After years of planning, preparation and construction, Highmark Stadium will play host to its first athletic event on turf this weekend.
While it will be the South Side facility's public unveiling as an athletic competition venue, the Passion will treat the event at 7 p.m. today as something more important -- the beginning of a new football season
Though the setting is different, the Passion's 2013 season begins just as last season ended -- with a Women's Football Association game against the D.C. Divas, who eliminated the Passion from the playoffs last year in the second round with a 45-30 victory.
With that loss still fresh in their minds, the Passion players and coaches are not only ready for the season to begin, but they also are eager to face the Divas.
"I think [for] everybody, when you leave the season, if you're not the national champions, everybody has a hunger to come back," Passion owner and coach Theresa Conn said.
"At the end of the year last year, we were missing our starting quarterback, we were missing our starting linebacker, so we were missing a few people in that last game.
"We've been looking forward to playing them again so it can just be best against best."
If anything, it figures to be a close game as six of their past seven meetings have been decided by 15 or fewer points.
Most of the Passion's players have returned from last season, with the coach touting both the team's offensive line and quarterback Lisa Horton, who Conn believes is "one of the best quarterbacks in the United States."
Many of the retirements have been made up for with rookies, and one of the team's biggest advantages likely will be a stout defense that includes many of the starters from last season.
"We're so balanced I don't even know where to start," Conn said. "I think that's our greatest strength."
For a team that has bounced around from one high school stadium to another -- a group that includes Ambridge, Belle Vernon and Cupples Stadium -- this will be a special moment for the franchise and the fans that have followed them to each stop.
"Obviously, that's a really special honor to get to do that," Conn said of playing at Highmark Stadium. "We're very excited."
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @craig_a_meyer.