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John DeShazier: White Sulphur Springs ready for Saints to come marching in

Team arrives Wednesday for start of training camp

White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. – Banners in windows and swaying from streetlights, the cases housing framed jerseys covering prominent locations on walls, air so layered with excitement that it's almost visible.

White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., never has seen anything like it and never again will, because there only can be one first. And White Sulphur Springs' first – as in, the first NFL team to pay an extended visit to the city of about 4,000 residents – will be the New Orleans Saints, who will pour into town en masse Wednesday to be the honored guests of a rolling tour, which is expected to be accompanied by resident-lined streets.

"This has been an exciting time for most of the people in the area," White Sulphur Springs Mayor Lloyd Haynes said. "Nothing like this has ever been in the city of White Sulphur Springs, so naturally, the citizens are really up in the air with anticipation with such a big event occurring in our city. It's new ground for us.

"We tried to think about some of the things that are similar. We just had the Greenbrier Classic (a PGA Tour event); we try to lean upon some of the experiences that we encountered during that time and we try to use some of that to prepare us for the things that we're going to face during the Saints marching in."

Photos of the setup for 2014 New Orleans Saints Training Camp presented by Verizon at The Greenbrier on Monday, July 21, 2014. Photos taken by Alex Restrepo. (New Orleans Saints photos)

But possibly, and perhaps probably, that won't be proper preparation for what's to come.

The level of enthusiasm fueled by an improbable union – an NFL team from the Gulf South and a city/region that had the vision and wherewithal to pour approximately $30 million into fields and facilities that would be suitable to draw a team for training camp.

"Out here, we have what we would call in our neck of the woods, hills and hollers," said Jim Justice, owner of the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, the host site of training camp.

"We had to haul a lot dirt and we had to compact a lot of dirt. And we had to get the site prepared first and foremost. We had to get the field sodded by May 10. We beat that timeline, we had the field fully sodded by May 6. Then we just began preparing the site, getting the building up."

The "building," where the team will have its weight room, meeting rooms, locker rooms, offices, etc., is complete minus a few cosmetic touch-ups.

The city is more than ready, too.

"Who would have dreamed that a little town named White Sulphur Springs, in the middle of West Virginia, would be hosting the New Orleans Saints? We are very excited," said business owner Ruth Miller, whose shop has Saints paraphernalia for sale.

"I think it's an experience that (locals) get to have that they've never had before, being able to go to the practices and maybe the scrimmage. I think it's an economic boost, and I think the excitement once the Saints get here will be on the other side. Because we're one of the best kept secrets there is."

Said resident Sadie Fraley: "We've kind of adopted the Saints as our state team and we're ready to support them and get to meet some of them, and watch them practice and cheer them on through the rest of the year. It's very exciting for this small town.

"We're proud that they're coming here and we're going to be proud of their accomplishments as they go forward."

Undoubtedly, it's a relationship that White Sulphur Springs hopes to extend.

"I am bursting with pride because this is unbelievable for West Virginia," Justice said. "For West Virginia to have an NFL team, it's just unbelievable. We're a little bit underdogs, (so) this is monstrous for us, to have an NFL team in West Virginia.

"(The union will) last forever. It really will. I'm very hopeful that they are very pleased.

"At the end of the day, what we want to do is, we want to win the Super Bowl. I say 'we,' meaning, I'm all in with the Saints. We want to make our team better, that's the whole goal. It isn't just to come to West Virginia to hang out, it's to make the team better. And I promise that's what all the people with the Saints are all about."

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