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watching guys practice

well, i find myself in monongahela, pennsylvania this morning, here at my parents for a short visit to help them just a bit with their moving process. today just also happens to be the last day for steelers training camp over at saint vincent college in latrobe, not too far from here. so we'll be heading over there this afternoon to catch the last practice of this year's camp. and i am beyond excited about it.
for those of you who follow steeler football closely, you probably understand this. but i recently had someone ask me, "what is so fun about it? you just go watch a bunch of guys practice?" which set me to thinking about what it is that i love so much about it. why is it that every august i feel this almost spiritual yearning to make a pilgrimage to western pennsylvania to sit "and watch guys practice?" well, here's why...
1. first taste of football. most football seasons don't end in a championship for your team (unless you are a steelers fan, and then you've experienced it more than anyone else). either your team fails to make the playoffs, or they lose in the playoffs. either way, it leaves you wanting your team to have another shot. after the pro bowl in february, you enter the wasteland of sports when there is literally nothing to watch. thank God for the nfl network and for the invention of the vcr, which allows me to watch recorded steeler games over and over. still, it isn't the same as live football, and by august i am like a desperate junkie. i need a hit. training camp is that hit. it is the light at the end of the tunnel.
2. practice. in some ways, it really is just watching guys practice. and what's so wrong with that? when else do you get to watch an nfl team practice. the rest of the year teams are incredibly guarded with their practices, so this is it, really. for someone like me who used to dream every night about playing in the nfl someday (who am i kidding? i still dream about it.), it feels like i am permitted a nice long glance into an otherwise off limits paradise. if i can't live that dream, at least i can spend a few hours looking at it closely. offense in white jerseys. defense in yellow jerseys. stretches and drills. 7 on 7's. 11 on 11's. coaches giving instruction and sometimes of the colorfully emphatic type. just for a couple of hours, i can pretend i'm a wide reciever. or a beat writer for the team.
3. rookies. another great part of training camp is that the team is huge. there are like 80 guys in practice jerseys right now, but only 53 of them will be on the final roster. but which 53? that is the question. hot afternoons at training camp are a big part of the way those 53 are settled on. and going and watching camp gives you a chance to do your own roster analysis. today, for example, i want to see just how fast mike wallace can run. i want to see frank "the tank" do some lead blocking and isaac redman punch it in. i want to see joe burnett and keenan lewis on defense. and its not just the rookies. there are several second year players that we are hoping will make an impact this year, and i want to see them, too. for at least a couple hours i can feel like i am a talent evaluator.
4. proximity to the players. this doesn't mean as much to me as it once did, but training camp does give you an opportunity to get close to these men of steel. as they walk from the locker room to the practice field and back many of them stop and sign autographs. even during practice, you aren't that far from the team, and you can not only watch them practice, but watch them having fun with one another, as well. i remember a couple of years ago watching nose tackle chris hoke doing some kind of russian dance while the team gathered around him clapping out a beat for him. at the training camp of 2006 i got hines ward's autograph. while i'm not really a big autograph guy, it was cool to get his, since he is my favorite football player of all time. one of the coolest things about being able to be close to the players is that you can get a different sense of their size. on the tv, they all look relatively big, but you don't really understand just how big until you see them with your bare eyes. i remember the first time i saw joey porter's arms. wow. just wow.
5. steeler nation. this may be the most important of all for me. don't forget that i am a strong, faithful member of steeler nation who lives in exile a bit. i live in jersey, which means i'm not constantly surrounded by steeler fans. i have to deal with giants and eagles fans, and sometimes i just wish i was surrounded by people who love the team that i do. also don't forget that i am a pastor, which means that sundays are an important day for me in my ministry. i almost never even have an opportunity - or the time to travel to pittsburgh - for a game (let alone the money). so i don't get many chances to gather together with large groups of steeler nation. but training camp gives me that opportunity. at one practice a couple of weeks ago there were over 10,000 fans there! watching practice! that is steeler nation, baby! that's how we roll, and i love going to latrobe, in a sea of black and gold, and hearing what others are saying about the team, maybe engaging in a little "here we go steelers, here we go," and just letting loose a little. this is our team, and we are granted, even if for just a couple hours, this more intimate look at them. we already know we are part of the family. this just feels like the annual reunion.
so that's why i love training camp. hopefully we don't get rained out this afternoon, and i'll have lots of pics to share with you soon. stay tuned.


well said... as a born and raised Steeler fan who resides in Ravens territory, I so get it. Every time I go visit my parents, I always get this startling surprise and comradery when I see someone in black and gold, then after a few more minutes out and about remember where I am and that it is the norm not the exception like it is here in MD. We went last weekend... it was hot, but oh so worth it. I couldn't believe how huge Harrison was.. seriously, he is a giant. Makes his huge Superbowl run all the more impressive.

Have a blast... it is so worth it!
Yes, fall=football and an amazing electricity in the air, even when you don't live near your beloved team. I haven't lived in PA since I was 18 but I love that Steeler Nation is EVERYWHERE! There are tons of Steelers fans in our area, and I certainly hope they are true-blue fans and not jump-on-the-bandwagon fans because of our recent championships.

Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting on my ten things I love about my husband. I forget to mention that he is also a huge football fan. Although he cheers for the Bears, I will forgive him for that, especially on September 20th this year!

Have a blessed day!

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