UAlbany expects larger crowds to watch Giants training camp

When the New York Giants return to the University at Albany for the 13th training camp in July, univ

When the New York Giants return to the University at Albany for the 13th training camp in July, university officials predict a record number of fans will turn out to see the newly crowned Super Bowl champions.

“I think what you will see in the 2008 camp is a significant increase in the level of interest at the fan level and the media level, because now we’re talking about the 2008 Super Bowl champions,” said University at Albany Director of Athletics Lee McElroy.

He expects attendance at this year’s camp will exceed 50,000.The all-time high of 45,040 was set in 2004.

The team’s 17-14 victory over the previously unbeaten and favored New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII on Sunday will bring more national attention to the camp, said McElroy, who said he received dozens of calls and e-mails all day Monday about the Super Bowl win and the summer training camp at the university.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning, the Super Bowl MVP, has new “star status,” and the national media will be at camp to scrutinize him and the team more closely, said McElroy, who watched the Super Bowl at the Executive Mansion with Gov. Eliot Spitzer and about 60 other invited guests on Sunday, including University at Albany football coach Bob Ford.

The University at Albany and the New York Giants have a two-year agreement that keeps the Giants training camp in the Capital Region through summer 2008. It includes a one year option for 2009.

McElroy said on Monday he’ll meet with Giants co-owner John Mara in early April to discuss how the 2007 training camp went, determine what needs to be tweaked in 2008 and how the university can make the camp experience better. He also plans to discuss the 2009 option.

University officials and elected leaders say the camp is an economic boon for the Capital Region and has attracted thousands of visitors and they want to keep the team here as long as possible.

Giants President and CEO John Mara said in July he expects the camp will remain at the University at Albany for the “foreseeable future,” but construction has begun on a new stadium near the current Giants Stadium, which is expected to open in 2010 and will include a training area.

McElroy said it’s too early to say what will happen. He said there are no dormitories for players at the new stadium and the team may need a facility that provides housing.

It’s a thrilling time for many people on the University at Albany campus, who put their heart and soul into Giants training camp each summer, McElroy said.

He said it’s particularly appropriate that in a year when the football practice field was named after former owners Wellington Mara and Robert Tisch, the Giants won the Super Bowl championship.

George M. Philip, interim president of UAlbany, said the Super Bowl victory will likely mean the largest crowds ever at the Giants summer training camp in July and August. “That is why, win or lose, we thank the Giants every year for the excitement they provide us. It is just that much better when we see their hard work result in an historic victory,” he said in a statement released on Monday.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who won his first Super Bowl as head coach of the Giants, said in July the camp allows the team members to find out who they are and the “team’s personality” begins to emerge at the camp.

Steve Tisch, the Giants chairman and executive vice president, said, “Athletically, emotionally and spiritually, it comes together in Albany.”

Before the first camp was held at the University at Albany in 1996, former Gov. George Pataki provided $2.3 million in state funding for improvements at the campus, including irrigating fields, installing fences and adding air conditioning in the recreation center, the physical education building and Freedom Quad, where players stay during camp .

Initially, the Albany Local Development Corp. provided funding, which ended in 1997. The Giants now pay all operational and food costs, and the team donates scholarship money.

The team has held its annual training camp at the University since 1996. Fan attendance has remained steady, but not as high as first predicted.

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