Steelers fans are a lucky bunch! We can talk about our team all year long without coming across like the weirdly obsessed woman that wants to show you 1700 pictures of their cat or that creeper who corners you for 8 hours to tell you the social significance of Battlestar Galactica. Steelers fans never hear “Why the hell are you talking about football when it’s 98 degrees outside?” It’s always football season to us but sometimes it’s more football season than others combine season (which is a newly made up season, but I’ll take it), draft season, free agency season, OTA season, minicamp season, 36 hours of actual off season, training camp season, pre season season, regular season season, and post season season. It’s a beautiful, self perpetuating process that reminds us that the next season is always bringing us closer to the best season. And as every fan of the Black and Gold knows, tomorrow begins training camp season!
The summer of 1998 was a great one for me. I got to work on the medical team at both the Mario Lemieux golf tournament and at Steelers training camp in Latrobe. The golf tournament was a blast! My partner and I were set up between the 15th and 18th tee boxes. Jim McMahon golfed barefoot. Joe Theismann hit on every woman he saw. Lynn Swann and Dan Marino were the only two golfers who wouldn’t sign an autograph for a little kid (stay classy, gents). Keith Byers almost killed my partner and I with an errant tee shot. Good times. I gave all of the celebrity athletes a wide berth. I was there as part of a medical response team and didn’t wish to appear unprofessional. I did, however, approach one golfer. Marty Schottenheimer was standing by himself at the 18th tee. I have always respected him and decided to go over and say hello. No photo op. No autograph. I just wanted to meet Marty. He saw me coming his way and took his golf glove off and extended hi s hand. I introduced myself and told him that I was a big fan. The coach then asked me what I was doing at the golf tournament. I explained that I was a paramedic and that I was stationed on the course in case there was any emergencies (like Keith Byers mortally wounding someone with a tee shot). Marty Schottenheimer placed a very firm on my shoulder and proceeded to give me a one on one, personalized, honest to goodness, Marty Schottenheimer speech about how important EMS was to society and how valuable the good men and women of EMS, fire, and law enforcement were to their communities! I was in heaven! The man famous for autoring “There’s a gleam, men” and “that six inches between your backbone and your breastbone” speeches was giving me a speech of my own. KICK ASS! It was an honor to meet him and after warning him to stay away from Keith Byers, I went back to the golf cart for the rest of the day.
Working at Steelers training camp was just as much fun as the golf tournament. Our main responsibility was making sure that nobody got injured taking part in the NFL Experience display. We were confident that there would be a low mortality rate while people attempted to toss a Nerf ball through a hole ten yards away. We were correct because we’re good like that and also Keith Byers was nowhere to be seen.
We arrived early in the morning and were directed to park up in the player’s lot. The first player sighting of the morning was Joel Steed making his way to the cafeteria. The big man seemed grumpy so we slowed to a crawl as we passed him. His eyes lit up at the sight of my piece of shit Sedan DeVille. He actually ran his huge hand over the fender and loudly proclaimed “Um, um, um, Cadillac car!” Joel Steed approved! It was a rush to see players in what we assume is their natural habitat. Coach Cowher was approachable in the morning too. He came over and said hello. We were sure to stay out of spittle range. TV doesn’t offer any perspective on the size of these fellows. Eric Pegram was smaller than any of us had imagined but looked like he could have run through a block wall without breaking a sweat. Kordell, who always looked thin and fragile on television, was a giant in person. At the time I was 5’10” and weighed 255 lbs. The exact same as Jerry Olsavsky. Jerry O was not playing that year but was at camp. Let me tell you this: a 5’ 10” 255 lb. paramedic is built nothing like a 5’ 10” 255 lb linebacker. It must have something to do with the strenuous training that paramedics go through……
After the shift was over, we picked up our field passes for the afternoon practice. The team was working on pulling off a fake field goal that day. The first time they ran it I thought it was the slickest, quickest, most efficient, thing I’d ever seen. Cowher exploded in a rage and demanded that it be done slicker, quicker and more efficient and damn if they didn’t pull it off better each time they did it. Another memory is of Will Blackwell running a sprint right past me without making any noise at all. He was blazing fast and totally silent.
After practice, as we were walking back to my now very cool Cadillac Car, we ran into Paul Steigerwald. “Steigy” was just finishing up with a live TV remote for the evening news. He saw us walking by and right away asked where we were from and what brought us to camp. Paul has a reputation for being very outgoing and fan friendly. He chatted with us for a few minutes and told us to be careful driving home. Thanks, Steigy!
Those are my summer of 1998 Steelers training camp memories.
I may have also tried to hit on Pete Gonzales’s girlfriend and got painfully shot down but that’s a story for another time.