How did 49erswebzone.com Training Camp VIP Day start? There is no doubt that the entire staff of this site and myself have been looking forward to this for weeks. It was the rare opportunity for an inside look at the team that we love. Back in April, right before the NFL Draft, I was contacted by Jason Jenkins, the San Francisco 49ers Director of P.R. Operations. He asked if I would be attending the draft party that the team throws every year, mentioning that he would like to meet me. Being from Los Angeles, I could not attend. Besides, NFL Draft weekend is the busiest weekend for 49erswebzone.com, so time probably would not have permitted it.

Every year, a number of us try to make it out to the first few open sessions of training camp. This year, I contacted Jason and mentioned that most of our staff would be attending training camp come July. He invited our entire staff to be VIP's at the practice of our choice and said that he would personally show us around the team's headquarters. As excited as I was to be given this opportunity and get this done for this site's staff, a staff that has other jobs, a life outside of this site, and do all of their hard work for free during their spare time, I honestly had no idea what a great experience this would turn out to be.

The announcement was made to our entire staff and everyone was excited beyond belief. Plans started forming even before we officially knew the dates of the team's practice sessions.

While our entire staff was not able to attend, most of them were. This included our writers, Oscar (who flew out from Texas just for this opportunity), Andre, James, and Matt, editor Valerie, and forum moderators Oliver and the mysterious man known only as "Stoney." We were all able to invite family and close friends so our group actually turned out to be 14 people. Once the schedule was released, we targeted Saturday, July 26th as 49erswebzone.com's Training Camp VIP Day.

The plan was set. With practice scheduled for 9 am, we all met in front of the team's headquarters by 7:30 am that morning. Andre, excited about the whole opportunity, arrived a tad bit early, showing up at 6:45 am. I certainly could not blame him. We called Jason at 8 am and he came outside to meet us and pass around our VIP badges. Then he and Kyle McRae, the team's Publications Specialist, took us on a brief tour.

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The media trailer

Ever wonder where beat writers like Matt Maiocco, Matt Barrows and Kevin Lynch do their work when they are covering the team at 49ers headquarters? No, they do not wait in their cars outside in the parking lot armed with binoculars and a laptop. And guys as important as them can't be expected to stand around on their feet all day. They have a lavish suite where they entertain themselves with only the best of modern day technology. Ok, maybe I am exaggerating a bit. The beat writers actually hang out in a trailer near the front office and coaches parking lot. The trailer is in no way small, but it has space for what looked like 20 small desks. And these aren't your corporate office cubicles. They are literally desks and chairs. They don't even have computers at their desks and likely have to rely on company issued laptops. While the trailer is a good size, when you have that many people in one place, you probably start to feel cramped.

I must admit, I had the urge to sabotage Maiocco and Barrow's desks. I don't know ... maybe ruffle through Maiocco's things and hide all his pictures or put a live mouse in Barrows' drawer. But I restrained myself. Besides, where was I going to find a live mouse this early in the morning?

For breaking news from ESPN or NFL Network, which would probably come in handy during the draft or free agency, this talented group of writers is armed with a single LCD TV which could not have been bigger than 19 inches. I think the small LCD TV in my apartment bedroom is larger. It hangs above their single printer and copy machine. And you thought waiting for the printer to be free in your office was bad. Nothing is too good for these guys. But at least they had a large bathroom. Yes, we looked in their bathroom! No detail is too little for the fans of 49erswebzone.com.


The front office and coaching staff parking lot

We then went out to look at the parking lot where guys like team owner John York, head coach Mike Nolan, and offensive coordinator Mike Martz park. York's car was there, but Nolan's car had not yet arrived. Maybe he is environmentally conscious and carpooled. York's Aston Martin was in his spot. Just kidding. It was actually a Toyota Avalon. Most of the spaces were labeled "COACH" so we really could not tell who's car was who's.

We then headed to a door where James and Kyle passed out free media guides and team yearbooks to our entire group. That will save me over $20 come the home opener.


The practice field

We were then lead out to the team's practice field. You know, the new expensive one that they put in a few years back. We got to walk around on it and take some pictures. It is tough to describe what this field feels like. It is artificial and instead of dirt, it has soft little rubbery balls of some sort. So when you step on it, your foot kind of sinks into it, but the ground still feels solid. It seems great for running and traction.


The network media room

Ever watch ESPN or NFL Network as they interview coach Nolan or someone else on the team? Sometimes they are sitting there in front of what looks like a real player locker, complete with helmet, jersey and maybe even a football (because players always keep spare footballs in their locker). A jersey numbered "49" with the word "Faithful" on the player name plate was hanging in there when we saw it. Well, this is actually a very little room with a fake locker built into the back wall. That way, they can arrange that locker however they see fit. If the interview is for NFL Network, they have the blue backdrop ready with small NFL Network logos scattered across.

What was really interesting about this room was the NFL Network Team Cam that they use. Basically, it is an all in one unit, shaped like a box, that contains the camera, microphone and a small monitor where the interviewee can actually see the interviewer live. It may not sound too impressive, but it was actually a pretty nice set up. However, I feel lied to by NFL Network commercials now. Their Team Cams aren't actual floating spheres with cameras built in that fly around and look for players and coaches. How can I ever trust them again?


Walking over to the VIP area

It was still almost half an hour before fans would be allowed to enter the complex, but we began our trek out to the VIP area. If you have ever been to 49ers training camp, you know where the players come out. They exit the main building and take a little man made path to the practice field. As we were about to cross that path we stopped because, quarterbacks Alex Smith, Shaun Hill and J.T. O'Sullivan were headed out to the practice field. They literally walked by just a few feet in front of us.

Interesting fact: When players exit that aisle, as soon as their feet hit the practice field, they are expected by the coaching staff to start running. Although, we saw a few casually jog out.

Since we typically pile in with the rest of the fans during open practices, it was interesting seeing the entire practice field and stands so empty. We were the first group of fans out there. As we headed over, the quarterbacks started warming up by throwing a few footballs around.


The VIP area

What is interesting about the VIP area is that you have two choices on where to hang out. You can either watch practice from nice tables and seats under a tent, or you can watch from private stands right next to it. You don't need to choose. You can go between the two as often as you want. We received our name tag stickers and tried to find the best seats available. Being the first group in the VIP area, we had our choice of tables, so we picked a few closest to the field.

The VIP area had a really nice set up when it comes to food. Being a morning practice, we were served breakfast. I must mention that the 49ers chefs make a mean breakfast burrito. Typically, I am not a big fan of scrambled eggs, but I could have eaten a 4 of these things (I just ate one though). In addition to the egg, this bad boy had a fantastic mix of cheese and sausage as well. Kudos to our chefs. In addition to the burrito, we had french toast, bacon, delicious potatoes, a great selection of fruit, coffee, water, and yes, even beer provided by Gordon Biersch. It was a very nice spread.


Scot McCloughan addresses us

Once more people started to arrive in the VIP area, General Manager Scot McCloughan walked over to grab some breakfast and meet with all of us. He could not have been nicer or more down to earth. After taking a few pictures with kids, he immediately sat with the 49erswebzone.com writers and had a lengthy discussion with them.


After talking with the staff, he went up to a small podium and addressed the VIP group. By this point, practice had already started and the players were now stretching. However, all eyes and ears of the 49erswebzone.com staff were on Scot. At the end, he took questions from our writers. In short, he discussed the team's mentality for this season, their disappointment in last season and desire to stop being a doormat for other teams, the players acquired over the offseason, Mike Martz, the quarterback competition, and the team's hybrid 3-4 / 4-3 defense that will be used this year. Most of those questions and answers can be found in the Webzone Exclusive articles that are either posted already or will be soon by the staff.


The interesting thing to me was finding out how many people within the 49ers organization know about and frequent this site. People knew exactly who some of us were and what we did here. Oscar even worried a bit asking, "Uh oh, what did I write?"


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Bubu sighting

Those that frequent this site's forum have come to know Bubu. Bubu is a little monkey, who has kind of become the mascot of the forums. He is actually a toy monkey that moderator Stoney takes pictures of in all kinds of Bubu-tastic adventures. There are pictures of him at sporting events, national parks, and all kinds of other exotic locations. I swear, this monkey has been to more places than I have.

Anyways, back to the point. Bubu was once again sighted ... this time at training camp. Bubu decided to pose inside of a 49ers helmet on the field while holding his free Gordon Biersch beer (that Bubu can drink). The kids in the VIP area loved him. Bubu was everywhere during our excursion to 49ers headquarters. He took pictures with Oscar, then Jason, who was worried about the picture and asked, "This isn't a set up, is it?" I too would be worried if some guy came up to me and asked me to take a picture with his monkey. Bubu was even caught on camera making an announcement at the 49ers podium. And yes ladies and gentlemen, he even took a picture with running back Frank Gore. Word on the street is that Bubu and Gore go way back.


Gore, Norris, Grant, and Thomas stop by

After practice, running back Frank Gore, fullback Moran Norris, and linebackers Larry Grant and Dontarrious Thomas all stopped by to sign some autographs for the VIP group and talk a little with us. All of them were very pleasant and made every effort to sign as much as they could. It was nice not fighting the big crowds that were closer to the entrance for autographs. And I am super psyched that Gore signed my authentic Gore jersey and mini helmet.


Waiting around

As instructed, we waited for about an hour after practice and after the rest of the VIP group and fans left. Jason said that he would take us on a more detailed private tour of the facilities but that we had to wait so we would not disturb the players.

And now a small break for a funny story. Staff writer James, who received his press pass that day, came out in shock after visiting the locker room. Why was he in shock? He said that he never expected to see so many naked men in one place. Apparently, that is the norm in an NFL locker room. Everyone found that pretty amusing.

James had a little talk with Matt Barrows in there. Barrows shared a little bit about his locker room ethics. Barrows said, "I have what is called a 'No Pants Policy.' If you aren't wearing pants, I'm not interviewing you." Classic Barrows.


The second part of our tour of headquarters

Imagine when you were a kid and your walked into a candy store for the very first time or stepped through those gates at Disneyland and saw a magical world around you. That is what it was like stepping through those lobby doors at 4949 Centennial Boulevard. There was a front desk to our left next to what we would later learn is the team's meeting room. On the right was a waiting area. Right in front of us was a giant glass wall case containing numerous championship team photos, the George S. Halas trophies that the team won from each of their NFC Championship games, and all five of the team's Super Bowl rings. The Super Bowl trophies had not yet been brought back in from the fan area outside.


Jason continued our tour by taking us upstairs. Now, we must have a knack for getting in the way of the 49ers quarterbacks, because just as it happened earlier in the day, we had to stop to let them pass at the stop of the stairs. Once we got past them, we saw another front desk upstairs that had the actual helmets of every team that the 49ers play this season carefully arranged on the back wall. The coaching staff does this every year so players walk in and see their opponents every time they are in that building. There were a total of 14 helmets. On the top row were all the teams that the 49ers play at home (Patriots, Jets, Redskins, Eagles, Lions). Sitting along the middle row were the NFC West teams (Rams, 49ers, Cardinals, Seahawks). The away teams were aligned on the bottom row (Bills, Dolphins, Cowboys, Giants, Saints).


As we turned the corner, we saw the signed jerseys of all the 49ers players currently in the Hall of Fame. They were hanging on the wall with pictures of the players right above each of their respective jerseys. For legendary former coach Bill Walsh, they had one of his polo shirts hanging right beside Y.A. Tittle's jersey. Jason mentioned that they would soon have to put up Fred Dean's jersey. Dean will enter the Hall of Fame in August.


As we continued through the halls, we saw members of the coaching staff going over playbook information in one conference room. Down the hall in a bigger conference room, we saw even more members of the coaching staff watching film of today's practice. For those that have never been to training camp, the team records every practice by placing two cameras atop a giant platform that is raised high above the west side of the main practice area.


Down the hall we saw Chrissy Mauck, the team's Internet Services Manager, typing away in her office, probably working on some 49ers.com feature. Surprisingly, Chrissy is very camera shy and made every effort to get out of view from our cameras. So much for us taking a pictures with the famous Chrissy Mauck. Maybe she has a thing against 49erswebzone.com. Obviously she has never seen all of the "Chrissy is hot" threads in the forums. We love you Chrissy!

Hanging on another wall were numerous photos of 49ers players past and present. Apparently every time a players wins Player of the Week, they get their picture hung on along these walls. There were numerous photos of players like Steve Young and some current favorites like Frank Gore. I had to seek out the photo of one of my personal favorites, running back Garrison Hearst.


Further down the hall was a meeting room for the coaching staff that comfortably seats 12. This room looked more like a big meeting or conference room that one would find in a corporate office. The windows to this room overlooked the team's practice field.


Then we passed the offices of the coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz has two laptops and a few family photos on his desk. It was not quite as big as I expected, but still very nice. Martz seems to keep his office very tidy. It looked well organized.

Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky's office had an exercise bike in it along with a small television and what appeared to be a stereo. Just one laptop in his office though.

We did not get to see Nolan's office. It was further down another hallway.

Back near the stairs (we completed a full 360), there were some cubicles for front office personnel like Events Management Specialist, Teri Ramos, and Website Multimedia Coordinator, Scott Kegley. All were aligned with various 49ers items stuck to the wall.


Team meeting rooms

We headed back downstairs and were taken into the team's meeting room. This was through the door that I mentioned earlier, next to the lobby desk. We were not allowed to take pictures in here (top secret stuff -- I could tell you, but then I would have to kill you). However, we all got to sit at the tables and chairs just like the players do. This is the same room that you see on 49ers TV at 49ers.com or CBS5 when Nolan gives his weekly press conferences. You know, the room with the podium where he addresses the media and where guys like Maiocco, Barrows and others grill him with questions. It is also the room where draft picks and free agent signings are officially introduced to the media. Ever see a picture of a new member of the 49ers family holding up his new jersey? That takes place in this room.

Through another door, there were even more smaller meeting rooms. Each position on the team had a room for their own private meetings with their position coaches. For example, the running backs have their own room where they can go over game film and discuss plays. Along one wall outside these meeting rooms were the plaques for every winner of the annual Bobb McKittrick Award.

Another room was populated with theater style seating. This is a room where players can go over game film together and it looked like it would seat a lot of people. The seats were roomy for us, but one of our staff members asked Jason, "Are you telling me that all the players fit in these seats?" After all, NFL players are huge. He answered that they do. Then we asked where Larry Allen sits. He replied, "Larry Allen sits wherever he wants."

On the way out, we saw the team's 2008 motto hanging above the door to the main meeting room. On the way out, a number of us tapped the "One Game at a Time" sign hanging there in a true Fighting Irish "Play Like a Champion Today" manner.

The tour wraps up

That wrapped up what was truly one of the more memorable moments in our lives (says the unmarried guy with no kids). Back in the lobby, we got to see a package being sent out for Frank Gore (not Frank Gore's package which James may have seen earlier in the locker room). We took some group photos together with Jason. One person even told us, "This is the best PR guy in the NFL." After the day that we just had, there is no way we could argue with that statement. Jason was an absolute delight and one of the friendliest guys we had ever met. He represents our team well. We were all so thankful that he put this together for us.


The 49ers interview 49erswebzone.com

After the tour was over, Kyle arranged an interview with Kristin Swartzlander, a member of the team's public relations group. She interviewed myself and 49erswebzone.com's editor, Valerie, asking numerous questions about the origin of the site, what we do, how we do it, and the forum community. It was a pleasant conversation. Apparently, the interview was for a story that they were considering doing about 49erswebzone.com. The story would appear in the Gameday magazine that is made available at the team's home games. We mentioned how the forum community is like a really large family. People help each other out, pitch in money if they can't make it to our tailgate parties, offer places to sleep if some need to save money on a hotel, and how one couple even met on the site, got married, and had a child together.

Thank you

On behalf of the entire 49erswebzone.com staff and the others that joined us, I want to thank everyone within the 49ers organization that helped make this unforgettable experience possible. We hope to keep in contact with everyone that we met. I hope that this article had a lot to offer for those fans that never had an opportunity like this.

Feel free to leave your comments below.