2009 Men's Fantasy Football Camp Diary of Gooz
This was my sixth consecutive camp and the year the Steelers won their sixth Super Bowl – that's some nice symmetry. Maybe next year we can share lucky number seven! Attendance was great, the biggest group we've ever had, over 300 participants, all ready to enjoy one of the best weekends of their lives. Fantasy camp weekend has grown into a four day event for me and my traveling buddies, Wally Shlikas (4th year), Mark Frampton (2nd year), Jeff Melnick (our rookie), and Mark Bruno (along for the ride this year, he'll be a rookie next year). We leave northern Virginia early on Thursday and travel to the northern panhandle of West Virginia to golf (Dad got a hole in one on the third hole this year), shoot pool, and enjoy some of the local dining favorites.
We wake up and get ready to head to the stadium. We get to Heinz Field in time for the noon tour. As usual, the tour is great and we learn a few things. First, that there are 36 miles of heating pipes under the turf that automatically kick-on when the temperature gets below 60 degrees. Secondly, the field is lined on game day with a milk-based paint that won't hurt the grass. The last thing we discovered is that if you look inside the players lockers, behind where the nameplates go, the players numbers are written on the right side. Now we can find our favorite players locker even without the nameplates. After seeing the locker rooms, luxury boxes, press boxes, and administrative offices, it's off to the Sideline Store to pick up the things you just can't find living away from Pittsburgh.
We pick up our Super Bowl XLIII duffle bag, camp t-shirt, hat, jersey, yearbook, and more, then move into our rooms. At about seven o'clock, we head over to Carey Hall for the Friday evening social event hosted by Tunch and Wolf. At the social, we meet up with Chris Elardo who lives in VA near us and he's here for his second camp. All of the alumni players, Jerry Olsavsky, Delton Hall, Louis Lipps, Dermontti Dawson, Edmond Nelson, Frank Pollard, and Wolf, and two current players, Greg Warren and Daniel Sepulveda are busy telling stories and signing autographs. As Wolf takes the stage to get things going, he calls my buddy, Wally Shlikas up on stage and has 300 fans, players, and alumni sing happy birthday. He's both mortified and happy – nice! The highlight of the evening is the appearance of the Super Bowl XLIII Vince Lombardi Trophy! Every camper had his picture taken with the trophy. That picture and a DVD of the weekend will be mailed out to each participant in the next couple of months. As the evening winds down, Tunch stops by our room to tell some stories and have a late night snack. A fitting end to a great day.
As we head down to the field after a bountiful breakfast, I can help but wonder how the new draft picks will feel on their first trip down the hill from the dorms. We're all headed out knowing we're going to have a great time and that we have nothing (other than our health) to worry about. They'll be down here fighting for their lives, trying to determine whether they'll be NFL stars or something "less". The whistle blows and we warm-up. The group is split into six groups (three defensive: DB, linebacker, line; three offensive: QB, receiver, and punter/snapper), and rotate through position drills. The only real contact is with the ground, and almost no one gets hurt (okay…we needed some tape, ice, and an ambulance, but only once!).
Our coaches include Louis Lipps, Rick Giugliano, Daniel Sepulveda, Greg Warren, Jerry Ollsavsky, Edmond Nelson, Dermontti Dawson and Delton Hall. We have a great time in our first two sessions, Four on Four and Punting/Long Snapping. Receiving is a blast too, but that when the first injury in our group happens. One guy was running an out pattern and pulled a muscle. We all called for a medic.
It wasn't exactly real training camp, but we did have two practices. After the three offensive sessions, we went to lunch and then back onto the field for Special Teams drills and the afternoon sessions. Coach Bob Ligashesky did a great job of getting 300 participants organized, lined up, and moving in a four man special teams drill set up in 14 different locations on two fields, all going at the same time. It was a blast.
The afternoon sessions were just as much fun as the morning. We started with line drills with Dermontti Dawson and Edmond Nelson. This was the most physically challenging session of the day with all of us hitting pads and being hit by pads the whole time. The sun continued to beat down on us through the linebacking and defensive back drills. A common question in our group was "Can we get a little walk and talk boss?" That meant that we wanted to slow it down and relax a bit. All in all, another great day of skills and drills on the field. Time to catch a quick shower and dinner before the Saturday night social event, featuring Hines Ward.
After dinner we head back to Carey Hall, gather a few remaining autographs and wait for Hines Ward to arrive. Hines gets there at about seven and only has an hour to spend. He gets right to it, tells stories, takes questions, and entertains the crowd. He's such a humble and personable guy that it's hard to believe how many guys he's knocked out during games. He must have a game switch he flips on. He did a great job and answered everybody's questions, Raffles are next with countless autographed items and tickets to every preseason and regular season home game. Nothing for me or anyone in my group this year. All of the alumni guys and the two current players take their turns telling stories and entertaining the crowd.
After a late wake-up call and breakfast we hit the field for the last time. There are three areas of competition: Passing Accuracy, Punting, and then a combined Punting-Passing-Kicking Challenge. All of the participants are broken into three groups based on age, 23-34, 35-49, and 50 and above.
After watching each of the stations for a while I realize that these should never be called skill competitions, but luck competitions. The winners of each competition receive trophies and great autographed stuff - helmets, footballs, or gift cards to Steelers.com. The only thing left to do is pack up and get on the road. I can't wait till next year to do it all again. After six, it still hasn't gotten old, I'll keep coming as long as the Steelers keep having them. As we heard from Mister Rooney last year, anyone who's crazy enough to come 20 years in a row, can dress for a game. If that's true, I'll have a heck of a story to write when I'm 57.
2009 Men's Fantasy Football Camp Diary
2009 Men's Fantasy Football Camp Diary of Gooz