The Steelers' Southside Practice Facility, Up Close and Personal

PITTSBURGH PA - JANUARY 23: Jamaal Westerman #55 of the New York Jets attempts to block a punt by Jeremy Kapinos #13 of the Pittsburgh Steelers and is called for roughing the kicker in the third quarter of the 2011 AFC Championship game at Heinz Field on January 23 2011 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Last year as I was looking for something else entirely on Steelers.com I saw an announcement of the Dean's Dairy Women's 202 Event. When I looked at all of the cool things that would take place at the event, I couldn't wait to sign up. That is, until I noticed that I would in fact be conducting a concert during that time. It was a tough choice, but in the end I had to go with my job. But I vowed to go the next year, assuming that the same thing didn't happen again. (Friday and Saturday nights during early-mid December tend to be taken up with concerts.)

So when the date for this year's event was set I rushed to my calendar. Lo and behold, not only did I not have a concert, but it was my birthday. (At my advanced age you don't always remember these things.) It was clearly fate, and I signed up immediately.

But how was the actual event? Did it live up to my expectations?

In a word, yes. The first part of the event was my favorite. The new secondary coach, Carnell Lake, talked about his players, what his job is, and broke down some film with us. His session was full of great footbally information, and I'm going to share that in a separate article that will come out next week, after I've transcribed the recording and written it up. The rest of the evening was more in the human interest line, and that's what you're getting today.

Cafeteria_mediumThe event was held in the Steelers' Southside indoor practice facility and training/therapy center, which is pretty interesting by itself. As John Simpson, the Steelers' Marketing Events Manager, explained, unlike Heinz Field it isn't a "marketing" facility—it is where the players spend most of their time. As a result the facilities are, as he put it, pretty bare-bones. I thought that was an interesting comment, because while I wouldn't characterize the facility as ultra luxurious, it was nice. (Note the attention to detail in the tray and cutlery holder in the cafeteria.) And it is, after all, indoors. Heck, the Bengals still don't have an indoor practice field, although I presume they do have indoor lockers and plumbing.

One of the items on the itinerary was a locker room tour. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take photos of the locker room. The reason is that the lockers are full of personal things, and the players aren't that keen on having pictures of their stuff pasted all over Facebook and so on. And who can blame them?

I still think it is unreasonable that members of the press, male and female, are allowed into the locker room right after a game to shove microphones in the players' faces and otherwise harass them while they are trying to get dressed . I don't see why there can't be a designated media room where the players are expected to make an appearance after they are dressed, within a reasonable amount of time. But that's a different set of lockers, and a rant for a different day.

I didn't take any pictures in the locker room, but I took some notes. It was very interesting to see the state that the various lockers were in and what guys had in them. I strongly suspect that they were encouraged to tidy them up a bit after Friday's practice, knowing that 180 women were going to be checking them out. But although they were all reasonably neat, the lockers seemed remarkably full of personality in many cases. Here are the things that stood out to me:

Dennis Dixon's locker is bristling with shoes. Athletic shoes, mainly, but in all colors and shapes, although presumably only one size. It's hard to imagine he can wear all of them. There are shoe shelves in the lockers, and those are full as well. I guess he likes shoes.

James Harrison has a locker on the end of a short row, and also the locker next to his main locker. It seemed like he was being kept away from the others for their own safety, the way you might put a rather irascible dog on a short chain. (I actually hear he's a really nice guy off the field. Hard to believe, though, when you look at his eyes during a football game.)

David Johnson's locker is stacked with tubs of arginine and other powdered supplements. A lot of the guys have a jug or two of these, but Johnson takes it to a new level.

Brett Keisel's locker is full of photos of his wife and kids, a finger painting presumably done by his older son, and some really big shorts. Max Stark's locker has the largest shoes I've ever seen in it. He is a seriously big man.

Heath Miller (who, according to one of the cafeteria workers is the nicest guy on the team) has a locker full of mail. You know those white plastic bins about the size of a milk crate that you see at the post office? Well, there was one of them in his locker, absolutely overflowing with what looked like that day's mail haul. There was a package for him in the mailroom as well. He's obviously a popular guy.

Isaac Redman's locker is—well, I don't know quite how to describe it. It is as if he put everything in the locker with enormous precision, but the force of his personality disrupted the molecules in the various items a bit. Or perhaps the earth tilted very slightly when he walked away. In other words, it was tidy, almost.

Ben had two lockers, one on either side of a corner. (Most of the veteran players of any fame whatsoever have two lockers.) The second locker is clearly just for overflow. They were both fairly neat. The main locker had two pictures in it. One was a very small photo of what I assume is his dad and stepmom. It took me a minute to figure out what the other one was. It was an autographed Brett Keisel football card. Something tells me that is an inside joke.

And finally, Troy's locker. As you would expect, it is full of meaning and nuance. There are lots of small icons on one side. The other side has a few more icons, but is mostly pictures of his wife and children. And on the shelf that holds the toiletries (if I can employ that word for the products used by football players) there is, indeed, a bottle of Head and Shoulders.

As you walk into the locker room you see an enormous white board. On it was the schedule for Friday and Saturday. Here is Friday's schedule:

Headgear_medium7:00 - 8:30 - Treatment

7:00 - 8:30 - Breakfast

7:00 - 8:30 - A. M. Lift

8:20 - Special Teams Meeting

9:00 - Team Meeting

9:30 - Group/Unit Meetings

10:45 - Practice - Field #1 - Helmets - Foam opt. - Sweats

12:30 - 1:30 - Lunch

1:00 - 2:00 - Winning Edge Meeting

On one side of the board is an area for Notes. I was amused at this week's note:

Keep Up To

Date. Look

At The Schedule

As We Have

A Sun./Thurs.

Game The Next

2 Weeks.


Charlie_mediumAfter that we looked at the weight room. (The "headgear" sign is posted in the weight room, as well as posters about managing your money and other NFL stuff.) I marveled at the enormous weights on the machines (although I couldn't help but wonder if some of that was for our benefit.) We then headed to the indoor practice field for sessions with Charlie Batch, Antonio Brown, and Greg Warren/Jeremy Kapinos. (We were split into three groups and rotated between the stations.)


Charlie talked briefly about quarterbacking and showed us the basic technique. There was a large net with three pockets in it, and we took turns trying to throw the ball into the pocket. I sucked at this. I'm not sure I ever even hit the net. Those balls are enormous. I can't see how they can even hold onto them. After a while Charlie pointed out that as a quarterback you seldom get to throw to a stationary target, and began to move the net as we threw. I'm happy to say that I didn't suck any worse at that than I did at hitting a stationary target. One of the women almost took Charlie himself out with an errant ball, which seemed like a bad idea. We all signed an injury waiver form prior to being admitted, but I don't know whether Charlie had done so.


Next was Antonio Brown's station. It was pretty chaotic, as most of the time was taken up with women posing for photos with him while their friends manned the camera. I don't know if he minded or not, but there were a number of young, good-looking woman in my group, and he seemed to be enjoying himself. We didn't learn much of anything about route-running, though, which was what we were supposed to be doing. This was a disappointment to me.

Antonio_signing_stuff_mediumFor the last session, Greg Warren and Jeremy Kapinos split us into two groups. Half of us learned to punt while the other half tried long-snapping, and then we switched. The guys were really nice and very patient, and it was quite enjoyable.

For those of you who have done neither, here's what we learned:

The hold for a long snap is really counter-intuitive. We spent half our time just trying to remember what it was when our turn came around. I'm better at that than at quarterbacking, just.

It turns out that the difference between a long punt and one that you want to hit the ground and roll back towards you (Aussie-style) is that the nose of the ball is facing down when you drop it for the latter, rather than flat. I'm not very good at either style.

Since we've had so many injuries this year I thought it would be a good idea to get that information out, in case the coaches have to pull somebody out of the stands to punt one day. (Hopefully it won't be me, unless they want an onside punt that might not make it more than a yard or so.) But fortunately Kapinos seems quite sturdy. He's certainly been punting well. One of the women asked him about playing his old team last February, and he made a face. He indicated that he hadn't particularly enjoyed his time on the Packers' squad, and that he really, really had wanted to beat them. I'm hoping he'll have another chance in a couple of months.

And even though I said that this wasn't about the footbally stuff, I have a bonus for those of you who have read all of this. I asked Jeremy what happened with the infamous delay of game penalty—not this past Sunday, but several weeks ago. In other words, I wanted to know whether the delay of game penalty prior to the final punt in the Baltimore game was deliberate, as some of us speculated, to give him a better position for the punt, or whether it was a screw-up by somebody or other.

He said that it was his first week back with the Steelers, which I had forgotten, and that he wasn't entirely sure what was going on or what he was supposed to do. Apparently the intention was to try and draw somebody offside while the field goal unit was out, and then they would punt if that didn't work. (It makes a variation on Ben trying it, with every team in the NFL, and probably most of the teams in the UFL as well, being perfectly aware that they are never, ever going to run a play. Which is sheer genius, if you intend to actually do so in, say, the playoffs or the Super Bowl.)

Jeremy indicated that the end result was what was intended, but that it didn't look very organized. It did, however, result in a fabulous punt that pinned the Ravens at their own 8-yard line, which should have been enough. It's a shame it wasn't...

Stay tuned to find out what Carnell Lake thinks of his players, what his job is like, and what he had to say about the Kansas City game. And if you're a woman and can get to Pittsburgh for next year's event I definitely recommend it.

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