They come from Cozad, Neb., and Tyler, Tex., to sit on the hoods of Japanese-made cars and watch "America's team" practice. Like the Dallas Cowboys themselves, their fans have become a summer institution at the Cowboys' training camp at Cal Lutheran.
Whether they're seated on wooden bleachers, the hoods of their sports cars, or on lawn chairs propped in the dirt, fans jostle every morning and afternoon for the best vantage of their favorite player. Some fans come from across the country, while others watch from the balcony of their apartments on Mountclef Boulevard in Thousand Oaks.
They come for the same reason: to get close to the Cowboys.
"It's bigger than ever," said Gil Brandt, Dallas Cowboys vice president and director of player personnel. "It seems like every year there is more enthusiasm and growth, in part because the community keeps growing. The players and everybody throughout the organization treat the fans so good.
"It is the kind of thing that the organization has built up through the years. The kids carry the players' helmets to practice and mothers send them cookies. And there are a lot of people who come by every year from all over the country."
Coach Tom Landry is usually the most accessible Cowboy. He politely poses for pictures and signs autographs long after practice ends.
Larry Hendricks and his mother have made the pilgrimage from their home in Cozad to the Cowboys' camp--more than 2,000 miles--five times. They stay three weeks before driving to Dallas for the Cowboys' first preseason home game.
While in Thousand Oaks, the Hendrickses have watched the Cowboys scrimmage the Raiders and San Diego Chargers. A recent Dallas scrimmage against the Raiders attracted more than 10,000 spectators, Brandt said.
"Thousand Oaks has gotten more publicity than any other city its size because of the Dallas Cowboys' training camp," Brandt said.
The Cowboy practices are also popular with celebrities such as actors Gary Busey of "The Buddy Holly Story" and David Keith of "An Officer and a Gentleman."
Training camp runs through Aug. 28. Weekday practices run from 9 a.m. to noon and from 3 to 5:30 p.m. The Cowboys play their annual blue-and-white intra-squad scrimmage Saturday at 3 p.m. at Mt. Clef Stadium. Admission is $3.50, $1.50 for children 12 and under.