Training camp is to football as advent is to Christmas. It signals the anticipation of the season.
The Sundays spent yelling at your television. The excitement of rising before the sun to get ready for the tailgating. The sight of cheering fans wearing black-and-yellow, of fourth-quarter comebacks, beer and frost-covered fields.
Sure, backups get most of the work at training camp and jersey numbers repeat, but when the team takes to the field of Saint Vincent College -- players report today and the first practice opens to the public at 2:55 p.m. Saturday -- part of the attraction for fans is being up close and personal with the players who will battle for their Steelers 16 times this year, and hopefully more.
"You're able to be close to them. You sweat with them," Downtown resident Mike Sidowsky said when asked what's so special about training camp. "There's more of a connection to it."
Training camp may as well be Steelers Nation's family reunion, and Saint Vincent's is its picnic shelter. Fans,decked out in everything from face paint to wedding gowns, can park and enter for free. There will be plenty of concessions and merchandise for sale.
The UPMC Steelers Experience is the reunion's playground, where kids (and some adults) can throw footballs, kick field goals, catch passes and run through a variety of obstacles.
"Saint Vincent College is a great setup for our training camp as it allows our fans an up-close opportunity to see our players and coaches," Steelers president Art Rooney II said. "It is free to attend and it gives our fans the chance to get closer to the team. We want to continue to make it a great afternoon for families."
The family aspect of the event is what keeps many fans interested.
"I loved it when I was a kid. That's the reason I go now, for the kids," said Steve Colaizzi, owner of Colaizzi Brothers, a bakery and candy shop in Greensburg. "I live in Latrobe, but I probably wouldn't go without the kids."
Mr. Colaizzi's oldest son, Joseph, echoed a sentiment of many middle school-age kids about the best part of camp: meeting the players.
He'll have plenty of chances to interact with his favorite Steelers the next few weeks, as camp runs through Aug. 18. Players will generally sign autographs after practices.
Of course, camp will give a first look at rookies and help sort out questions the Steelers face going into the season. Talk of Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, London and the playoffs will surely percolate through the bleachers, but for fans in Pittsburgh and beyond, camp is about more than figuring out nickel linebackers and who gets the ball on third-and-short. Training camp is a family football affair that caters to parents and kids.
And, beginning Saturday, passes will be thrown, jerseys will be sold and the sounds of football season will swirl once again.
Clan members of the Steelers Nation tribe will reunite, and all will be right with the world once again.
Nick Veronica: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @NickVeronica. First Published July 26, 2013 4:00 AM