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Day one is done: Steelers football returns

Written by Dan Gigler on .

Photos and notes from Day One of 2009 Steelers training camp ...

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On an impossibly gorgeous day on the impossibly gorgeous and rustic campus of St. Vincent College, the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers took the field Saturday to set about the task of defending their title and earning a seventh. As always, the morning session was closed to the public, but the afternoon session was open for fans to get their first glimpse of their gridiron heroes since the uber-dramatic finish to Super Bowl XLIII. And boy, did they turn out. There were easily 5,000 fans jammed along the hillsides and grandstands. Here's some of what Blog 'N' Gold saw ...

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The last man down to the field for the afternoon practice, Big Ben was greeted with a roar of applause and approval from the throngs of adoring fans in Latrobe, and he thanked them for their support by slapping five with them all down the walkway to the field. When Roethlisberger got to the field and trotted over to join his teammates on offense, the entire group -- led by the lineman -- gave a hearty standing ovation to their leader and captain. 

But the most popular Steeler -- in terms of decibel levels reached by screaming fans -- is easily Troy Polamalu. By a country mile over every other Steeler, and that is really saying something when you consider how popular guys like Hines Ward and Ben are. If you've ever seen those old broadcasts of the Beatles or Elvis playing the Ed Sullivan show -- women shrieking, people passing out -- that's about what it's like when Troy hits the field.

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For those making the trip out to Latrobe, this is not to be missed:

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All six Super Bowl trophies are on display and you may wait in line to take a photo with them. If you do nothing else on your visit to camp, do this. It's a guaranteed great photograph, as opposed to a picture or autograph from a player which you probably won't get. Which brings me to the other thing you really should do when you go to camp. Wait in line to meet this guy ...

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Wait ... not him. Him:

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For 30 minutes after each practice, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin greets fans and signs autogrpahs on the upper field near the Steelers Experience. If you get there a bit early, and wait in line, this is a guranteed sure thing. Tomlin was cordial, affable and talkative after day one was complete, posing for every photo and signing just about anything put in front of him by a truly reverant group of fans. Rather than giving the perfuntory handshake and smile, Tomlin engages the fans and answers questions, like a seasoned politician. 

Steve O' Bott and his son Jake drove in from suburban Philadelphia (Willow Grove) for camp, excited to meet the Coach. Steve asked Tomlin who the Super Bowl victory meant more to, his mother, his step-father or his brother. Tomlin said his brother, Eddie, who was on the field with him at the game. Jake asked Tomlin what he did differently in his second year as coach that lead the team to the Super Bowl, and would he be able to do it again this season. In dead serious, perfect Tomlin-ese, the coach replied, "We're searching for those answers now."

Ken & Carla Kolodey left their home in Louisville, Ky., at 2 a.m. Saturday to make the drive up to Latrobe, as part of their sixth anniversary gift. The other half of the gift was a picture with Tomlin and his signature on a Super Bowl XLIII commemorative helmet. It was to be the second in their collection -- in 2006 they came to Latrobe and had Bill Cowher sign a Super Bowl XL commemorative helmet for their third anniversary. They asked Tomlin to sign something special but he teased Ken that he was getting off easy in the gift department. "Do you know what my wife would do to me if I brought a helmet home for our anniversary?" Tomlin laughed. "That would not go over well." Tomlin congratulated the couple and signed, "Many More!" on the helmet.

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The Kolodeys, of Louisville, Ky., holding their anniversary present.

While its well-known that the Steelers Nation is one without boundaries or borders, and crosses oceans and continents, its pretty impressive to see the turnout from far-flung places around North America just for the opening of training camp. In a completely unscientific poll, Blog 'N' Gold noticed dozens of license plates from out of state, with all of the following places represented:

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Washington (state!), South Dakota, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Ohio (it seems like half the state of Ohio was there. But wouldn't you be too if your home state boasted the Browns and Bengals?), Maryland, Virginia,  West Virginia. And making it an international affair, Ontario, Canada, also checked in.

Again, this is the opening day of training camp. Not a regular season game, a playoff game, or the Super Bowl, but the opening of camp. Impressive. And these are just the ones I happened to notice.

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Pictured on the right is SFC Phil Spears, a native of Irwin, who is on leave from the United States Army while he's between duty stations. A veteran of the war in Afghanistan, he is headed to Iraq some time in the spring. On the left is his younger brother, Tom, an Army Veteran who did a tour in Iraq. They try and make an annual trip to Training Camp, though deployment some times gets in the way. No strangers to the desert heat, Sgt. Spears advised that the Steelers 'drink a lot of water' during camp.

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A freshly shorn Jeff Reed took a little friendly ribbing from fans on the disappearance of his typically wild 'dos.

"Hey Jeff -- where's your hair??" A fan shouted from the grandstand. Reed just grinned and shrugged, cracking up the crowd.

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Big Ben looks a bit smaller than I remember ...

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T-shirt of the day. Front and back ... GEICO must be thrilled. But the mental image of those Caveman guys as Browns fans is quite hilarious.

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T-shirt of the day II: Rosie the Riveter would be proud ...

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More tomorrow ... bye now.

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