Bires: Steelers get last laugh
Bires: Steelers get last laugh
By Mike Bires
Times Sports Staff
Published: Thursday, August 20, 2009 11:51 PM EDT
LATROBE — On the last practice day of camp, there was a joke, a scare and a fun-filled softball game.
Those were the highlights on an event-filled Thursday as the Steelers put the final touches on their annual summer session at St. Vincent College.
The day began with prankster/kicker Jeff Reed pulling a hoax on his teammates.
Seven hours later, there was a frightening moment when franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a foot injury.
But by 7 p.m. all was well again. The first pitch was thrown in the annual training camp softball game.
As far as the injury to Roethlisberger? He’ll be fine. That was obvious as he cheered on his teammates from the third-base coaching box during the softball game.
Even coach Mike Tomlin joined in on the fun. He was the home plate umpire.
“I wouldn’t mind being the Latrobe Steelers,” Tomlin said. “We’ll play the whole season out here. I love it up here.”
The big news of the day, of course, was Roethlisberger’s scary injury.
Around 4:40 p.m. with 30 minutes left in the afternoon practice, Roethlisberger was stepped on by an offensive lineman. At first it appeared serious. Roethlisberger lay on his back, writhing in pain as trainers attended to his right foot.
But 15 minutes later as he hobbled off the field, Roethlisberger muttered, “Oh, it just feels great. It feels like a car ran over it.”
No, a car didn’t run over Roethlisberger. It was jumbo-sized tackle Max Starks, a 6-foot-8, 345-pound giant, who stepped on Roethlisberger’s heel as he tangled with bull-rushing linebacker James Harrison.
After practice, sensing Roethlisberger would be OK, Starks said tongue-in-cheek, “My feet are fine. I don’t have a sprained ankle.”
Actually, the laughs started around 9:30 a.m. when the Steelers reported for the morning practice. Just as they were loosening up, five yellow school buses pulled onto campus.
At that moment, the Steelers thought it was “movie day.”
In past years, either ex-coach Bill Cowher or Tomlin excused the team from a morning practice as a reward for hard work. Instead of working out, they were bussed to a nearby movie theater.
But this year, Tomlin had no plans of watching flicks.
So when Reed learned on Tomlin’s intentions, he arranged for the busses to park alongside the practice fields. That way, the Steelers would get all excited about going to the movies, only to be disappointed when Tomlin didn’t stop practice.
Cornerbacks William Gay and Ike Taylor even danced with joy and shouted “We’re going to the movies! We’re going to the movies!”
But within minutes, the Steelers realized it was all a joke. The busses pulled away.
“It was a little bit of mental torture,” said Tomlin, who approved of Reed’s devilish scheme.
As far as the softball game, it ended in a 1-1 tie.
But it was a barrel of laughs as these football players tried hitting a softball. In fact, third-team quarterback Dennis Dixon, who once played outfield in the Atlanta Braves’ farm system, couldn’t hit the ball at all. He struck out three times.
But Dixon did make a sensational diving catch in the outfield worthy of Baseball Tonight’s “Web Gems.”
So the day ended on a high note after all.
Mike Bires can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org
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