Devoted Steeler fan ready for camp
For George Muentzer, the first day fans can watch the Steelers at their St. Vincent College training camp is akin to a religious holiday for a monk — he would never miss it and hasn't since 1971.
“I do it 'cause I love the Steelers. They're my team,” Muentzer said, standing in the “Steeler room” of his Hempfield house with friend Glenn Droutz, “one of the guys from Jeannette” who often joins him for the annual pilgrimage.
But Muentzer has more drive than the average fan headed to that summer mecca. He and his gang want to be first in line for seats in the upper row on the 50-yard line in the bleachers at Chuck Noll Field, so their mission is to get to the parking lot hours before thousands of fans arrive to watch the 2:55 p.m. practice.
“We're there at 5:30 (a.m.), and we're having a ball,” said Muentzer, 65, a former Jeannette Glass Co. worker, truck driver and construction worker who retired three years ago.
That means getting up around 4 a.m. and leaving his house east of Jeannette at 5 a.m. for the 30-minute drive to the scenic campus near Latrobe. And when he says 5 a.m., he means sharp.
Muentzer unhesitatingly tells his friends that “5 a.m. is when the train leaves. If you're not there, you miss it.”
Droutz, 59, said leaving so early “is no big deal” because he rises early for work. This year, he hopes his boss at Orange Masonry will let him take the day off.
“It's easy to do. If you like football, you do it,” said Droutz, who has been at many training camps because he worked as a security guard for the college.
Muentzer and the gang sometimes meet out-of-state fans from far-flung outposts of Steelers Nation — New Jersey, Virginia and Iowa — for breakfast at the Denny's restaurant along Route 30 in Hempfield. Muentzer is bagging that plan Friday because stopping for a bite got him to camp too late — about 6 a.m.
When Droutz and his friends arrive, they will have seven hours to kill before security lets them into a former cornfield converted into a parking lot. They'll wait alongside their cars at the entrance until noon, waving Terrible Towels at other fans as they arrive. By 8:30 a.m., they'll see about 50 cars waiting for the parking area to open, Muentzer said.
“We enjoy getting the crowd wound up. We get all decked out” in Steeler regalia, said Muentzer, who stands out as a lanky, 6-foot-2-inch man in head-to-toe black and gold.
Radio broadcaster Tunch Ilkin, a former Steelers lineman, often shows up and chats with them, Muentzer said.
“I enjoy seeing the guys from the very first day,” he said.
After the first day of camp, Muentzer usually returns four or five times.
His love of the Steelers started when he was 7 or 8 years old. His father took him to see them play at old Pitt Stadium in the early 1960s when Bobby Layne was quarterback and the team was at least half decent — at least some of the time, he recalls. He played football at Norwin High School with Doug Plank, who went on to play safety for the Chicago Bears.
Like so many fans, Muentzer has a “Steeler room” in his home, decorated with about $3,000 worth of team memorabilia. That includes training camp photos of him and the late broadcaster Myron Cope in 1983 and with Art J. Rooney II, Steeler president and grandson of team founder Art Rooney.
The walls are adorned with 14 Steeler hats and more are stashed in his closet, where a slew of team shirts hang. Steelers-labeled beer cans — unopened — are part of the shrine, along with a chunk of turf from Three Rivers Stadium, home of the 1970s Super Steelers. Fifteen Terrible Towels are spread over every conceivable surface.
So what does his wife think of his Steelers passion?
“Oh, God, more power to him,” said Vicky, who won't be aboard the training camp caravan Friday.
Muentzer said he has a goal and, God willing, nothing short of his demise will stop him.
“I'm looking forward to 2020,” Muentzer said of when he will celebrate his 50th year of the training camp tradition.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.