By Jamie Swimmer
The 14th annual Men's Fantasy Camp took place last weekend, as Steelers fans and alumni descended upon Saint Vincent College. The sold-out camp included 250 men coming from 38 states, two Canadian provinces and even Germany. Campers were put through a gauntlet of drills and exercises, all coached and instructed by former players such as nose tackle Chris Hoke, Hall of Fame center Dermontti Dawson and running back Barry Foster. Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Kevin Greene spoke to the attendees on Saturday night.
Campers were split into groups and circulated between stations on the Saint Vincent turf. The camp featured a skills competition on the final day, where awards were given to the winners. Before, during and after workouts, fans and alumni shared stories, took pictures and bonded over their mutual love for the hometown team.
Many fans are initially surprised by how welcoming and personable the Steelers players are, just as Chris Zemba was 13 years ago.
"I thought the players would be at a distance," said Zemba. "The first year we were here Gerry Mullins was here, and my dad and I sat down to lunch and Gerry sat down next to us. It's a direct interaction with the players."
First-year camper Vince Miles from Latham, New York, felt the same way.
"The players tell you funny stories, they're very approachable, willing to sign autographs," said Miles. "They're great."Longtime camp veteran Thomas Pisang from Belle Isle, Florida, is one of the few that have attended every fantasy camp, and has enjoyed every one of them.
Steelers fans gather at Saint Vincent College for the 14th annual Men's Fantasy Camp.
"I am one of five guys that have been coming every year since the first year with Franco Harris, which was really hands on," said Pisang. "He's a really nice guy and he came back last year and he remembered me, which was really nice. He says I look like him. I told him that he looks like* *me."
For many, fantasy camp represents more than just a weekend getaway or a good 72-hour NFL-like workout regimen, it symbolizes camaraderie. Chris Zemba has been bring his son Paul with him for the past 13 years and they have no plans on stopping.
"It's a legacy that you build and something you look forward to every year," said Paul Zemba. "It's the camaraderie and the enjoyment of getting away with your son and enjoying the friends that you've made over the past 13 years."
His father summed up fantasy camp perfectly.
"I was in St. Lucia and there's a guy walking down the beach that had a Steelers cap on and I knew his face," said Chris Zemba. "I was like, 'I know that guy.' And I'm halfway around the world and I walk up to that guy and he said, 'Hey man.' That was in St. Lucia and I recognized a guy I'd been to fantasy camp with me for several years."