The Steelers’ long-awaited, much-anticipated return to Saint Vincent College this summer is playing out as a reunion so emotional it can bring tears to your eyes.
In at least one instance, it already has.
“Really special,” No. 1 pick Kenny Pickett assessed of an exchange with a young fan that turned on the waterworks in response to the simple receiving of an autograph. “You never know how much you can impact someone’s life. Obviously, that was a pretty huge moment. I’m just grateful for all the support, the fans, and hopefully, I made his day a good one.”
Pickett has signed plenty of autographs while at Pitt and since being drafted by the Steelers.
But none like this.
“He was crying,” Pickett continued. “I was like, ‘I hope they’re happy tears.’ It felt weird having a little guy crying in front of you. I was hoping it was all for a good reason.
“That was definitely a first, it was a special moment for myself, for him, and his family was there, so it was great.”
The Steelers had summered here every year since 1966 until COVID-19 hit.
The Heinz Field alternative site for camp in 2020 and 2021 was antiseptic at best.
And the manner in which the opportunity to resume traditional pilgrimages to Saint Vincent has been embraced by Steeler Nation has been …
Still trying to think of an appropriate manner in which to describe that.
Longtime NFL writer and broadcaster Peter King may have best captured it during a visit to campus last weekend.
King posted a video on Twitter showcasing all the cars lined up on the side of the access road that leads to the entrance to the field that serves as a parking lot.
The video was one minute in length.
It concluded with this from King: “It’s 10:37 a.m. … practice is not for three hours and 18 minutes.”
He left out that last Saturday’s practice was scheduled to be conducted without shoulder pads, which meant it was destined to be less exciting/compelling/revealing than a session in which the pads are popping, but the point was made all the same.
The Steelers distributed over 17,000 free-but-still-required tickets for last Saturday’s festivities.
General Manager Omar Kahn is among those in the Steelers’ contingent who has been blown away by the response to the team’s return to Saint Vincent.
“What can I say? The support that we’ve gotten here so far from the fans coming in, it’s been just tremendous,” Kahn offered. “I’ve met people from all over the country, actually all over the world. I met someone from Mexico yesterday that had traveled.
“It’s been amazing and that really does mean a lot for all of us, including the team.”
That unique connection with Steeler Nation (Mexico? Steeler Hemisphere?), indeed, means a great deal.
But to the organization, in general, and to Mike Tomlin, in particular, what can be gleaned by sequestering a team in such a fashion for a camp means even more.
It’s one of the reasons the Steelers remain one of only a handful of NFL teams that leave their plush practice facilities and go camping in preparation for a season.
“It’s the opportunity to capture the intangible, that which we cannot measure,” Tomlin emphasized upon his return to Westmoreland County. “The informal time that going away to camp provides you, those moments where a veteran guy gets a chance to spend time with a young guy on the stoop out back at night or in between meetings or after dinner.
“I just think there’s value in that, there’s growth, there’s collective growth in that, and I’m excited about what that environment provides us from that perspective.”