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Old 08-02-2009, 08:05 AM   #1
A Son of Martha

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Default Harris: Steelers, fans share special bond

Harris: Steelers, fans share special bond
By John Harris
Sunday, August 2, 2009

Wondering what to do on the first Saturday in August on a balmy afternoon, Steelers' fans stampeded to Latrobe for the first training camp practice of the season open to the public.

A conga line of cars snaked toward St. Vincent College hours in advance and left the same way when it was over.

"I couldn't believe the traffic. We sat in traffic for at least 30 minutes,'' said Richard Burke of Johnstown, who took in training camp with nine other family members. "We may come again during the week when it's not that busy, but we wanted to be here for opening day. It's like the kickoff of the season.''

Burke was pulling a large cooler with his 2-year-old daughter, Sophie, as a passenger.

"Keep the tradition alive and influence them while they're young,'' said Burke, nodding toward his daughter.

Wonder no more.

There will never again be a first day of training camp for the defending Super Bowl XLIII champions.

Yesterday, Steelers' players and coaches approached three practice fields to several ovations from an estimated 10,000 fans wearing black and gold.

"Willie!'' one fan yelled upon running back Willie Parker's approach.

"There's Hines!'' another fan screamed when longtime favorite Hines Ward came into view.

Much like celebrities walking on the red carpet at a movie premiere, the Steelers took their collective bows for the captivated audience.

Last but not least, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger joined his teammates as fans promptly attempted to scream themselves hoarse. Shortly after Roethlisberger took the field with the other offensive players, an air horn signaled the start of warmups.

After practice, Roethlisberger ran to different sections behind the field signing autographs as fans chased him around.

There's a connection between the Steelers and their fans that seemingly goes way beyond football, almost to the point that fans believe they're part of the team.

When some of the players clapped in unison during drills, some of their fans clapped right along.

The Steelers were repeatedly reminded yesterday to bring home No. 7 as in seven Super Bowls. The Steelers lead all NFL teams with six Super Bowl titles.

For the Bracovich family of New Alexandria, attending Steelers' training camp is a full-time job.

Joe and Barbara Bracovich try to attend every training camp session that's open to the public. Yesterday, they were joined by their two daughters and 10-year-old grandson, who attended Roethlisberger's football camp this summer.

"The Steelers are a big part of our lives,'' Barbara said.

The key, said Burke of Johnstown, is to indoctrinate potential Steelers' fans when they're young.

"When you grow up, you learn to be a Steeler fan immediately, and it doesn't leave you no matter where you go,'' he said.

John Harris can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.
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