The 16th annual Steelers Men's Fantasy Camp, presented by Bud Light, brought together more than 200 diehard fans from 38 states and three different countries, including Mexico, Germany and Canada. In a weekend where fans are put through drills and get to rub elbows with former Steelers players, each year creates new memories for those who attend.
Held at the team's training camp home at Saint Vincent College, the annual event has become a regular tradition for a number of participants - some of whom have never missed one.
Among the first-time participants this year were Matt Mackowiak and his father, Larry, of Austin, TX. Unlike many of those who attend, the father and son had no plans of going until about a week before the camp kicked off. As the winners of the Steelers Nation Unite #SteelersDad sweepstakes, their plans quickly changed after getting the call that they had won.
"I got an email about the contest and thought it was a really cool idea. I checked with my sister first to see if it was something my dad would like to do and we thought it was. I sent in my story about what a passionate Steelers fan my dad has been and how that passion was passed down in how he raised me," said Matt. "I think part of what appealed to us about this was the opportunity to be together and have this experience with an entire weekend devoted to the Steelers, but to also get a feel of what training camp is like for the players."
Needless to say, when Matt told his father Larry that they had won the trip and were heading to Men's Fantasy Camp, he was shocked.
"I was really surprised. I didn't expect anything like that," said Larry. "It's not something that I would have thought to do individually, but then we had the opportunity to come and it has been great. It's been great to share this with Matt."
With it being their first time at Men's Fantasy Camp, they weren't sure exactly what to expect for the weekend. What they quickly learned, though, was that they were about to get the full training camp experience, including two practices led by former players, speeches from Brett Keisel and Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes, and a combine experience on the final day.
"It's been really cool. We didn't really know quite what to expect, but it's great to be around the former players and so many fans," said Matt. "Saint Vincent is a great venue for this. It's a special experience and a special place."
"This is a beautiful location here," said Larry. "Just to get an idea of what training camp is like, even though it is a lot easier for us, you get a sense of the team building that occurs here."
Originally from Pittsburgh, the Mackowiak family has been in Texas since 1984. However, the move only made their bond with the Steelers that much stronger. They make a goal each season to get back to Heinz Field for a game, and have taken advantage of seeing the team play in Houston twice. Whether they're in Pittsburgh or in Texas, they appreciate each opportunity they have to interact with their fellow fans.
"Coming back for a home game has been a special thing," said Matt. "We stay downtown and take the boat to the game. Heinz Field is such a special place when you sit on the west side of the stadium and see the skyline. It's really special. We've been to six or eight games. My dad and I went to the Christmas Day game [in Houston] last year and it was really special just to spend Christmas Day with the two of us. Going to Steelers games is fun, and this is fun in a different way. Probably even more fun than I thought it was going to be."
While no added bonus was needed for the weekend, Matt and Larry certainly got one with being able to meet so many passionate fans from around Steelers Country. The highlight of it all, though, was being able to spend a weekend together as father and son with the team they love.
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Steelers fans gathered at Saint Vincent College for the 16th annual Men's Fantasy Camp presented by Bud Light.