Steelers inspired by seeing Stanley Cup
If it wasn't for the prosthetic leg/walking-boot contraption that he's wearing for his broken tibia, Nick Bonino would be virtually unrecognizable after shaving his long beard.
But even if none of the Steelers recognized Bonino on his visit to UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Thursday, they certainly were familiar with his traveling companion.
“That,” coach Mike Tomlin said, “is Lord Stanley.”
Bonino was the lone player representative among a small contingent of the Penguins organization that made its way over to the South Side in time for the end of the Steelers' final minicamp session early Thursday afternoon.
But with all due respect to Bonino — Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley introduced himself to Bonino by saying, “big fan” — the guest of honor was the Stanley Cup.
The Penguins reclaimed the Cup when they wrapped up their Stanley Cup Final victory Sunday night.
“I went to a lot of the Penguins (playoff) games, but it really exciting just to see the Stanley Cup,” linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “It just gives guys motivation and makes us want to be great this season. When you have a team in your city that constantly wins, it just motivates you to be better. They set the standard pretty high, and we have to go reach it.”
Bonino, who broke his leg blocking a slot in Game 2 of the Final, emerged from the Steelers facility and onto their practice field just as Steelers players were heading the other direction. He held it above his head before stopping while several Steelers doted over it.
Cameron Heyward was among those who posed for a photo with it outside. Tomlin, in particular, seemed to revel in seeing the Stanley Cup up close and touching it. He closely examined some of the names on it.
“Beautiful thing,” Tomlin said quietly. “It's a beautiful thing.”
Haley stood opposite of Tomlin and similarly appeared in awe. He asked Bonino to pose for a photo with the Cup.
The chalice made its way into the Steelers locker room. Eventually, it was set on a counter and Steelers players, employees and media took turns posing with it.
Throughout the hockey playoffs, several Steelers regularly were spotted at PPG Paints Arena during Penguins games.
“We just all want Pittsburgh to do well in everything,” Heyward said, “and I think (the Penguins) have done their end of the bargain.”
Said Tomlin: “A lot of respect for what they've gone through and accomplished. Really appreciate them showing a token of their appreciation for our support by bringing it over and allowing us to get a little glimpse of it. Hopefully we represent Pittsburgh and Western PA in a similar way here in a few months.”
A Connecticut native, Bonino grew up a New York Giants fan. He said the only Steelers game he went to last season was when the Giants visited in December — Bonino wore neutral colors and did not cheer for either team.
He greeted dozens of Steelers players and coaches, his pace around the locker room slowed by the boot.
Someone asked Bonino why he was the only Penguins player who visited. Captain Sidney Crosby, for example, often has spoke of being a Steelers fan.
There was a good reason Bonino was not joined by any of his teammates.
“A lot of them are golfing — and I unfortunately can't partake,” he said, his eyes darting down to the broken leg. “But this is a great place to be if I'm not on a golf course.”