WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — When a football team flies into New Orleans for, say, the Sugar Bowl, there’s inevitably a brass band along with a host of dignitaries to greet them on the tarmac.
Here on Tuesday — no such luck.
Not for the Saints — or at least we think it was the Saints, because whoever was on the large jet that landed at the small airport in nearby Lewisburg, West Virginia, deplaned out of sight of prying media eyes, plus a handful of other folks.
All of those people, as it turned out, were connected to The Greenbrier, where the team is staying.
But those who turned out to greet the visitors were warned by a Saints staffer not to get too close as the buses rolled away.
Maybe they were afraid someone would shout out a Junior Galette question to Sean Payton or something.
At least last year, the team’s inaugural visit to this Blue Ridge Mountains golf resort that will be used as an NFL training facility for the next three weeks, there was a band, albeit featuring banjos instead of tubas.
“I thought there’d be more people out here, because folks are pretty exited about the Saints coming,” said Nick Balnilnis, a desk clerk at the Avis counter at the airport.
“This is rural West Virginia, and there’s usually not much going on unless (Greenbrier owner) Jim Justice is bringing stuff in.
“We had The Greenbrier Classic here a few weeks ago, but you’d think people would be more excited about a football team.”
And too be fair, locals will get plenty of chances to see the team in much better conditions than Tuesday’s provided.
All practices, the first of which is Thursday, are open to the public and will be followed by autograph sessions.
On Aug. 9, there will be a community picnic after practice with all of the players available for an extended time.
Don’t count on 82-year-old Lewisburg resident Douglas Bradford being there, though.
On Tuesday, Bradford was in his usual spot: sitting in an oversized lawn chair outside the rear of airport terminal watching planes land.
With only two commercial incoming flights a day, there’s not a lot of action, so the Saints charter at least got his attention.
“I heard they were coming,” Bradford said. “But it doesn’t matter much to me. I’d rather sit out here and just relax. I’ll probably see ’em leave, too.”
At least Tuesday, there was one returning fan from last year.
Judy Harris showed up wearing a Saints T-shirt and accompanied by her grandsons, Ty and Jackson Fichtner, and son-in-law, Eric Fichtner, who are visiting from Albany, New York.
“I wanted to keep the tradition going,” said Harris, who had Saints flags for her grandsons to wave. “Last year, I wasn’t much of a fan, and I was pretty much out here by myself. I didn’t have a T-shirt either.”
It should be pointed out that Harris’ T-shirt, plus the flags, were courtesy of her husband, Robert, The Greenbrier’s vice president for sports and recreation, who purchased them on a trip to New Orleans to go over training camp logistics with Saints officials.
The logistics will be a little more complicated this time because Aug. 19-20, the last two days of camp here, the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots will join the Saints for workouts before both teams leave for New Orleans and an Aug. 22 exhibition game.
Like the Saints, the Patriots will be housed at The Greenbrier.
“It’s going to be a little tight, but we’ve got things pretty much worked out,” Robert Harris said. “I don’t know how many more people will come out for practice, but I would imagine we’re going to get a lot of fans from both teams. That’s good, because this is only a small part of our core business, but we are able to provide for the community.”
Along with the Harris, there was one true Who Dat present Tuesday — or at least a semi-one. Carin Kramer lived in New Orleans from 1995 to 2001 and attended several Saints games because she worked in the law office of former Superdome Commission Chairman David Conroy.
She has lived in Lewisburg for the past 11 years and is best friends with Bee Kirby, a Greenbrier executive.
“I’m first and foremost an Eagles fan because I’m from South Jersey,” said Kramer, who was wearing a black and gold ensemble that would almost qualify as a Saintsations outfit. “But if the Eagles don’t win the NFC, I want the Saints to.”
As someone who has lived through New Orleans summers, Kramer can appreciate the cooler temperatures the team enjoys here. And she rejects the theory that being here last year contributed to the team’s disappointing 7-9 record.
“Why shouldn’t they practice where it’s cooler?” she asked. “They play in the Superdome.”
You can’t argue with logic like that.