Have you ever heard the quote “If you build it, they will come?” Of course, you have. That famous quote was from the 1989 Baseball film ‘Field of Dreams.’ The main actor Kevin Costner played an Iowa farmer who heard a mysterious voice which whispered that quote and inspired him to build a baseball diamond out of his cornfield and as a result, the ghost of great baseball players emerged from the corn to play ball.
Well, the Pittsburgh Steelers may not have heard any ‘mysterious voices’ when they decided to add to the fan experience during training camp, but they were sure inspired to do so and it proved to be a success. For 2 days this weekend, the Steelers chose to leave the friendly confined of Saint Vincent College and as a Rock Star Band, take their ‘show’ on the road.
On Friday, they held what has become a popular event during their time in Latrobe and have their annual night practice at Latrobe Memorial Stadium. Dubbed ‘Friday Night Lights,’ it’s been a favorite for the fans who not only travel there from Pittsburgh and Latrobe, but also from several states around the country and even internationally.
In addition to the fans coming to see the players practice, they can also participate in several activities and games. They also got a chance to get autographs from the players at the appointed time.
But this year’s edition of Friday Night Lights faced some opposition: Rain as it poured down twice during the team’s practice. The first rainstorm delayed the practice for almost an hour as players and fans left the stadium. But then the skies cleared up and then the practice resumed for an hour before the storms returned, which eventually ended the practice. A total number of 10,635 persons attended the Friday Night Lights.
And then on Sunday, the Steelers tried something different by moving one of their practices to Heinz Field and created an event called Family Fest, which fans can experience all that Saint Vincent’s had to offer, but a little closer to downtown. It was full of fun and games which were titled The Steelers Experience on Art Rooney Ave, and they also had a chance to watch the annual Regatta and also hear the crowds from the Pirates game in nearby PNC Park (The Pirates won in 12 innings 5-4)
And then around 5 pm, the stadium gates opened and allowed fans to enter to take their seats and watch their team go through drills and small scrimmages from 6:30-9:00. Fans also had a chance to experience a Meet and Greet with Steelers Super Bowl greats Frenchy Fuqua and Franco Harris (Super Bowl IX and X)), John Kolb and Rocky Bleier (Super Bowl XIII and XIV) and Chris Hoke and Santonio Holmes (Super Bowl XL and XLIII). Each player was very friendly and accommodating to the fans.
Highlights of the practice: 39-year old LB James Harrison returning a kick to the delight of the fans, and also to Harrison himself.
Fans also had a chance to tour the Great Hall in Heinz Field and take pics by the team’s 6 Vince Lombardi trophies, given to the Super Bowl Champion. When the practice ended, several fans had a chance to run on the field and get autographs from players, which were also available for interviews.
CB Ross Cockrell had this to say: “Our communication’s indeed been elevated and I think that’s really part of the continuity for us to get that 7th ring.
Veteran WR Darius Heyward-Bey: “My thought process is to win the Super Bowl. Ready to defend the
AFC North Champs, get out there and get a home playoff game and win the Super Bowl.”
Rookie WR JuJu Smith-Shuster: “The Fans are amazing, it’s the first time in the stadium, so it’s been good.”
A total of 17,119 persons attended the inaugural Family Fest, and you can guarantee that many are already looking forward to next year’s and beyond. Now the team will head back to Saint Vincent’s to resume their practices there before playing their first Pr-Season game Friday night vs. the NY Giants at Heinz Field.
It was a successful weekend for the Steelers who really embraced the fans with these two events. They decided to ‘build it, ‘ and the fans indeed came.
Notes: To no surprise, RB Le’Veon Bell wasn’t at either practice because he still hasn’t signed his Franchise Tag tender of $12 million. WR Martavis Bryant didn’t practice because he’s still not fully reinstated by the NFL. LB Ryan Shazier, backup QB Landry Jones and rookie RB James Conner didn’t practice because of injuries and other undisclosed matters. On Friday, the Steelers inked Head Coach Mike Tomlin to a new contract extension through 2020.
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