Rain doesn't drown fans' enthusiasm at Steelers training camp

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Some of them traveled across state lines and others came from just across town in Latrobe. But they came from all directions, and they all loved Steelers football.

They considered themselves the diehards of the diehards. Others called them the crazies.

They weren't scared off by showers Saturday morning that soaked Western Pennsylvania and kept many fans at home for the first practice of Steelers training camp, but many had already come too far to turn back.

They were among the first in line near a hill at Saint Vincent College, where they waited all morning and into the afternoon for camp officials to let them on the path the players walk down before practice.

And when the guards removed the rope, they ran.

"It's a mad dash," said Randy Kleist, whose group was second in line. "You have to put your runner up front."

Mr. Kleist drove from Fredericksburg, Va., for the first day of camp. Truth be told, he's a Washington Redskins fan, but his girlfriend's family bleeds black and gold and they talked him into coming. His girlfriend's brother was their runner.

"My dad is a Steelers fan, our whole family is Steelers fans," said Spencer Sines, 14, who came with Mr. Kleist. "We want autographs."

Others at the front of the line had similar stories.

Three generations of Steelers fans -- Delores, Dee and Sarah Amorino -- were first in line. All Latrobe residents, they arrived around 10 a.m. for a 2:55 p.m. practice.

"You have to plan everything out ahead of time," said Delores Amorino, the grandmother of the clan. "What you wear, when you're going to leave, where to park, everything."

She claims that after all these years coming to camp, her family has formed a special relationship with Steelers receiver Antonio Brown.

"We believed in him when no one else did," said Sarah Amorino, the daughter of Dee, about the fourth-year receiver.

"We call him A.B. and he calls me Grandma," Delores Amorino said. "It started three years ago when I said 'sign for Grandma!' and he said if he was going to sign for Grandma then he got to call me Grandma. He calls me it every year."

All three wore Mr. Brown's jersey.

A few Steelers came down to sign autographs earlier in the morning. One walked up without identifying himself, and fans flocked to him.

It was undrafted rookie defensive end Brian Arnfelt, who is sharing No. 69 with center Joe Madsen.

"Who is that?" one man asked another who had just snagged an autograph.

"I don't know," he responded, trying to make out the name. "Brian something, from Northwestern."

Tom Cramer left Zanesville, Ohio, at 7:30 a.m. to come in for camp. He wore a No. 6 Steelers jersey with a nameplate that said "SUPER BOWL CHAMPS" and had each Super Bowl logo surrounding the number. Another fan had the same jersey that said "SIXBURGH" on the back.

Mr. Cramer said it was the first training camp he had been to, but it was definitely worth it.

"The Steelers are all-out just the best team ever," he proclaimed. "I got this jersey in West Virginia after they won the sixth [championship], and I can't wait to put 7 on it."

Darnell Pringle of Fort Washington, Md., said he got up at 3 a.m. to drive in for camp.

Why the Steelers and not the Ravens?

"Ew," Mr. Pringle replied. "It's the Steelers. I always loved them since day one."

Greg Hendricks of Columbus, Ohio, sported a thick goatee with a gold stripe down the middle. He said his 5-year-old son, Nathan, was uncomfortable at the face-painting tent, so he had to go first.

Inspired by dad, Nathan went all-out and got the entire top of his head painted, with black and gold sides separated by his mohawk.

An hour after practice, Nathan had a ball full of autographs. He was lucky the rain held off for most of the afternoon to keep his paint intact, but those commuting to Latrobe didn't have the same good fortune. Heavy morning rains made travel difficult and kept others at home.

Jim Ocker left from Mifflinburg in Central Pennsylvania's Union County at 8 a.m. in a Steelers jersey and Steelers socks.

He was able to set up his chair in prime viewing position at 1 p.m. but didn't see the usual level of competition for seating.

"If I knew I could've came two hours later and still gotten this seat, we would have," Mr. Ocker said, only half-kidding.

"This is the smallest crowd we've ever seen," his wife, Brenda, added, "because of the rain."

Practice was suspended at one point due to lightning.

But the big take from Saturday is that training camp has kicked off, and it's officially time for football once again -- and Steelers season has begun.

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Nick Veronica: nveronica@post-gazette.com and Twitter @NickVeronica. First Published July 28, 2013 4:00 AM


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