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My thrill ride: 21 camps in 24 days

It struck me a couple of weeks ago when I received a humorous but disappointing e-mail from Stephanie Druley, ESPN's NFL senior coordinating producer.

"We have to get you a different bus," she wrote. "Ozzy Osbourne wants yours."

I didn't know whether to laugh or bite off a bat's head. Then I saw hope in Druley's e-mail: "You might get an upgrade."

Who doesn't like an upgrade?

Soon another e-mail from Druley arrived: "Your bus now has Wi-Fi and DirectTV."

And a full-sized bed, two smaller bunk beds, a bathroom, a shower and a kitchen. You name it, it has it.

My wife, Micki, saw a photo of the bus and asked whether she could go. Answer: Yes, but there will be other men on the bus.

Then she asked whether our dogs could go, too. I knew the answer to that one: No. Maybe Ozzy will take 'em.

Guilty pleasure

It's almost an admission of guilt.

"Mort Goes To Camp" is a bus tour of 21 NFL training camps that we'll kick off Friday when we meet at Jerry's World -- Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

"Don't you always go to camp?" a friend asked.

Well, lately, the answer has been yes and no, but more no than yes.

For the past three summers, three major stories have commanded my attention and availability at ESPN.

In 2008, it was Brett Favre's first unretirement adventure, which extended two weeks into training camp.

In 2007, it was Michael Vick's shocking dogfighting prosecution and eventual guilty plea.

In 2006, it was the NFL's search for a new commissioner, culminating in the election of Roger Goodell.

(How ironic is it that we now have the perfect storm of Favre's latest dalliance with playing again as Goodell considers Vick's fate as an NFL player?)

Because the Favre-Vick-Goodell stories were fluid and developing, my ability to visit camps was hampered somewhat. It seemed as if I was always hitting some sort of travel delay at the camps I did attend. Consequently, I felt a little more disconnected from people in the game the past three summers.

Everyone I know in the business will tell you there is nothing more productive than face-to-face interaction. You can get more done sitting for five or 10 minutes with a player, coach, general manager or owner than you can in 30 minutes on the phone, and nobody has 30 minutes anymore. Now, once you do connect in person, phone conversations are a little smoother and briefer.

So I threw out the training camp bus tour idea to a few ESPN execs more than once in the past nine months, and they seemed intrigued. Bring a producer and a camera person, get a driver and let's go. I could talk and write between camp sites.

When the economy crashed, I thought maybe it wasn't the right time to renew my request. I did anyway, and it was embraced. The NFL is the NFL, after all.

I didn't know what kind of bus I'd get. The John Madden bus? The Tony Kornheiser bus? A minivan?

It was determined after shopping around that a real bus was economically feasible. In fact, I was supposed to get the bus Kornheiser used for much of his two-year trek as a game analyst for "Monday Night Football" until the Osbourne, uh, intervention.

So Friday we start at Cowboys Stadium and see the new Eighth Wonder of the World. Then we'll drive to San Antonio to see the Cowboys in camp, head to Metairie, La., to visit the Saints and then hit the road for Green Bay.

Two tough omissions ... for now

Setting the schedule has been tedious, and somehow, the Houston Texans are omitted. That's a big disappointment, because I think they're probably a playoff team. The Bengals also are missing, which is too bad, because they're an interesting story and I'd love to park my ride next to Chad Ochocinco's vehicle. We'll end Aug. 22 and 23 in Florida with the Dolphins. They'll be our 21st team, but there could be a few audibles. No, I can almost guarantee there will be some audibles.

I am determined to have fun, so just a warning or maybe a tip about this trip: It might not be all football. The journey figures to include some intriguing moments that we'll share on ESPN, ESPN.com and Twitter (@mortreport, where I'll tweet and alert you to our ESPN updates).

Of course, the trip will cover plenty of football angles. I hope to get more insight on schematic trends, perhaps what defensive coordinators have dreamed up to stop the Wildcat. And I look forward to standing on the sidelines, where I can check out a player's power and speed, and sense his passion, confidence or even fear.

I will especially enjoy comparing how coaches differ in their camp approaches, which often depend on whether they have a veteran team or a young team. I love to watch offensive and defensive line coaches -- all position coaches -- teach techniques. And I love that coaches love what they do.

One of my favorite moments with a coach was three summers ago when I shared a room with Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore at the Manning Passing Academy camp at Nicholls State in Louisiana. Moore was 68 years young at that time. I'm an early riser, but I decided to sleep in one morning, so I set my alarm for 6 a.m.

When I last left Moore that night, he was sharing fascinating tales with another colorful old warhorse, Jim Hanifan, who had brought his grandson to the Manning camp. And I know Moore didn't hit the bed until 3 a.m. because I heard him come in, looked at my clock, rolled over and went back asleep. Only I was awakened at 5 a.m. by the sounds of the shower roaring through the thin walls of the dorm suite. Then I heard the sink just outside my door in full use, so I opened the door and there was a sight to behold: Moore, in his boxer shorts, bent over the sink, brushing his teeth with great vigor.

Moore stood up, turned and looked my way with his mouth foaming with toothpaste as he worked at his brushing.

"Coach, come on," I said. "It ain't training camp yet!"

"Morrrrrrt," Moore said in his classic, deep, quivering accent as toothpaste foam flew everywhere, "you gotta love it!"

Coach, see you in Terre Haute, Ind., on Aug. 7. I know the love of game remains because you "retired" and you still will be running Peyton Manning's offense. I'm not surprised.

You see, I remember what Moore told me back in that dorm room one night: "I'll die coaching, or they'll have to fire me before I'll ever get out."

See if Ozzy Osbourne can have as much fun on his tour as I do on mine. I doubt it.

Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN.