The following is Part 2 of one of BTSC's loyal readers (MDM's) experience at the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp in Latrobe prior to the start of the 2008 season. You can read Part 1 here. Again, many thanks to him for reaching out to me with the idea. And let that be a reminder to any of you all who may have an idea brewing in your head for a main page post or two - by all means, holler at me anytime and we'll talk. I will be utterly appreciative and willing to work with you, that's for sure. Happy Friday y'all. Cheers. -Michael Bean-
Following the advice of the local sports shop owner, we leave the hotel about two and a half hours early in order to try to get a good seat for viewing our last practice. Not surprising, we're not exactly first in line when we arrive; KDKA is already on the scene. They are interviewing a few fans, mostly the kids in line, asking questions about who their favorite player is and how they think the team will do. We wander into the small shop set up outside the gate and inspect its black and gold paraphernalia.
"Now I see how they pay players hundreds of millions of dollars" my friend comments. It's true: the shop is set up to sell over-priced trinkets to the woefully bored as they wait for the fence to open. Once practice is over, however, there is a different shop set up outside the third field (the one Casey was banished to, far right if your sitting in the stands) that contains some great deals: Tee-shirts for $5, almost half price jerseys (they are from the previous year) and other surplus goods. If you are in the mood to further outfit your black and gold wardrobe, this is stop number one.
Practice is once again entertaining. The receivers are running deep routes and playing one-on-one with defensive backs. As competition heats up, so too does the crowd's interest. Some fans root for their favorite defensive player* while others root for the receivers. Once the 11-on-11 competition starts, it's a wild, game-like atmosphere. "Third and 10" the announcer tells the crowd, and the team lines up on the pre-arranged line of scrimmage. "Hike!" Roethlisberger yells, and organized chaos erupts on the field. He scans the field, steps up in the pocket to avoid the rushing outside linebackers, and heaves a ball toward Hines. The ball sails over his head by two feet. Defense wins again.
*As a Steelers fan, I feel obliged to root for our defense regardless of context; I'd even root for them against the offense in a blood drive. I just think it's in the genetic makeup of the Nation to do so.
A friend of mine would later remark that it takes the offense much longer to get in rhythm than the defense. This was true for the entire time we were at Latrobe; the defense dominated the offense in almost every drill. It did not make it any less exciting watching the goal-line drills or the third-and-10s, but the backfield was rarely "empty" after the ball was in play.
We had one last order of business to take care of before the long trek home: Meet coach Tomlin. There was a distinct trade-off associated with getting a picture with the coach: you need to leave practice about 10 minutes early in order to get in line. Coach is on a strict time limit* and will only pose for picture and make small talk with the natives for so long, usually 15 minutes. Leaving practice ten minutes early, however, means you will have to give up seeing the most exciting parts of practice: Goal line drills or third-and-goal. Although it's a daunting tradeoff, we do it anyways.
*I will say, that if I was the Steelers coach, this would be the last thing I'd want to do ten minutes after practice. There have to be a million things running through his head after watching practice for two hours - to have to shake hands and answers questions like "what's your favorite color?" has to be pretty far down the list of activities he'd like to be doing.
Coach Tomlin signs autographs in a small yellow tent near the family recreation area. There is a roped off line, and the student-staff tell fans to wait until Coach arrives. They tell us Coach usually makes it over about ten minutes after practice and we can ask one question and have one thing signed by him. Right on schedule, Coach comes walking up to the small yellow tent with one daughter in his arms and another following closely behind. The thing that struck me about Coach Tomlin is his energy level; the guy seems to never quit. We're in the middle of training camp and he's just endured another 12 hour day, yet he seems an energetic and boisterous as if he had just awoken.
I finally get up to meet Coach and he greets me with an lively, "What's up man?" I ask him to sign the helmet and he look at it for a moment, noticing that I almost had enough signatures to field a softball team. He picks an open spot, and signs away.
"I just want to say thank you for all you've done with the team." I said.
Coach replied: "No problem man, it's my job."