Archive for category Uncategorized

Come (Fantasy) Camping – The End

Posted by on Friday, 21 June, 2019

Sunday morning they offered religious services for those who wanted to attend. Craig Wolfley would actually lead the non-denominational service himself. I slept in. I have no idea what attendance was like. Sunday was also the “combine competition” between the teams. I did not get all “geared up” like I did for Saturday. Between my hamstring and my general soreness, I did not plan on participating. I arrived at the cafeteria and found only 3 others at my table. 2 of them were completely hung over…the guys from Chicago. They talked about Sharkey’s and said after breakfast they were going back to bed. I guess they were not going to be of any help at the combine. I finished up and walked down to the field. Before I got hurt, I had wanted to compete in the WR competition. They would set the jugs machine to throw deep passes into the endzone. I thought this would be pretty cool.

 

I arrived down on the field and looked around for my team. Not finding anyone, I came across the guy who iced down the same time I did with the trainers. We got to talking. He was from the Philly area and his wife was in education too. We exchanged numbers, he was planning on definitely coming next year. The combine competition was about to begin. About the only thing I thought I’d be able to do was the QB challenge. I had hoped it would be a little more elaborate then a blow-up target with holes. It was the same one they use at the Steelers Fan Fest. I checked in with the intern running the event and no one from my team had entered. It started to rain a bit, they thought they might have to shut down the event due to the electric used to keep the target inflated. Hearing this I quickly jumped towards the front of the line. I would go third. There were several target holes, but I knew I would go for the 20 point one, the toughest one. There would be 4 throws. I did receive one warm up throw, it went too high. No problem. I got the distance. The first throw that counted went right into the hole, and somehow bounced out! I said, is this one of those carnival game where the ball doesn’t actually fit through? I was assured it would. Second throw, a little to the left…but the nose of the ball again made the target hole. Frustrated, this time I put more mustard on it. It went high. But it was very close. I took a little off on my last throw. It was almost the same exact results as the first. I got a nice little round of applause since I was pretty damn accurate. I just turned around and said, well if it were darts, I would have had a nice grouping. Disappointed I couldn’t rack up any points, and with the rain falling harder, I headed back to the dorms to pack up before the final gathering. Sure enough who joined me in the walk back? Tunch Ilkin. He joked, he spent plenty of time at St Vincent as both a player and with his radio show. He could just look up and tell if heavy rain was coming in. He said as a player they loved it to cool them off, while hosting his show…not so much.

I packed up my stuff and went to load the car. I had to shake my head and laugh at myself when I got there. Apparently, I got so caught up with meeting Dawson when I first arrived I never rolled up the driver’s side window. Two major rain storms went through Latrobe that weekend, and all of it seemed to go through that window. Luckily it was my wife’s car! On my next trip back to the car I brought towels from the dorm to dry everything off. My wife would find these towels a few days later in the back seat and I had to confess. I went back and dropped off the dorm key. I had the same feeling I had when I left college for good in 1988. I drove the car over to the reception area for one last gathering.

 

I saw the guy I talked to from the field earlier, and he invited me over to his table. There was another guy there too, he was from Ohio. He had been to the camp a few times before. Wolfley started the festivities by saying they had a lost and found and accumulated quite a few lost items. I shouted out “Did you find my hamstring?” That got a pretty good laugh from the crowd. Lunch was served buffet style. I will say the food was good all weekend long. I settled back at the table and they were raffling off autographed memorabilia. One of the items that came up was a Cam Heyward autographed helmet. The numbers were read, nope not even close. However, I barely had time to dwell in my disappointment as the next item, a Jerome Bettis autographed helmet matched my ticket number! Damn, I won something. As I went up to grab my prize, I had an idea. Maybe the guy who won the Heyward helmet would want to swap. I went over and asked, but I am not sure he believed me. He was definitely getting the better of the deal. His friend next to him said take it, you are getting a Hall of Fame’r. I showed the guy my Facebook profile pic of me in my Heyward jersey. I actually wore that jersey the first night at camp too. The guy eventually switched, but I got a sense he either thought he was being taken, he really didn’t care, or had no idea who Heyward or Bettis were. Anyway, I got the helmet I wanted.

It was all soon over, and the gentleman who runs the Fantasy Camp for the Steelers closed it out with “see you all again next year”. With that, I said my goodbyes to the guys at my table. I prepped myself for the long ride home. God, I hate the GW Bridge.

Come (Fantasy) Camping – Part VI

Posted by on Wednesday, 19 June, 2019

I arrived back at the dorm and there was already a line for the showers. No big deal, I had saved my ice in one of the sinks, I could ice for a while and let others go. I stripped down to shorts and a T-shirt. Yes, took off my cleats and socks and the toes looked perfectly fine. I placed ice in all the necessary areas. Eventually I hobbled into the shower…let the water run on me for quite a while and hardly moved. That evening Rod Woodson was the guest speaker. I brought my Woodson gear. I chose my Sandknit Jersey I bought back when I went to my first game in Pittsburgh back in 1990. The same time I bought that poster. Also, on that trip we went to Woodson’s Grille. I still had a T-shirt from back then. I would wear that underneath the jersey. Most of the guys had already left, so I made my way to the cafeteria on my own…poster in tow.

 

Again, we would sit at our competition team’s table. A few guys were missing so we hoped they went to do the Trivia challenge which they held Saturday evening. Let’s just say the guys who were the veterans at the table were not exactly team leaders. One thing they did bring to the table…literally…was Tunch Ilkin. Apparently over the years they had gotten to know him. They would seek him out when they went to games, home and away. They would call into his show and were regulars. These guys were from Chicago and even brought Tunch a deep-dish pizza when he was doing his show locally when the Steelers played the Bears. Tunch brought over a full plate, I said, still eating like a lineman. He said, this is nothing. He bowed his head and said a low but audible grace. Tunch started to tell stories, mostly non-football. Family, places to go in the different cities. He did say, and I heard him say it a few times over the weekend, the team is better off without AB. For whatever he brought to the field, his change in demeanor, he was no longer worth it. Tunch almost seemed angry about it…like AB let him down. Eventually he did talk about his football days. Since the guys he knew were from Chicago, he talked about the times he played the Bears. How as a lineman, in 1986, he had to face the Superbowl Champ Bears D…which was no easy task. He said they played them tough and lost in OT (I checked, they did). He talked about the ’89 team and felt it was special one. He thought fate was on their side, until it wasn’t. He talked about the rain game against Miami. How after being tackled, Mike Mularky almost drowned in a puddle when the D didn’t get off him right away. I hated to leave, but I wanted to get a good seat to see Rod Woodson talk. I excused myself from the table. Tunch must have lost track of time too. He was like Geez, I got a get moving.

I grabbed a couple of Bud Lite Limes and settled in to a third-row seat. Each of the players would speak. I did not know that, so this was a nice surprise. First up was Shaun Suisham. Suisham, oh Shaun Suisham. He is my favorite now. Apparently, Friday night he was one of the many who went out to Sharkey’s. He started with asking us to remember how instead of “Heads Up” on an errant punt I told you to yell “Peter”? Well, let me tell you a story. Suisham got back late to the dorms, possible the last one arriving. He also stayed in an RA room and was part of another pod. When he got back he saw this guy was wandering around looking for his room. Well, there are only 10 rooms to choose from. That, and the number is on the key and the door. Suisham said this guy was staggering around, drunk off his ass, bouncing off the walls. Suisham led him to his room, opened the door for him, and “poured” him in. Suisham asked him what his name was…he responded Peter. So, any punt off in the wrong direction now would be called out with “Peter”. With that, Suisham raised his cup and said let’s drink to Peter. Suisham went on to toast a few dozen, yes, dozen, different things. I quickly went through my two beers. It definitely set a good mood for the rest of the evening.

Lipps was up. He talked about coming up from the south with everything he owned. He was determined to make his mark. He busted his ass in the now defunct two a days. He wanted to prove himself and he volunteered for a drill every chance he got. He said one practice he was pulled aside by Calvin Sweeney. He told Lipps you don’t need to run all these drills, you’re a first-round pick, you’ve got the team made. Lipps said, I don’t have this team made until I am told I made the team. I am taking nothing for granted. I am going to go out and show them the player I am. I guess that is why Lipps was Lipps and Calvin Sweeney was, well, Calvin Sweeney. Lipps did lament that the team did not draft Marino. I guess he had nightmares of Malone, Woodley, Campbell, Bono and Brister. Later Woodson would say the same thing about drafting Marino. I said to the guys sitting next to me, if Marino was drafted in 1983, me might not have been in a position to draft Lipps and Woodson…we would have had a better record. I don’t think they understood my point…lol. Dwayne Woodruff was next. He talked about how he stepped in as a rookie onto a 3-time Superbowl winning team. All the talent around him was amazing. He said he kind of got his swagger from these guys. They came to play, and you were not going to push them around. He said he tried to carry that into the 80’s as the guys retired, but unfortunately the talent level was just not there.

 

Chris Hoke talked about the time in training camp Big Snack failed to finish the initial camp run and was placed on the PUP list. He still thinks Hampton did that on purpose, so he didn’t have to start camp. Dermontti Dawson talked about the “energy pills” the 80’s team took. My first thought was maybe that 80’s team should have taken better pills. He said one game he took the wrong dosage…and was basically stoned. He couldn’t remember the line calls at all. Wolfley had to make them instead. Noll thought Dawson had a concussion. The players knew better. I thought this was an interesting topic and admission. Woodson, Lipps and Dawson all chimed in about taking them.  Then came Arthur Moats. Moats, well, was the same boisterous Moats he was on the field. He told a story about how when his Alma Mater James Madison trounced Tomlin’s William & Mary, he snuck into his office and filled it with James Madison gear, pennants and such. He said, after that, anytime they needed a body for a drill, coach said, Hey, James Madison get in there. I wish Tomlin did that for the Jacksonville playoff game instead of putting in Spence.

Now it was Woodson’s turn. The main event. He said to the crowd, raise your hand if you can name the QB his first interception was against and he would give that person a signed Woodson jersey. I was like, how do I NOT know this. A few seconds later a hand shot up and Woodson pointed at him. Boomer Esiason. Correct! NOW, how did I REALLY not know that!!! Oh well. Woodson went on to describe the play. He said he high stepped and pointed as he took it all the way for a TD. When he got to the sidelines, Joe Greene, a coach then, said…Son, we don’t do that here in Pittsburgh. Woodson sheepishly said, Yes Sir, Mr. Greene, Sir. I need to look up that highlight now. Woodson also said when he got there, he thought he was the best punt returner ever. Then he saw Lipps do it, catch balls behind his back in practice, all his moves..and Rod was humbled. It was a nice shout out to Lipps. You forget how good Lipps was. He told a few different stories about how Cowher would treat the stars differently. He would tell them, I am going to yell at you in front of some of the other guys. If they see me yell at you, then they’ll be like, damn, if coach yells at them, I need to get my act together. Then Woodson went on to tell  us a story about another “rod”. In 1987 Woodson went in the first round but held out. So, 1988 was his first camp at St. Vincent. One of the new guys was Aaron Jones, a first-round pick that year. Woodson’s first encounter with Aaron Jones was in the shower. As Woodson was telling this story, he took a step back, dropped the microphone downwards between his legs, and looked down stunned. He said he never wanted to shower with Jones again, he’d never be secure about his manhood. Eventually word got out around the players. Some didn’t want to shower with Jones, others had to see for themselves. At the time they had a head trainer who was known for his sarcasm. One day, outside the shower when Aaron Jones was in there, he took out a big black dildo, stuck it to the wall and wrote Aaron Jones underneath. Proceed with caution. I yelled out Jones picked the wrong career! Soon Rod wrapped up his talk and it was time for autographs. I got in line as fast as my sore muscles could get me there. I showed Rod the poster and he hadn’t seen it either. He signed it but I wish he added HOF 09 to it though. I showed him my Woodson’s Grille T-shirt and he was shocked it was in such good shape. I also showed him a photo of my locker room with his memorabilia that resides in my man-cave. I told him his restaurant, which had lockers set up like that, was the inspiration. He thanked me for being a fan, I shook his hand and off I went.

 

Again, others rallied to go to Sharky’s. This time I seriously considered it. But if I didn’t want to stay, I wasn’t sure how easy it was to get back to St. Vincent. Besides I had a long drive ahead of me tomorrow. I called it a night.

 

 

Come (Fantasy) Camping – Part V

Posted by on Tuesday, 18 June, 2019

I arrived down at the field. I looked around and felt I must have gotten down there early because it was half empty. But not long after, the Steelers exercise coach from the morning session called us over to warm up. Where is everyone? It would seem a good portion of the “campers” did not return. Whether it was too much from the morning drills…or too much from Sharkey’s the night before. These were the same drills as the morning ones. I went through them a little more gingerly this time. I was using it as a gauge to see what I could and couldn’t do. Once I felt it was too much I stopped. I did make it through about ¾ of the warmup routines.

 

Our first session would be with the D-Line and Chris Hoke. He recognized me from the autograph session since I had the same type of gold jersey on I had him autograph. He joked how many of these did I have? We went through the ladder drills, forward and sideways. Then he had a competition, between lined up pairs. Through the ladder and sprint to the finish. Sprint? Hell, I’ll try. The ladder part was easy for me. After I got out of it, the sprint was the issue. I had a noticeable limp. However, each time I beat my man since I had a good lead out of the ropes. Next up they put out the tackle dummies. We would have to weave through three of them and swat them as we went by, then hit the QB. The QB was Hoke’s son holding a blocking pad. Each guy in front of me hit the tackle dummy like it was made of fine china. I was determined to kick the shit out of the dummies. Each one I hit went all the way to the ground, I got through them with decent speed and didn’t lose my balance. Hoke’s son must have seen my anger hitting the dummies because when I got to him, he was about 10 yds further back then with the other guys. I just tapped the pad as he backed up and returned to the line. We went through these dummies with different moves, swim move, bull rush etc. I was ready to go up against Dawson’s O-Line team. However, we were informed due to the amount of injuries earlier, that part was cancelled for the afternoon. Oh well. So instead I got a picture with Hoke. What was funny is I texted it to my wife. Hoke lost so much weight from his playing days Christina thought it was the kicker, Suisham.

Our next session would be with Dwayne Woodruff and the DB’s. He spoke with us and was all business. He really coached. Someone asked him if he had one guy who gave him trouble in his career. He simply said, no one. He did acquiesce and say, well, Art Monk. He said he was one of the most physical receivers he had to play against. I said, well before Hines Ward. The first drill he had us do was to track the deep ball. We lined up in two lines across and opposite each other. Once again 2 QB’s were needed. This time both knew how to throw. You would run deep. The QB would throw the ball out in front of you and you had to track it and catch it. The first one I ran down perfectly, but I had no burst. Luckily, he hung it up there, but that was really the idea. I headed over to the other line. Same results, but this time I pushed it a little and the hamstring was none the worse. Good sign. Woodruff then set us up for the next drill. We would back pedal 5 yds looking directly at the QB. Once the QB turned his shoulders we would break that way to intercept the ball. If we caught it, take it to the house! My first time through, once the QB turned, I had to break to the right. I caught it in my mid-section and began to take it to the end zone.  Woodruff noticed my catch and stopped me. He said I needed to cut in more, if a receiver were there, he would have been in front of me. I had one more go at the current drill. I back peddled and this time the QB went to the left. I cut in on an angle like Woodruff told me. However, the ball sailed high. I had to break back but I got to it and caught the end of the football. I spun and ran the INT back. It would seem the Steeler’s photographer got a picture of the best catch of the day (well, according to me).

We ran the same drill but with a guy from our group playing WR. We still were just watching the QB though. I sat this one out after my catch. Why mess with perfection(and a sore hamstring)! A few more runs through this drill and we headed over to cover the WR’s being coached by Lipps.  Although we were just watching the QB’s, Woodruff gave us another piece of advice. When the receiver cuts, watch the receiver’s head. If he doesn’t look back, or is not worried about looking back, he is taking the route deep, don’t jump on the route. Great piece of advice. The Tennessee guy was our best, so he went first. The WR turned his head, he jumped the route…he dropped an easy INT though. Next time, the receiver did the same thing. This time he held onto the INT. The rest of our group was not that good. The WR group had a guy who thought he was in a real camp. He blew passed the lesser guys. One of our team shouted at him, they are not giving out contracts today. This guy never lined up against the Tennessee guy. Sad he couldn’t handle better competition. After a few reps I decided to give it a shot. I saw another #62 (not that unusual as a few had that number because of Ilkin). I watched the WR’s head. As he cut to the right he turned to look back. I went to jump the route…and my legs had no burst. Earlier in the day I might have gotten to the ball. I arrived instead after he caught it. I lined up on him a second time. This time I knew he would not go deep. Didn’t matter. He cut to the left with the same results. I joked, I am ready to be a Steeler CB. Each time I was there to “tackle the catch”. It was fun, but a little disheartening. I would have liked to be more competitive in this drill. At least I made the other guy look good!

 

The final session was with the LB’s and Arthur Moats. All during the day you could hear that group throughout the field. LOUD! I would find out why. Moats gave us his rules. First off, we act as a team. We answer as a team. And we answer LOUD! For example, Are you ready? You’d shout back YES! How are you feeling? GREAT! Also, if you were not running the drill, you were clapping and encouraging your teammate through it. Also, if someone failed at the drill, we would have to do 5 of whatever callisthenic was chosen. Win as a team, lose as a team. Also, no walking to the next drill. Run. We did the ladder drill again, but this time at the end they threw the ball at you to catch. Forward, sideways. Then we had agility drills around the stakes. Go forward, go around, run backwards to the next, then forward and so on. Then they set up the pads for us to run around. Again, forward through one, backwards through the next. The final drill was to bend down and smack the pads as you go by, all 4 of them on the ground. Then get the ball thrown at you when you finished. My first time through I didn’t realize I had moved my sunglasses to the top of my head. They went flying when I bent down and hit the first pad. Of course, they bounced right in the way of the second pad. Not wanting to fail and cause anyone to do callisthenics, in one motion I bent down, grabbed the glasses, flipped them out of the way, smacked the second pad and finished the drill. Moats said, nice improvise! After the drill I gathered my sunglasses. I picked out the cutest intern to hold them for me. I hurt my hamstring, not my libido. During all of these drills, anytime someone accidentally kicked a pad or dropped a ball, we did 5 of his choice. Jumping jacks, push-ups, squat jumps (whatever the hell that was). We must have done several rounds of each. I am happy to report none where my fault. The whistle sounded to end it all. Moats had us sprint to the end of the field and back. I finished dead last lol. I went to get my sunglasses from the intern. She obviously saw me limping and asked if I was ok. I told her my story, she was impressed I made it through. She pointed out what I already knew. A lot of guys bailed on the afternoon session. I went over to Moats to thank him for pushing us all, especially me. He had pointed out a few times to the other guys, if the guy with the bad knee can do it, you better do it. I told him I don’t think I could have made it through the last session without that. A handshake and a couple of cool photos then took place. What a great guy.

All the groups gathered at midfield and we were told, specifically told..lol, to go shower and then meet back in the cafeteria for dinner. Luckily, I still had plenty of ice left back in the dorm.

 

Mike Walsh – Fantasy Camp Warrior

Posted by on Tuesday, 18 June, 2019

Come (Fantasy) Camping – Part IV

Posted by on Tuesday, 18 June, 2019

As I headed to lunch, I can’t say I wasn’t severely disappointed. I trained, I ran, I did all I could to get into some sort of shape for the camp. Yet still got hurt anyway, and in a non-contact drill (isn’t that always the case!). On Sunday there would be a skills competition. As I arrived at the cafeteria, I was told that we were to sit at our competition team table..hmmm…I was at #15. We were told to discuss who would participate in the Sunday events. As I passed different tables, I could see some teams where the same year to year as they came as a group. My team I guess was thrown together with “the other guys”. I arrived at my table. As I looked around, I realized we had no chance at competing. I was probably the most athletic…which is bad to begin with. Then, I was hobbled on top of that. It was bad when one of the events was Trivia and everyone wanted to do that. Mostly we just ate lunch. A few guys knew each other from past camps and dominated the conversation. I was more concerned about my hamstring. I saw one of the trainers eating lunch on the other side of the room. I limped over to him and asked if I could get more ice for my hamstring. He was just finishing up and was ok with it. We went over to the trainer’s room which is in the team’s workout building. This was kinda cool since this is where I get my autographs each year at the real Steelers training camp. The players come up the stairs from the field, and head into that building. You try and catch them as they go by. Last year Ben stopped for a while, I was close, but no cigar. Obviously, he signed for a lot of the kids. That was the year I did get TJ Watt and Joe Haden though. Had a chance to talk with both of them. The trainer soon came out from the back with a big bag of ice. I was able to get a cart ride back to the dorms too. We had about an hour break before the afternoon drills. Ice and more ice would be on the agenda.

 

The dorm was set up in room pods. Each set of about 10 rooms had its own common living area with couches and a TV and also a bathroom with showers. Each pod contained an RA’s room. I thought this was pretty cool because we did not have this set up at my school. I got back before the others, placed myself on the couch…and ice on my hamstring and both knees. It did look kinda funny. At that point Tunch Ilkin came into the pod area. Surprising. He looked and said, tough morning? I told him I tweaked my hamstring. He said it was smart to ice it, and that there was a bunch of injuries from a pretty competitive morning. He said they might dial it down a bit for the afternoon. With that, Tunch walked over to the RA’s room and went in. I had no idea he was in our Pod. Cool. The others started coming back. Each offered their advice, but I knew I was going to give it a shot in the afternoon. In my brace bag I usually carry an old ace bandage. I really only use it to keep my own ice pack on my knee. Something of an afterthought, this turned out to be my savior. The guy from Tennessee had mentioned earlier he has bad hamstrings. He wore these spandex type supports on each upper leg. Without having such a luxury, I thought maybe I can wrap the ace bandage tight enough to do the trick. The underarmour underwear I had went down about halfway on the upper leg. The brace I wore covered the lower half. Once I wrapped the ace bandage nice and tight, those two items kept it well in place. I changed my jersey and shorts too. Maybe that would change my luck. I had a camp practice jersey, like the one I had Hoke sign the day before, except this was a size 50. It was also #62, 26 backwards for those of you keeping score. Obviously the numbers on the jerseys I bought would be of a higher variety since I needed a larger one. Also, this was a gold jersey. The afternoon would be sunny in the mid 80’s. No reason to wear black. Once everything was on, I did a couple of quick sprints in the common area. It felt it, but I was also able to do it. So, I packed up my bag, and I was off to the afternoon drills.

Come (Fantasy) Camping – Part III

Posted by on Monday, 17 June, 2019

My iPhone alarm went off and I awoke like Christmas morning. My roommate was still asleep, so I quietly gathered my things for a shower and to change. I donned the jersey I was given (each person was given a home jersey with a number and name of their choice), #26 Walsh, and had picked up gold sweat shorts. I slid on a new brace on my bad knee. The one I use for hockey was way too bulky. I hoped my knee would hold up with this one. I put my cleats on, packed up my hockey knee brace and other medical necessities into my bag and I was off to breakfast. We had been given wrist bands for the group I’d be in. I was blue so I sought out some teammates at breakfast to sit with. I listened more than spoke and was soon ready to head to the field.

Upon arriving at the field, we first set up for a photo op with the group. Shortly thereafter we did our warmups. We lined up 6-7 deep across the field. It varied from walking and squatting, walking and kicking…just really trying to get the muscles stretched. The pace was picked up. Leading off my row was a guy I recognized from last year’s photos from camp. He wore wristbands and gloves. He certainly looked the part and played it too. I, not knowing how my body would hold up, was tail end Charlie. At the end of each drill, this guy would low five each of us. He’d also encourage us during the drill…and God knows I needed that. I got to talking to him since he and I were the only ones going close to full speed in these drills. He was from Tennessee and for the life of me I forget his name now. If you watch this year’s video, he is the one spiking the ball at the end of it. I felt pretty good after the warm ups. I was ready to go.

 

There were 6 groups, and each went to a designated area and to their ex-Steeler coach for that session. You would have 3 in the morning, 3 in the afternoon. Each group would rotate through. My group went to Dermontti Dawson and the O-Line drills first. We lined up into 2-two man lines, with two guys across. Dawson was explaining the drill, but he was on the far side of the other line, so it was hard to hear him. Two teammates would hold blocking pads. The other two would go up against them. The two without the pads would hit the first guy with pads. The second guy with pads would swing around. Without hearing Dawson, I figured the guy swinging around was the RB, we would hit the blocking guy, slide off and get the RB. Well, that is what I did. Dawson’s assistant, a cute intern for the Steelers, came over to me…I figured because of my prowess in attacking the ball carrier. She said, good job, you just got your QB killed. It was then I realized I WAS the O-Line. The guy swinging around was a LB trying to blitz or stuff the run. One of us needed to stay engaged with the original guy with the pad. Whatever side the LB went to that guy would slide off (not both of us) and pick up the LB. OOPS! Well, the drill went much better after that. The intern came over and said much better. I told her I thought I was the D, once I knew what I was doing, it helped. She just shook her head and laughed. I think Dawson realized this and now switched from line to line to make sure everyone knew the drill he’d be running. After the drills, the fun part was now we went up against Chris Hoke’s DL group. I was part of the first O-Line team to line up. A little short for tackle, I went inside and played center. The other team lined up against us. A hybrid D-Line consisting of 2 DE, 2 DT and a NT. They decided to have us go one on one down the like instead of all 5 at once. Probably a good idea. They went from left to right. Soon it was my turn and a squat NT was across me. I would need to get low. He tried to bull rush me back. My two hands coming up and into his inner body slowed him down quite a bit. The push stood him up and he lost his center of gravity…and quickly lost the battle. I believe I heard Dawson say, that’s the way you do it. After everyone got their turn, we’d move on to the next area.

Next up was Shaun Suisham. Our group was split in three for FG kicking, punting and long snapping. Since my knee was already bad, and it was my kicking leg, I took up long snapping first. I’ve always been able to snap. A friend of mine from college was a long napper in High School. He showed me a thing or two on how to get that spiral. He was 6’5” with hands to match, he could rifle it through his legs one handed. I, on the other hand, had to learn how to do it with two. My first snaps were right on the money to the holder. I worked on getting a better spiral, but then lost some accuracy. Soon we rotated and our group was kicking FG’s. I gave it two tries. Not even close, maybe I’d be good at onside kicks. Next up was punting. I could do that better than kicking since I did not have to be afraid of driving my leg into the ground. Suisham said to us, on any errant punts, yell Peter, instead of “heads up”. No one thought much about it at the time. Suisham definitely had the best personality. He did have good pointers in how to kick FG’s and also talked about being a kicker in the league. After we all rotated, he said we were going to emulate a last second FG. He asked who wanted to do what. I thought about being the long snapper, but Suisham’s words of it all hinges on a good snap made me pass. I did become one of the blockers. We stood on the sidelines and he counted down from 25. The 11 of us ran onto the field. The ball was hiked…on the money…the hold was solid, and the kick was GOOD! Not bad for a bunch of never was’es…

 

Next up was Louis Lipps. Again, Lipps was very reserved…. possible hungover from the night before. He asked who could QB, again I thought about it. But I wanted to run routes. We lined up into two lines, one on each hashmark. Lipps needed 2 volunteers to QB. I had seen the one throw earlier and he was good. The guy we got, was not. Lipps had us run 5 yard slant ins. The QB was about 5-7 yds behind the line of scrimmage. I watched both lines. The other QB threw nice tight accurate spirals. Our QB did not. I was 5th in line and he had not completed a pass. I ran my route determined to catch whatever ball he threw. It wasn’t horrible but it was behind me. I reached back and caught it off my hip. I could only think how the D would have clobbered me having to reach back like that. A few more bad passes and our QB passed to another QB, thank God. He was MUCH better. My turn came to run the slant again, he hit me right in stride. Lipps held us up and then had us run 5 yd outs. The QB threw a nice hard pass to me towards the sidelines, I took it and turned upfield. When I got to run it again, this time he lofted it over my shoulders. It dropped perfectly in my arms. As I was heading back to the line, the next guy running got turned around, he caught the ball and fell backwards slamming his head on the hard ground. His glassed flew off in my direction. I picked them up and went over to him, but I could immediately tell he was woozy. The trainers came over (yes, we had trainers!) and they called for the ambulance to come over (yes, we had an ambulance onsite). They walked him to the sideline where they started asking him questions…some of them he had trouble with. Lipps once again stopped us and we would now run another new route. 5 yd slant in, then cut and slant out to the sidelines. My turn came, I slanted in and after 5 yds I planted and cut to slant out. My hamstring said, sorry bud, not happening. I grabbed the back of my leg and one leg hopped like the RB in North Dallas Forty. The QB, unaware of my situation threw the ball anyway. He yelled for me to turn around. Luckily, he was not as accurate this time, and the ball sailed way over my head. The trainers on the sideline were apparently watching. They just said Hamstring huh? I nodded yes. He said to follow him to the trainer’s table for some ice. My morning drills had come to an end. I would not get a chance to run routes against Woodruff’s DB group.

As I got to the trainer’s area there was another guy getting ice. I recognized him from the O-Line session. He told me he got hurt on one of those drills. I felt bad for him, at least I made it to the last of the three morning drill sessions. We would get to talking. We would catch up more later. Soon the whistle blew, and the morning drills were over. I returned the ice pack and hobbled off to lunch.

Come (Fantasy) Camping – Part II

Posted by on Friday, 14 June, 2019

When the official autograph session was underway, I already had Ilkin and Wolfley done. Unfortunately, I had to get back in line for Dawson, so I took that time to go get some food…and beer. Bud light was the sponsor, so there was all the Bud Light you could drink. Now, not being a fan of that brand, I did find the Bud Light Lime acceptable. Also, they had a buffet of sliders, both hamburger and pulled pork. I grabbed a couple, along with my BLL and waited for the Dawson line to dwindle. Lipps, Moats, Woodruff, Suisham and Hoke had not arrived yet. They would be set up to the right of the stage. Dawson, Ilkin and Wolfley to the left.

I waited in line for Dawson, and he obviously recognized me from before. I had mentioned to him earlier about the poster and he was eager to see it. He signed with his # and HOF 12 in a prominent spot above his likeness. I told him I’m looking forward to learning how to hold and get away with it tomorrow. At this point Lipps and Woodruff arrived. I headed over to that line. Lipps was quiet, more because of his laid back southern-ness. He signed the poster and didn’t say much. Woodruff was next. It was his last year as a starter in 1989, he joked he was glad he was still pictured. I also had the 8×10 and he was more than happy to sign a second item. I showed him the photo and he had not seen it before. As he signed, he said, Damn I look good in that picture! He did, he undercuts the pass in the endzone intended for Andre Reed. You see the results will eventually be the ball is knocked away. Of course, me being me, I checked the photo well before. The photo was in Buffalo. The Steelers only played in Buffalo twice, 86 and 88, while both Reed and Woodruff were active. However, Woodruff did not play the game in 86 due to injury. I checked the boxscore for the 88 game and Woodruff did not have an INT, and Reed didn’t score either.

Chris Hoke finally showed up and I needed my last item for that evening to be signed. 2 years back I bought a #76 gold (defense) practice jersey at training camp. It was unused so it was cheap. It was a size 48 which is close, but really, I need a 50. I tried stretching it, but it always was too tight to wear. So, it becomes memorabilia. Hoke’s eyes lit up when he saw it and asked if it were a gamer.  I said it wasn’t. He still liked it. And signed it for me.

The signing subsided and it was time for Friday Night’s main speaker, Rocky Bleier. He showed off his Superbowl rings and was asked why he wore the SB XIII one. Most people thought it was because of his TD catch in the game, but he said it was because it was the gaudiest.

He went on to say his favorite non teammate was Turkey Jones of the Browns. If not for him breaking Bradshaw’s neck, he would never have had the chance to get a 1,000 rushing season. He also told a story about a game that the Steelers needed to win against Houston. There was less than a minute and Bradshaw got play #5 from Noll on the sideline. Bleier was stuffed. Quickly Bradshaw received play #7 from Noll, a WR sweep to Swann. That was stopped too. With time running out Noll was trying to call in a play and Bradshaw ignored him. The QB dropped back and hit Stallworth in the back of the endzone for the winning TD. After Bradshaw was done celebrating Noll waited for him on the sideline. Noll said that was not the play he was calling, why did you run that play. Bradshaw said, well, they stuffed play 5 and then stopped play 7. So, I added them together and ran play 15. Noll, calmly said, 7 and 5 is 12. Bradshaw responded, well coach, if I was as smart as you, we would have lost the game! Bleier would go on to talk about how the team went out of their way to get him a TD in his last home game at Three Rivers. He kidded around that the version he tells does not quite match up with the easy walk in TD he scored thanks to the O-Line. After going through a couple more stories and a standing ovation, he settled in to sign autographs. People were told one autograph OR a photo. I guess Bleier didn’t care. He signed whatever was put in front of him and took pictures with whoever wanted. He did like the photo I had from SB IX against the Vikings.

A lot of guys were headed to Sharky’s afterwards. A shuttle was provided so people did not have to drive. Some of the ex-players went too. However, I was exhausted at this point and headed back to the dorms.  I arrived and saw my roommate had did too. His stuff was there, he was not. I must have crashed hard because I never heard him come in the room later that night. Good thing, I needed a good night’s sleep for the day ahead.

Come (Fantasy) Camping – Part 1

Posted by on Wednesday, 12 June, 2019

I have always wanted to go to the Steelers Men’s Fantasy Camp, but two things always seemed to stop me. One was it always fell on the same weekend as the Mid Atlantic Air Museum’s World War II weekend in Reading PA. It usually boasts one of the largest collections of vintage WWII aircraft still flying. The second reason? I couldn’t find anyone to go with me.

 

This year though, the WWII Weekend was scheduled for the weekend after. Also Rod Woodson, one of my all-time favorite Steelers, would be there. And, as you know, I tried to recruit some Ballers to go (and I hope this Blog will convince a few next year) but with no luck. Then, to top it off, one friend from my hockey team had a surprise 60th B-Day party (yes, we are old) on Saturday and another had his daughter’s (who was a flower girl at my wedding) high school graduation party on Sunday. Looked like it would be another lost year for Fantasy Camp.

 

Well, as luck…or unluck would have it, I had a little bit of an issue/falling out with some of my friends on the hockey team in mid-April (I won’t go into details here, but like everything else, just assume I was right). Why was I going to miss Fantasy camp just to attend their events when I was pissed at them? The same day it kind of all went down, I signed up for Fantasy camp. It was the push I needed. Yes, I went to camp due to spite…much like how I make most of my decisions in life. At least I am consistent.

 

I scanned the list of the players who would be attending. It seemed 6 of them, Woodson, Dawson, Lipps, Ilkin, Wolfley and Woodruff all played for the 1989 team. I just happened to have a poster from the 1989 team. It would be a great item to get signed by them. Also, Bleier would be the Friday night guest. I picked up an 8×10 photo of him carrying the ball in Superbowl IX vs the Vikings, a unique photo. I also found a great photo of Woodruff knocking the ball away from Andre Reed, a photo I had never seen before. I also had a gold practice jersey, #76, which would be great to get autographed by Chris Hoke. I packed up all my Steelers garb and I was ready to go. It did mention preferred attire was Black and Gold.

 

The George Washington bridge was not kind to me, but when is it ever. After a long 8 hour drive I arrived at St. Vincents. I asked the guy at the security booth where I should park for Fantasy camp. He directed me towards the dorms. As I pulled into the parking lot I could see others arriving. I was exhausted from the drive so I stayed in the car a bit to observer their routine. I eventually exited, stretched my legs, and went to get my stuff out of the back of the car. At that point another “camper” got out of his car a few spots over and he said hello. I couldn’t help but notice that this guy was in pretty good shape. I thought, damn, this is what the other guys are gonna be like I am in trouble. He came over to chat and I told him I had just been in SF the last week for work, then got home, packed the car and drove 8 hours here. We talked a bit and he told me he just came in from CA too and he had family in Oakland. I couldn’t help but think he looked familiar. When we were done, he turned to get the rest of his stuff out of the car. That’s when I saw the tag on his bad. D. Dawson. I’m glad I didn’t ask him his name when he first came over….

 

I dragged my stuff to the dorm like I was back in college…since that was my reference not ever being a Steeler going to training camp. They ushered us to a welcoming committee where information overload, along with paraphernalia overload, ensued. I let them know it was my first year attending so they slowed it down a bit for me. I received my room key and off I went to the 4th floor. I had arrived before my roommate so I had my choice of beds…not like it really mattered. It was what a dorm room is…cold white cinderblock walls with 2 beds, 2 desks, 2 dresser draws. I changed and gathered my memorabilia for the welcome dinner at 5pm. I went back to the area where I checked in. They told me where to go. At least I knew the college. I had been given a tour a few years back by Ben’s friend Eileen who works at St. Vincent. That and having been at training camp 3 years in a row also helped me navigate around.

I arrived at the area where they were having the reception. Steeler highlights were showing on the wall. I felt a little out of place since everyone seemed to know each other. It was a reunion for people who may not have seen each other since last year’s camp. I did see a familiar face. D. Dawson. I went over to chat with him to follow up on our conversation. I told him how I thought he was a regular “camper” since he was parking with everyone else. Also, how I was like, damn…I got to compete against guys like that. He kidded his legs aren’t what they used to be. Ha, isn’t that the same for all of us here! I went on to say as he walked away, I saw his tag and said, damn, that was Dermontti Dawson. He had a good laugh. He is an awesome guy. At that point others joined us and started asking for autographs. It was way early for him to start, he did so anyway.

 

The autograph session was about to start. I had my poster at the ready. One thing about that 1989 team poster I did not mention. It did not officially say 1989 Steelers and it had a copyright of 1990. I did buy it in December of 1990, but obviously they didn’t just print it for me then. Also, it had 1990 draft choice Eric Green on the poster. It would seem it had to be made after the 1990 draft. This is the tricky part. It shows #73. Now Craig Wolfley was on the 1989 team but not the 1990 team. I have always wondered since I got the poster if it was supposed to be Wolfley or not. The 1990 team did have Strzelczyk with #73 but I doubt he would have made the poster in 1990 as a late draft pick. Also, if you look closely you can see what looks like a W on the back of the player wearing #73. Because of that I always went with Wolfley. Needing to find out, I was able to corral Wolfley before the autograph session started. I asked if he had ever seen this poster and he hadn’t. I said I think that was him but wasn’t sure. He did mention Strzelczyk but I pointed out the W on the back of the jersey. Just then Tunch Ilkin came over. Wolfley asked him if he had ever seen this poster. He did. He said it was the 1989 team. With that, whether it actually was or wasn’t, it was. Wolfley signed by the #73 player. I said well, if it wasn’t him, it is now!

It’s Kinda Like That……

Posted by on Wednesday, 30 January, 2019

This Year’s Camp Autographs

Posted by on Tuesday, 28 August, 2018

TJ Watt

Joe Haden

Alejandro Villanueva

Justin Hunter

James Washington

Jaylen Samuels

BJ Finney

Matt Feiler

Fitzgerald Toussaint

Marcus Tucker

Jerald Hawkins

Jake McGee

Jake Rodgers

RJ Prince

Damoun Patterson

Jarvion Franklin

Quadree Henderson

Patrick Morris

Trey Griffey

Tevin Jones

Parker Cothran

James Summers

Joseph Cheek

Christain Scotland-Williamson

Kevin Colbert