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Former Steelers hope NFL deal gets done

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Steelers radio analyst Tunch Ilkin would miss his ceramic coffee mug. Sideline reporter Craig Wolfley might drive his wife crazy.

During the Steelers' ninth annual Men's Fantasy Camp at St. Vincent College over the weekend, both men admitted that thoughts of not spending August in Latrobe are very realistic, the result of the NFL's ongoing labor dispute.

"It's obviously in the forefront of everybody's minds," Ilkin said. "The people here at St. Vincent are so gracious — everybody, from the people who take care of the dorms, to the people in the cafeteria.

"And that's been one of the conversations I've had with a lot of them, which is, 'I hope I see you in a couple weeks.' You can't avoid that conversation."

Ilkin joked about being a high-maintenance instructor, how he detests Styrofoam coffee cups and how one of the cafeteria workers at St. Vincent would bring him a ceramic one every morning.

Despite drinking coffee his preferred way during both mornings of the fantasy camp, Ilkin didn't shy away from the fact that the only Steelers-related workouts at St. Vincent could have been attended by some players who were close to 70 years old.

"You can't help but be aware of it," Ilkin said of the NFL's divide between players and owners. "You understand the impact that training camp has on the economy here in Latrobe. You understand what kind of impact the lack of football can have on the economy in Pittsburgh. That is something you're very aware of and you do think about."

Both were in Latrobe to serve as counselors for the event, which was attended by nearly 260 Steelers fanatics.

Campers arrived Friday evening for a welcome reception and a Hall of Fame induction ceremony, where those having attended five consecutive camps were honored.

Saturday featured morning and afternoon practices, along with an evening program during which Steelers legend Jack Ham was the keynote speaker.

"I haven't played football since high school, and it was kind of neat to come out here and be young again," said John Kovak, 47, of Mars. "It was a lot of fun."

Wolfley infused the event with his trademark sense of humor, trading barbs early Sunday morning with the event's director, Steelers marketing and events manager John Simpson.

Having visited Latrobe every August for nearly three decades, Wolfley said his belief that the current labor dispute will get resolved keeps him from feeling too disheartened about the possibility of not being back at St. Vincent for training camp.

"I think naturally there's that fear that this won't get done, but I truly believe it's going to get done at some point," Wolfley said. "The bottom line is that football is going to roll on."

And if it doesn't?

"I'll be driving my wife crazy," Wolfley said, laughing. "My wife would be telling me to go do something, to just get out of her hair. My wife is praying for a good resolution here, and just from that alone I think a deal will get done."

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