This year is our second trip to St. Vincent College for the opening of training camp. Our first trip consisted of me, my daughter and brother. This trip were my daughter, wife, two life long friends and me. First of all, the atmosphere created by the steeple on what appears to be some kind of house of worship, gives camp a feeling of holiness or a holy aura. The Steelers and the City(? town) of Latrobe did a great job of welcoming us and had great direction and free parking. The Steelers set up activities for kids of all ages. For those who want to show off their athletic prowess can kick, throw, run and maneuver their way through obstacles, you can try your skill at doing play by play for one of a number of great steelers moments including Franco and Terry's Immaculate Reception and Fast Willies Run during SB 40. There is food to eat, drinks and other refreshments, free information about the players at camp. Raffle tickets for games, signed cleats and trucks to name a few. And a couple Steelers' merchandise store outside in a tent and in the student union. You can get your 2012 Training Camp Shirt, helmets, footballs, mini helmets, football cards, photos or other items to sign or keep as memorabilia. The people working were very friendly and helpful.
After you've had enough of the running around, I really enjoyed sitting in Arthur Rooney bleachers to watch the team scrimmage with full pads. You can hear the trash talk, coaches coaching and much of the banter between both teams. It was fun to watch and listen to Clark getting into Emmanuel Sanders head the day that Brown signed his contract. It seemed to me that Clark wanted Emmanuel to know that he had to step up and play under control no matter what. Ike Taylor go physical with Sanders off of the line of scrimmage and Sanders got the best of him one time and Taylor got the best of him the next. When Sanders beat Taylor, Taylor put out his hands for Sanders to toss him the ball. But instead, Sanders tossed the ball towards the QB almost saying, you get this ball when you earn it. It was at that moment that Ike started jawing at Sanders, then Clark jumped in. No one crossed any lines. It was like three brothers trying to show who was the best, who was going to get the other. No more, no less. But great showmanship and team building. It was definitely one of the highlights of my two day stay for Training Camp this year and I am planning on going again with a couple friends, my wife and daughter.
Finally, an important part of any visit is the chance to meet the players. There are basically three times that you can get autographs: before practice while the players head to practice. There are hundreds of fans cheering for the players to sign something. So they can't get them all. Plus they have to be at practice by 2:55 and Coach Tomlin isn't going to say, it is okay that you were late since you were signing. He would likely say you owe me and if you want to sign before practice, get out earlier. You can also get autographs when the players leave practice. You never know who will leave at that time because some of them have signing responsibilities at various locations for Members of Steelers Club. And the last and best place to get autographs, I am going to wait until next year to tell you so that I can get a few that I missed this year.......Nah, members of Steeler Nation never holds back to other members. The last way to get autographs is waiting the hour until after they shower and walk up to their dorms. Players like Big Ben, Troy, Ryan Clark, Brown, etc are great on their way to their dorms and try to autograph as many as he can.
There are also special events that you can meet players like Breakfast with Brett Keisel (Antonio Brown came along for a few minutes but had to leave early for press conference about his contract). It was awesome!! He wanted to get as many things signed as possible so there were no chances to get pictures with him, although you could get a picture of him signing with you in the picture. And he signed for FREE!!! That's right nothing. He signed a mini helmet for me and a hat for my daughter. He even winked at her. She as so excited.
Everything that the Steelers did at Training Camp was top notch and incredibly organized and fun. The more you go, the easier it is to get a routine and the more relaxed it is. You may want to bring a chair, binolulars, sun glasses and sun screen, sharpie pen, black and silver and or towel, umbrella (for shade mainly), a bag to carry things, items to get signed. But is you go for two days like we did this year, you get to correct mistakes the second day-----which we did..
I have been to Lehigh for the Eagles Training Camp in the past and the difference is night and day. You have to go to appreciate the amazing story it is and how great everyone is. A few highlights of player interactions are: Ryan Clark walking around the crowd talking to everyone having fun, Brett Keisel talking to women who went to the women's training camp with fake beards and got a picture taken with him and the ladies IN THE MIDDLE OF PRACTICE!! He was enjoying the experience and the fans. Ben made a point to try to sign as many autographs as he could after he showered. He was very nice otherwise. Polomalu was simply the quickest guy out there. Not only was he fast, one of the fastest, but he was definitely the quickest. He is amazing to watch life. He also walked around with a smile and saying hi and greeting his fans when he could. Players do try to sign as many as they can but people who do not get their item signed takes it personally and it seems like that player was being a jerk. A couple years ago when Allan Faneca played for the Steelers, he was signing as many as he could. He got to me and bled on my ball. He actually apologized. He was so gracious but he had to be treated and get showered so he did sign every autograph. we were the fans who Big Ben missed. He was signing dozens of autographs before he go to us, then he skipped about 50 of us and started again. How can you be upset? He would have had to sign over a thousand. But he did come back after he showered to sign anyone he missed. Finally, there was not a single player who was rude or who didn't seem like he appreciated the fans. Some of the younger guys ate it up and made sure every autograph was signed. Chris Rainy, Jerrod Johnson, Chris Carter, Stevenson Sylvester, Derrick Williams, Weslye Saunders (although I missed him), Sean Spence, and David Paulson were just some of the players who seemed to be loving the experience and enjoying interacting with fans, giving advice to kids to work hard in school and making sure they sign any item that a child had (even if we knew they were being used by an adult to get autographs).
If you are a Steelers Fan, you owe it to your self to come to Saint Vincent for training camp sooner then later. You will not regret it and it will be unforgettable. You never know if the Steelers will some day join the rest of the NFL and take Training Camp back home. I hope not, it is such a special experience for fans of all ages. .