Today, at approximately four o’clock in the afternoon, football season officially begins in western Pennsylvania. No longer will Pittsburgh have to suffer through yet another season of pitiful baseball, lousy management, and idiotic trades by our inept Pirates. Tucked safely along the rolling hills of Westmoreland County, the Pittsburgh Steelers will convene their 42nd training camp as the eyes of the Burgh’s true sports fans turn to their one true major league franchise. Until the Penguins drop the puck in Sweden at least.
Sure, the preseason is more or less a sham. A cheap ploy designed to give greedy owners four more games with which to line their pockets. And yes, the first real meaningful game won’t take place for more than a month. But that doesn’t matter to the members of Steeler Nation. We take our football seriously.
How serious, you may ask? Seriously enough that not dozens, not hundreds, but thousands of people will make a pilgrimage to Latrobe in order to stand around in 90 degree heat and watch sweaty behemoths do sit-ups. The preseason is usually a long-winded way of deciding who is going to be a team’s 5th receiver or what undrafted rookie will make it as a special teamer. The crazy thing about Steeler fans is we actually care about such things.
This will be Mike Tomlin’s second training camp as head coach. Let’s hope his decision making process has improved this year as he made several choices last year which turned out badly as the year played out. He decided that FB Carey Davis would supplant Dan Kreider, long considered one of the best blocking fullbacks in the league. His reasoning was Davis was more athletic and could catch the ball out of the backfield, which is great except Davis went on to catch a whopping total of 12 passes. Tomlin also claimed that good special teams would be one of his priorities and he’d work tirelessly to make sure we were solid in that area, even going so far as trading a draft pick for KR Allen “Fair Catch” Rossum. This resulted in the Steelers having one of the worst special teams units in the NFL.
The major undercurrent to this season is, of course, the very real possibility it will be the last under the ownership of the Rooney family. The Post-Gazette recently published an embarrassing article agreeing with Tomlin’s statement that the ownership situation might be “a distraction” to the players. Are they serious? That is the most laughable bit of excuse making I’ve ever heard. We all know the Pittsburgh media is in bed with the Steelers but at least try to be reasonable. If Big Ben launches a bomb down the sideline to a streaking Santonio Holmes, I very much doubt the ball will slip through his arms because he’s worried about who’ll sign his checks next year. I don’t think Mike Tomlin’s ability to analyze game tape on Tuesday morning will suffer because he’s depressed over strife in the Rooney family.
A few other notes of interest:
—Diane Battiste Zinkham passed away at the age of 62. She was a major part of our cheerleading team, the Steelerettes, from 1961-70. Take note, Cowboy fans, the Steelers and the Cleveland Browns were the first two NFL teams with cheerleading squads. Which I guess means we were the first NFL team with attractive cheerleaders.
—Bret “Look at me! Look at me!” Favre is threatening to report to Green Bay Packers camp, whether they want him or not. He’s quickly turning into the Bill Murray character from the movie “What About Bob?”
–Pittsburgh native Jason “Twinkle Toes” Taylor was traded to the Washington Redskins.
–Top draft picks Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed are signed, sealed and delivered. Sweed has a four year deal for some undisclosed amount. Mendenhall is inked for five years/$12.55 million. He’ll likely use some of that money to replace the cell phone and Rolex that got jacked when he was mugged up in Chicago.
–Finally, also on the sad news front, Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch lost his battle with cancer at the age of 47. This doesn’t have much to do with football, although one of his final wishes was granted when the Steelers invited him to participate in training camp last year. I am a CMU graduate and although I didn’t have any classes with Professor Pausch, I recall reading about him and his accomplishments while there. That he inspired so many people during his remaining years is something nobody should ever forget.