Rossi: St. Vincent a football sanctuary during Steelers training camp
We need a place like the one where the Steelers Nation convened Sunday afternoon, because football is America's game. And like Americans, football fans could easily lose faith in our institutions if we did nothing more than skim the headlines in the days before the first NFL teams reported for training camp.
The impending release of Junior Galette by New Orleans served as the latest chapter in what has become a thick book of stories involving NFL players' alleged violent behavior away from the field. Then there was the apparent never-ending story of Deflate-gate, a controversy that somehow challenges the integrity of the NFL's commissioner and its championship quarterback.
But when word dropped on Friday that the Pro Football Hall of Fame will not allow the late Junior Seau's daughter to speak at his posthumous induction, it seemed like a strike against decency, humanity and integrity — if not an outright attempt at censorship.
There's always been a peculiar beauty in the brutality that exists within the game of football. Lately, football seems less like a game than a reflection of real life, and that's made for a brutal fan experience.
Then there are days like Sunday, and scenes like the side of the road on St. Vincent Drive. There, 22 cars were parked in a line, the drivers chatting through open windows, some sharing snacks and beverages, maybe about a hundred people in total waiting on football.
Make that waiting on one particular football team.
The Steelers are back, but the first practice of training camp always is the most anticipated sporting event of a Western Pennsylvania summer. Only this summer, the Steelers are celebrating their 50th anniversary at St. Vincent.
Given the troubled state of America's game, the site of Steelers training camp probably is the last good place in Football America.
To borrow from St. Vincent's much beloved Father Paul Taylor, there really isn't anything to compare to the mix of “students, parishioners, monks and Steelers.” But if you want to know what makes St. Vincent a sanctuary in the current football climate, soak up this whopper from Steelers president Art Rooney II:
“There was that time I stole Joe Greene's car,” Rooney said.
OK, so you've seen Rooney, heard him, watched him take over for his father, Dan Rooney, as basically the most powerful owner in Pittsburgh. At any point, did you think of Art Rooney II and go, “Yeah, that guy once lifted Mean Joe's wheels.”
“You know, Joe showed up in a beautiful, green Lincoln Continental,” Rooney said. “Me and (actor) Bill Nunn were ball boys, and somehow Bill got the keys, and we decided to take it for a ride.
“We only told Joe that story about 10 years ago.”
Greene is one of 12 Hall of Famers to have practiced for the Steelers at St. Vincent. Another Hall of Famer, late coach Chuck Noll, had the main football field here named in his honor.
History isn't the reason we need a place like this, though.
We need a place like this because football keeps getting more expensive and expansive and exasperating, but it's never like that when the Steelers show up at St. Vincent.
It's about kids lined up, waiting for autographs as players walk the up-hill path to the cafeteria. It's about the Latrobe locals who volunteer under the sweltering sun. It's about the college students who collect internship credits by spending a few weeks working for a flagship NFL franchise.
It's about Steelers alumni stopping by to say hello. It's about media and millionaire athletes eating the same food. It's about Father Paul and James Harrison shaking hands, because that's the Steeler Way during training camp.
It's about what made America fall for this game in the first place.
We could lose our faith when it comes to football. But we won't as long as the Steelers keep coming back to St. Vincent.