The Greenbrier is a stately shrine to luxury — and an unlikely Houston Texans' host.
The Greenbrier Sports Performance Center is appropriately hulking for an NFL team.
The Greenbrier spreads across 10,000 acres with the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia as a backdrop.
Texans coach Bill O'Brien showed he's every bit the impact leader.
Dorothy Draper’s iconic interiors at The Greenbrier are preserved by Carlton Varney.
Draper’s Regency style continues to flourish.
Deshaun Watson is a Houston Texan and everything's changed for Bob McNair's franchise.
The Greenbrier's PGA Tour stop found itself in danger after the flooding.
J.J. Watt knows how to grab the spotlight, whether ESPN realizes it or not.
3600 Greenbrier (Park Cities Historic and Preservation Society)
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. — The logging truck rolls by the bluff overlooking the Houston Texans’ practice facility, shaking the police car stationed on the side of this perch a bit with the force of its full load rumble. This isn’t your typical NFL training camp sight of course. But the Texans are doing anything but the ordinary this summer.
They’re holding training camp in a town that would be right at home in a David Lynch TV series. Forget the logging trucks for a moment. It’s not often that you negotiate a one-way bridge to get to an NFL practice either. But that’s where my drive from the Virginia mountains to The Greenbrier took me. With a jaunt right through a national forest thrown in for good measure.
Those towering trees make even Duane Brown look tiny. Come to think of it, the AWOL left tackle could be hiding in them.
Holding an NFL training camp in a town with a population of 2,444 (give or take whoever went out to go fishing) makes for some surreal (and wonderful) sights and experiences. The scope of the facilities (first built for the New Orleans Saints) the Texans are using can catch you by surprise. The famed Greenbrier resort’s Sports Performance Center lords over a hilltop, a hulking white giant that would be right at home in East Rutherford, New Jersey or any big-time NFL locale. If it wasn’t quite so stately looking.
It provides quite an impressive backdrop for the Texans’ three practice fields.
It doesn’t take long to see why Texans coach Bill O’Brien would appreciate these type of digs. There is one gated entrance up the big hill to the facility and it’s manned by a security guard who’s stricter than a high school principal from a 1980s movie. Of course that doesn’t stop everyone from craning their heads when one of the private helicopters flies over the complex. (The Greenbrier has its own helicopter landing area, like any self-respecting retreat of the rich and discrete must these days.)
NFL paranoia works well with isolation. Still, there are plenty of more light-hearted truths from this most unusual Texans training camp.
1). If J.J. Watt truly wants an isolated “log cabin”, there are plenty of West Virginians in position to make his dream come true.
Tons of these spots — not far down the backroads (which often are the only roads) from The Greenbrier’s luxurious sprawl — would have the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year nuzzling up with bears at night. You know, like he once claimed he wanted.
2). The Texans are saviors in these parts.
When Jim Justice, the homegrown billionaire owner of The Greenbrier who moonlights as governor of West Virginia, built the $30 million state of the art sports facility for the New Orleans Saints, expecting them to be longtime training camp tenants. When the Saints elected to bolt after just three years, The Greenbrier, and more importantly, many small local businesses who could use any extra tourist revenue, were left twisting in the wind.
At the worst possible time — after one of the most devastating floods in United State history.
In many ways, Bob McNair, Rick Smith and O’Brien’s decision to hold training camp in West Virginia made an entire region smile.
“If they would have lost out on having an NFL training camp after everything they’ve already been through over the last year, it would have been tough,” a manager at the competing (and 50-minutes away driving) Omni Homestead Resort tells me. “It would have been a real blow.”
3). West Virginia Deserves a Break.
This area went through horrific flooding in 2016 that killed 23 people (including several children ripped from their family’s grasp by the rampaging, merciless flood waters), destroyed 1,200 homes (including 111 in this little town of White Sulphur Springs) and left much of the state grasping for hope.
Even The Greenbrier’s annual PGA Tour stop event was in danger of disappearing. The 2016 tournament got canceled — it played on this summer a few weeks before the Texans arrived, but there was no admissions charge to allow for the harsh economic fallout from the storms.
If anyone should understand the pain of flooding, it’s Houston. Don’t you feel better about the Texans taking training camp on the road now?
4). Jerry West and Mike D’Antoni Know Best.
If there’s any type of event in West Virginia, every famous person in the state turns out for it. When I was at Texans camp, both Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni (for the second straight day) and The Logo himself (NBA legend Jerry West), resplendent in a shiny white sweatshirt, came out to watch practice.
And they both stayed for nearly the full two hours. It turns out that there’s not a whole lot to do in rural West Virginia so when something is actually happening, you’d better show.
“Somebody said The Logo was here, and I was like ‘The Logo!’ ” O’Brien enthused.
What, you’re surprised? The D’Antonis’ backyard barbecues probably draw from a 300-mile radius.
5). People are Beyond Nice.
Maybe it’s because everyone is so excited to have the Texans in town — more likely, it’s just the way things are here — but visitors are treated like royalty. Walk into Hill & Holler Pizza — a surprisingly good Neapolitan pizza place in nearby Lewisburg, West Virginia — and the owner is liable to ask you your life story.
Hint: He wants details, not Cliff Notes.
6). Bill O’Brien’s No Damn Fool.
Houston’s hell in summer and Bill O’Brien is smart enough to know it (don’t let the barking football coach routine fool you — O’Brien holds a degree from Brown University). Everyone knows Houston is hell in the summer, but born and raised Houstonians actually think it’s an endurable hell (so naive).
The Texans coach is not Texas born and raised. He’s a Boston guy. He knows better. Imagine doing something in the summer that’s actually comfortable?
Yes, this Texans training camp is so crazy.