The plan was to move into the future and provide state-of-the-art training facilities to the Philadelphia Eagles and the fan base, first with the design and construction of the NovaCare Complex and then with the opening of Lincoln Financial Field. Moving from the outdated Veterans Stadium was paramount for an Eagles franchise looking to take "that next step" under then-head coach Andy Reid and Chairman & CEO Jeffrey Lurie.
In 2001, the NovaCare Complex opened, first to the organization that walked through the doors for the first time in awe at the 8,000-square-foot workout facility, the 189-seat auditorium with the first digitally capable projector in all of Philadelphia to provide a cinema-like experience, the everything-at-your fingertips cafeteria, and athletic training tools that moved the Eagles ahead of the curve in the sporting landscape. It was a gleaming new world for the Eagles.
Veterans Stadium was yesterday's news. Ahead was a bold new world with unimaginable technology as the Eagles converted the Philadelphia Naval Hospital, which had been closed since 1988 and broke ground for the Eagles' new home in 2000 – inviting new free agent signee Jon Runyan to the groundbreaking ceremony and handing him a shovel to use.
The indoor practice facility, adjacent to the NovaCare Complex, wasn't finished until a year after the NovaCare Complex actually opened.
"It was kind of like buying a trash can and, for years, trying to turn it into a diamond," Lurie said in March of 2001 when the NovaCare Complex opened for a media tour. "I think today really marks the beginning of the grooming of that diamond."
Now the NovaCare Complex is 20 years old and has stayed modern as the home of the Philadelphia Eagles. The team has remodeled it to fit the needs of a growing organization – there are more than 100 additional team employees since 2001 – and, if you need any more evidence than the last 12 months, the changing times in our society.
"The NovaCare Complex is our home. That's how we feel when we walk in there," President Don Smolenski said on Wednesday. "It's a special place and for those of us who were at the Vet, where we had no windows, to come here and have all of the natural light, it really is a home and it has a homey feel to it. As with every home, we've remodeled it over the years, we've renovated it, we've been creative. We've converted closets into offices and other office space into studios. We've tried to use every nook and cranny to absorb the increase in our staffing.
"We've kept it looking good and we've used it to impress free agents. I know the coaching staff – I gave Nick (Sirianni) and some of the guys a tour around the facility and they were very impressed, and it was very gratifying."
The NovaCare Complex opened its doors on February 3, 2001. A marvel at the time, it's transformed over the years, but the home of the Philadelphia Eagles remains a state-of-the-art facility.
The goal has been, and always will be, to provide the football team with the best working environment and top-notch facilities with which to train. The team began using the NovaCare Complex and its three 100-yard fields as the home for Training Camp in 2013 and hasn't looked back.
"We've been able to keep our facility state-of-the-art and comfortable for our players so that they get the best treatment, the best access, and that they have the best working environment so that they can go out and work on the field," Smolenski said. "The NovaCare Complex and training facility was one of our pillars for success. A franchise quarterback (Donovan McNabb at that time), a state-of-the-art training facility and a state-of-the-art stadium, a head coach, a player personnel department, those are the things that Jeffrey Lurie, 20 years ago, defined as our pillars for success. Twenty years later, the NovaCare Complex is still standing strong."
Of course, none of the previous renovations – including a mock suite in the original design that prospective luxury suite owners would walk through to get a simulation of what it would be like at Lincoln Financial Field, which opened in 2003, that turned into offices that now house Eagles Entertainment's staff, a television studio, and state-of-the-art control room – prepared the Eagles for 2020. The NovaCare Complex closed down in mid-March and the team retrofitted the entire facility to provide the kind of physical distancing required by the NFL in its COVID-19 plan. The football operations department operated through the entirety of the season at the NovaCare Complex, buffeted by virtual meetings, and the Eagles made it through with minimal positive tests and disruptions, a nod to all involved.
For the non-football staff, the NovaCare Complex has largely been off-limits since March. Smolenski looks ahead to 2021 and the season with optimism for everyone.
"The future is filled with hope and hopefully everyone will get vaccinated and we can bring the family back together again and also bring our fans back together. That's what keeps me motivated and inspired every day," Smolenski said.