he would store it in a trophy case.
But first, he gave it to his 5-year-old daughter, Irie, to wear.
So does Irie know whose jersey she’s wearing?
“My dad’s,” she said.
- Lucas Chirico, 11, of New York, is wearing a Drew Brees jersey even though Jimmy Graham is his favorite player.
“All of the Jimmy Graham ones were basically taken, and the Drew Brees ones were the only ones that fit me,” Lucas said. “This will do.”