Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fans Are Big Part of Steelers Camp Team to Practice with Bills in August

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fans Are Big Part of Steelers Camp Team to Practice with Bills in August

Article excerpt

Doug Whaley's roots are in Pittsburgh football. He won three titles at Upper St. Clair High School, where he played running back and linebacker. He then played defensive back for Pitt and, after a brief stint on Wall Street, took an entry-level position with the Steelers, with whom he would eventually spend 11 years in the front office as pro scouting coordinator.

So when Mr. Whaley, now the general manager of the Buffalo Bills, was approached by his head coach, Doug Marrone, with the idea of running joint practices at training camp, choosing a suitable partner was easy.

"He wanted to practice with a team that historically has been a tough team. So it popped in my head with the elements of what he wanted to accomplish," Mr. Whaley said.

"We contacted the Steelers and floated it around and they were just as eager and willing to do it as we were."

Joint practices with the Bills will be the newest feature at one of the league's oldest training camp sites when the Steelers begin their 49th consecutive training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., today, with players due to report by 4 p.m.

With the coming of training camp also comes a pilgrimage of sorts for Steelers fans, who flock to watch their team practice with anticipation for the coming season high and aspirations for a seventh Super Bowl even higher. The first practice open to the public is at 2:55 p.m. Saturday.

For their part, the Steelers and Saint Vincent have ensured that training camp remains a welcoming attraction. There are activities for families, ample seating areas and - quite possibly the most attractive feature - free admission.

"Especially in our situation with training camp, it offers a lot of fans who can't get tickets the opportunity to see players up close and personal," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said.

Fans certainly take advantage of that opportunity, and the effects can be seen in the community at Latrobe. Ron Auld has spent 14 years at Dino's Sports Lounge, located just over two miles from Saint Vincent. Since before he began working there, he says, the restaurant has looked forward to two times of year: Christmas and Steelers training camp.

"Definitely our highlight of the summer and probably one of our big business points of the year," Mr. Auld said. "Everybody that comes in here pretty much has their Steelers colors on."

Tunch Ilkin has spent ample time at training camp, both as a player from 1980-1992 and as an analyst in years since. During his career, the Steelers held joint practices during training camp with the Washington Redskins, who at the time practiced at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa.

"[Fans] loved it," Mr. Ilkin said of the joint practices. "To them, it was like watching a game. Every catch is applauded, every interception is applauded. …

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