While the pain staking two a days in 90-degree heat may be the worst part of the season for players, training camp is one of the major highlights of every season for Steeler Nation. For many fans the yearly pilgrimage to St. Vincent’s College is the Mecca of each season. It’s the one time a year where kids can find themselves within mere inches of the guy on the poster in their bedrooms. It’s the one place where the guy who dreams of having season tickets gets to experience the action up close. Whether you are a die-hard fan or the casual onlooker, a trip to Latrobe is sure to renew that lovin’ feelin’ as the contagious atmosphere of anticipation surrounds you.
I have been lucky enough to cover training camp in the past, and from what I have gathered I feel obliged to pass on a few tips that will make your training camp experience better than ever.
The afternoon session on a normal day of practice is open to the general public. Practice begins at 2:55 PM beginning Saturday, August 1st and will continue through Thursday, August 20th.
On practice days the parking lots open at noon on campus, but be aware that campus does not open to the public until 1:30 PM. Getting there early is never a bad idea, but if you were thinking of getting there more than a couple hours early for a decent parking spot and a good seat on the bleachers you might want to rethink your strategy.
While schedules vary for night practices, campus is typically cleared by security one hour after practice ends.
Just like going to a Pirate game every practice is subject to weather and can be changed without notice. If it’s pouring down rain when you leave your house chances are they will move inside and it will no longer be open to the public. Unlike during the season no one will prove their toughness by playing in rain, snow and hail, so packing the poncho and hoping for the best may not be worth your while. Trust me getting there and finding out they pulled the plug on the whole thing is about as bad as paying all that money to get into Kennywood and half the rides being shut down because of rain. Plan according to the weather. You will thank me later.
Dates to Remember
Friday, August 7th – Night Practice will be held at Latrobe High School at 7 PM.
*There is an admission fee to get into this practice.
Wednesday, August 12th – No Open Practice
Friday, August 14th – Off Day
Friday, August 21st – Team Breaks Camp
What Not to Bring
Security will check your bags so make sure you leave the following at home:
- Alcoholic beverages- Alcohol is not permitted on campus. Any coolers containing alcohol are going to be emptied so save yourself the aggravation and leave the Iron City at home in the fridge.
- Video Cameras- For obvious reasons recording practice in any way is prohibited. Video Cameras are not permitted on campus.
- Pets- It doesn’t matter if he fits in a handbag, could pass for your uncle Stan or you bought sparky his very own Hines Ward jersey, he’s still not getting in.
Attractions to Check Out
The UPMC Steelers Experience- Whether you are bringing kids or just want to feel like a pro yourself there are activities for everyone. The Experience opens at 1:30 PM and typically closes at 6:00 PM on normal afternoon practice days. This attraction will not be open during night practices.
Look for the traveling Coca-Cola Great Hall near the practice field. If you have never made it to the Coca-Cola Great Hall at Heinz Field, the Steelers will bring part of it to you. The traveling trailer version gives fans an opportunity to experience Steelers history up close. You can also take a stab at doing the play by play of a great moment in Steelers history and give the prize wheel a spin in order to win team merchandise.
Where to Sit
No matter how good the sideshows are we all know you will be there for one reason alone. To see the team practice. There are several places to watch from. Some much better than others, but it depends on what you want to see.
The bleachers are definitely the best seats in the house comfort-wise. They are also the hardest to find. Most of the scrimmage action and offensive practice will take place on the field closest to the bleachers. So if pass catching drills, and skeleton offenses are your thing get there early and find a seat.
If you don’t care about having an actual seat, pull up some grass to the left of the bleachers facing the field. The Majority of the action happens on this end of the field and you will see as much as if not more than those in the fancy seats.
The offensive line and the defense share the other two fields for the most part during afternoon workouts. So if you are wanting to check out the D-Line you will want to bring a lawn chair or a blanket and grab a spot on the hillside or under the pine trees. Keep in mind you will be a bit farther away from the field.
If distance is not a deterrent for you there is always the sidewalk on the opposite side of the fields. Right above the bushes that spell out Saint Vincent is a sidewalk that runs the entire length of the field. It’s a perfect perch for those of you who like to scope out the scene with a pair of binoculars or want to avoid the crowd.
If getting the chicken scratch of your favorite player is what you’re after then you are going to have to be in the right place at the right time. There are two hot spots you will want to be in if the Sharpie is your weapon of choice. Both require a bit of sacrifice because the view of the field is not as good. If you are willing to make the trade then check out these two spots.
Outside the locker rooms- Every player comes and goes through the same doors when they are going to practice. If you can catch some front row space along the ropes outside the locker room you are sure to have every member of the team pass bye you at least twice.
Along the walkway coming down the hill- Just like the locker room spot all the players come down the hill to the fields. The further up the hill you are the closer the players will be to the barricades.
Keep in mind that there are no organized autograph sessions before or after practice. It is completely up to the players whether or not they sign autographs on any given day. So put your most pathetic face on and hope for the best. The team is usually more apt to sign autographs and give away a glove or two on their way off the field.
The Wrap Up
It’s finally here Steeler fans. A new season and the first step towards defending last season’s Super Bowl title. Take the time to pack up the family and pass on the legacy of Steelers football this summer. Add a few of these tips into your plan if you are a newcomer, or stick to the traditions you have come to know and love as a seasoned veteran and have a great experience this year.
For directions and practice schedule updates check out the Steelers website.