For this editor beginning his first trip around the Pittsburgh Steelers sun, the start of a new training camp is something much more than which players are hurt, who is standing out and who might be the training camp darling of the 2015 season. No, the start of a new Steelers season is much more than anything even related to football. The start of the season is about family.
The Steelers are a not just a team playing a sport, they represent a time when it brings my family, both close and distant, together for our annual traditions surrounding the black and gold. Game days are a given, but those phone calls to my brother and father game planning the upcoming week's opponent are what come to mind. The mindless arguing about me being the crazy Ben Roethlisberger homer which I now admit to being. Being the lone eternal optimist of the bunch who even in 2013 when the team started 0-4 wouldn't say they were out of the playoffs, and I was a Ryan Succop field goal away from rubbing it in their faces.
No, the Steelers starting up again isn't just about my favorite sport, but it is a time for me to teach my three, soon to be four, children about the black and gold. The brainwashing starts at a young age, and even my two-year old daughter knows when I wear a Steelers t-shirt to yell, "Football!". My oldest, and only son, is my good luck charm as he was born in 2008, when the Steelers had the most difficult schedule and captured Super Bowl 43. Here it is 2015, my fourth child due in about a month, and the Steelers again are matched up with the most difficult schedule again. If you are superstitious, like me, you see some good karma going to work.
Watching the Steelers doesn't just represent the athletes who I have always looked up to as they flash their unbelievable athleticism on a weekly basis, but reminds me of my many ventures to Heinz Field to watch the team I call my own. My first trip was in 2003 when the team finished 6-10 as I watched James Farrior annihilate LaDainian Domlinson and the San Diego Chargers in a meaningless Week 16 game. Watching the fans that day was special as the near sellout crowd reacted to the 40-24 victory as if it were a playoff clinching performance. High-fiving, hugging and celebrating each big play. Little did we know the next season would be the year the team selected a tall quarterback named Ben Roethlisberger and a new era would begin in the Steel City.
It took me 10 years to get back to Heinz Field, but the memories of the 2013 season come to mind which saw me be selected by NBC to be the first 'Fan of the Week' for the Week 3 game against the Chicago Bears. First-class treatment, and all for being a fan of a team I grew up loving.
The Steelers blood running through my veins is what would have me watching the Steelers beat the New York Jets in Week 6 of the same season in a Baltimore, MD hospital room as my son had been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes several days earlier, getting into a verbal discourse with the multitude of Baltimore Ravens fans who work and were walking through the complex on a daily basis. Ever so proud of the black and gold, even with a 1-4 record.
I would make a second trip to the Steelers mecca in 2013, but this time would be for the Week 15 Sunday Night Football game against the Cincinnati Bengals and under completely different circumstances. The team came out of the gates firing on all cylinders and an Antonio Brown punt return combined with a jaw-breaking Terence Garvin hit would solidify the victory for the home team. It was a great game, but it isn't what I will remember about the game.
It was this game which was planned by my best friend who was losing his battle with ALS. We took a dudes trip to Pittsburgh on consecutive weekends. First to see the Steelers, and then to see the Penguins. I can honestly say, the Steelers are a top-class organization which made me proud to call myself a fan. With my friend wheelchair bound, the organization went above and beyond what was required for us to have a memory which will last a lifetime for me.
My friend lost his battle with the crippling disease in April, but every time I wear my Steelers gear, watch highlights or sit down to write an article, a little piece of him is with me.
The Steelers are one of the most successful franchises in American football history, and their success has been an awesome thing to experience. However, for me - and I'm sure many others - the Steelers starting a new year isn't all about football...it is about something more. For me, it is about family, and I am thoroughly thrilled for the upcoming season.