LATROBE, Pa. - As the Steelers defensive backs sat in their meeting room on Sunday night, a familiar face slipped into one of the chairs in the back of the room and started to watch film. It was after a few minutes that Coach Mike Tomlin welcomed him back, a welcome that made former Steelers safety Ryan Clark feel right at home.
"Coach Tomlin tries to create a feeling and spirit of family when it comes to the Steelers and you are always welcome back and that is how I felt," said Clark. "I felt welcome. I felt like I was coming back to family."
The ESPN crew paid a visit to Steelers Training Camp. Jerome Bettis, Ryan Clark and Mike Tomlin spent some time on set.
Clark was back at Steelers training camp, along with former Steelers Jerome Bettis and Merril Hoge, as a part of ESPN's training camp coverage on Monday. All three are now fixtures in ESPN's football coverage and were part of the networks NFL Live and NFL Insiders Show.
It was the first time they have been back to camp in a long time, since their playing days ended, and it was a unique experience for each of them.
"In 1993 I walked off the field after training camp and I didn't expect not to be back, but it was the last time I was on those fields until now," said Hoge, who was a part of the Steelers' 50th Training Camp at Saint Vincent College celebration on Sunday as well. "When I walked onto the field I was blown away by the energy, the fans and all. I wondered how we got through two-a-days for five weeks and when I got on the field and felt the energy, that's how I know we got through."
Bettis' last training camp was a little more recent, but he admits when he pulled up on Monday morning and saw the players on the field, he didn't miss it but it was a great feeling to be back.
"It's surreal," said Bettis. "I don't really miss being here. You know what training camp is, it's hot, you are practicing, you're uncomfortable, and not at home. But it's a necessary evil.
"It brings back good memories. It's a time when as a team you bond and come together and personalities mesh into one. You spend so much time together you get to know each other even that much more. It's a special time. The hard work that is built on the field, you need it off the field so when you get in tough times guys still believe in one another because of the bond you built over time. Guys come together because of the time they spent here at camp as a team."
Hoge joked that he might be a little different, might be the only one who actually was 'sick' enough to like training camp as it was part of the process to prepare for the season. So coming back for him was special, especially seeing the changes that have taken place on campus.
"You see Chuck Noll Field and he was the greatest coach, the greatest teacher," said Hoge. "To see his name up there and his legacy lives on is special. To see how it's evolved, but the fan base is as consistent now as it was back them."
The only thing that has remained consistent, is exactly what Clark referred to, the family atmosphere. While names have changed even in the few years he has been gone, the attitude is still the same.
"To come back here is special," said Clark. "I used to love being here in Latrobe with the guys. For my first year doing this job of television it's a blessing they sent me here.
"Ike (Taylor) is here coaching so we sat in the back (of the meeting room) and talked about how different the meeting room feels. To look at the film not see No. 24 out there and it be Ike, and to not see Troy (Polamalu). It was a different room, but still the same feeling of togetherness and camaraderie and I think that bodes well for the position."