SUWANEE, Ga. -- Boxes cluttered many of the offices at the Atlanta Falcons headquarters last Friday as team officials and players prepared to take their act on the road for the next three weeks.
After conducting training camp at the team's headquarters in Suwanee for the past 20 years, the defending NFC champions will move the first 20 days of their 1999 campaign to Furman University in Greenville, S.C. -- less than 15 minutes away from NFC West rival Carolina Panthers' camp in Spartanburg.
The reason for Atlanta is simple -- there's no room at the inn.
In the past, the team has utilized the Falcons Inn adjacent to their training complex in Suwanee. The hotel on Interstate 85 about 25 miles north of downtown Atlanta was closed last year, forcing team officials to find a new facility to house 80 players, coaches and other team officials during the most grueling period of preseason training.
"When Dan (Reeves) came in, it started a new deal," said Falcons general manager Harold Richardson. "Nothing we do now is based on the past."
Although it's rare to have two National Football League teams train so close together, Richardson said there are no plans to scrimmage with the Panthers. In fact, the only controlled scrimmage Atlanta plans is on Aug. 7 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"We went to Jacksonville last year, and they will come to our place this year," Richardson said. "That really worked out well for both teams.
"Of course, you never say never, but as a general rule, it's exceedingly rare to do anything in the preseason with someone in your league or in your conference. Teams just don't do that."
The Falcons will play Carolina twice this year. And while the proximity of their camps will make it easy to watch each other's progress, Richardson said there's little to be learned by watching hours of two-a-day drills in the preseason.
"We're not too concerned with the fact they're so close," Richardson said. "The truth is, you watch everybody in this league. But there's a big difference in watching their games and watching their practices. If you want to learn something by watching fundamental drills, I guess keeping an eye on them during training camp would be important."
Players, who will live in the university's dormitories until Aug. 17, will report to camp on Wednesday, and the team's first mandatory workout will follow on Thursday. The Panthers' rookies report on Monday and the veterans on Thursday, with the first practice on Friday.
The Falcons hope to close a deal with Stone Mountain Park near Atlanta to build a new training facility for 2000. City and park officials are trying to secure private funding to offset much of the construction costs.
The team spent its first training camp in 1966 at Black Mountain, N.C. Since then, the Falcons have bounced around, training at East Tennessee State in Johnson City, Tenn., from 1967-70, at Furman from 1971-78 and at their Suwanee facility from 1979-98.
Contract negotiations between the Falcons and All-Pro running back Jamal Anderson continue to hit some interesting potholes. Anderson, who has threatened to miss the upcoming season unless he's granted a contract extension, apparently wasn't aware that if he sits out in 1999 -- losing $2.6 million in salary -- Atlanta still could designate him as a franchise player for 2001 and retain his rights.
Anderson and Richardson apparently agree the running back, who rushed for 1,846 yards a year ago, deserves a five-or-six year extension for as much as $5.6 million a year. The stumbling block, however, is Anderson's demand for an $8 million signing bonus and another $5 million in guaranteed money. The team has countered with a $6 million signing bonus and no other guarantees. Anderson was at his home in Salt Lake City last week, and he claims he will skip training camp if the deal's not done. The team, however, has promised to remove all offers if he doesn't report to Greenville on Wednesday.
While Anderson and offensive guard Gene Williams commanded considerable attention by boycotting a mandatory mini-camp three weeks ago, the Falcons have proceeded in the difficult process of offering new contracts to many of their players. Anderson and Williams are two of 14 players in the final year of a contract, and Richardson said he's already offered extensions to several players, including Anderson.
"It's not an easy thing to get done," Richardson said. "It takes time, but we're trying to get things rolling." He added that no deal has been discussed with Williams or his agent. The other 12 players in the final years of a contract participated in the mini-camp, and each said they will attend training camp, including starting defensive ends Chuck Smith and Lester Archambeau.
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