For decades now, the Steelers and Giant Eagle have been partners on the kinds of things that have allowed people to enjoy football weekends in the fall. This year, that partnership is expanding into an area of far more significance.
Starting next week, Giant Eagle Pharmacies will team up with the Steelers to utilize Heinz Field with the idea of getting the COVID-19 vaccine into the arms of as many people as possible.
"The Steelers have had a long relationship, a long partnership, with Giant Eagle going back decades now," said Steelers President Art Rooney II, "and so when Giant Eagle Pharmacy wanted to set up a vaccination site at Heinz Field we thought it was a great idea. A great opportunity to really help them serve the community, and so we're excited it's going to happen."
The vaccination effort at Heinz Field is going to start on Tuesday, March 2, and it will run the duration of that week, and Rooney said there is an expectation there will be additional days through the whole month of March.
"They need a large venue," said Rooney. "They're going to try to vaccinate thousands of people over the course of a week, and so they need a large venue to accomplish that. Obviously, ample parking is available (around Heinz Field) at this time of the year, so it really is a perfect fit for Heinz Field and Giant Eagle at this point."
Parking will be available in Gold Lot 1, and the actual vaccinations will be administered in the PNC Champions Club. Vaccinations will be by appointment only, and those eligible will be able to schedule an appointment by visiting GiantEagle.com.
"We're going through unusual times, to say the least," said Rooney, "and so being able to help with probably the most important thing we're doing right now in this community, which is trying to get everybody vaccinated, trying to get everybody that kind of protection, I really can't think of anything more important that we could be doing right now than to partner with Giant Eagle to do this."
The vaccine being distributed at Heinz Field will be the Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine, and the shots will be administered by Giant Eagle pharmacists. Since the Pfizer vaccine requires two separate injections administered 21 days apart, there will be a follow-up appointment made to get the second injection.
As for the length of time Heinz Field is to be utilized as a vaccination site and how many people might be served there, Rooney said, "It all depends on the supply (of the vaccine) to Giant Eagle. I think it's going to go on for weeks. That's what they have in mind here, but all we've been told so far is next week Heinz Field will be scheduled for the whole week and then we expect there will be additional weeks, but we don't have those specifics yet."
PROGRESS ON BRINGING BEN BACK FOR 2021
On Feb. 24, Rooney issued a statement about a meeting he had with Ben Roethlisberger that day during which the player and the team made a commitment to getting something done contractually to allow him to come back for the 2021 season.
"We have been in communication with Ben throughout the offseason, and we have been clear that we would like him back but we needed to do something with the contract," said Rooney. "We're getting to that point now where the time is right. We have a better idea of where the salary cap is going to be, which is an important component of the decision. It just felt like it was time to sit down with Ben and have a good discussion, make sure the lines of communication are open. We had a good, productive discussion, and I assured him we would like to have him back, and he assured me that he wants to come back and play. And so we both left it that we know we have to try to get something worked out on the contract."
The first day of the new league year for NFL teams is Wednesday, March 17, which is the opening of free agency and also when all teams must be compliant with the 2021 salary cap. That makes March 17 the deadline for the Steelers and Roethlisberger to get something worked out.
"Hopefully we'll work something out before that," said Rooney, "but certainly if you want to say there's a hard deadline, March 17 would be it."
Rooney also explained that the decision and the work to be done on Roethlisberger has been about his contract and its impact on the team's salary cap all along. It was not about performance.
"We think Ben played at a high level last year," said Rooney. "We won our division and set a franchise record for most consecutive wins to open a season, so there was a lot of good stuff. Ben was as disappointed as anybody the way it ended. That last game is just hard to swallow, and I think in part Ben wants to come back and leave on a high note. We're still confident he has the ability to do that. His arm, I would say, is as strong or almost as strong as ever, so I think he's certainly capable of getting the job done. Part of the concern is putting a (competitive) team around him, and we had a good discussion about that. We know there are still a lot of pieces to the puzzle that still have to fall into place this season, and we're hard at work trying to make that happen."
PREP FOR 2021 DRAFT MISSING A BIG PIECE
At first glance, it might seem to be a repeat of last year, this whole getting ready for a draft that almost certainly will be conducted virtually. But even though the NFL went through a lot of this last year, this year is different than last year, and not in a good way.
"It's not like last year in the sense that we had the Combine last year," said Rooney about 2020. "That really is a key piece of the puzzle in terms of putting the evaluations together, and then we had some Pro Days. I'm a little more concerned about this year than I was about last year. Last year everybody was talking about the draft itself and doing that virtually, which was a challenge, but really the important part of the draft is the preparation. This year is going to be a much bigger challenge in getting the information you'd like to have, being without a Combine, being with a limited number of Pro Days and not even sure all of the schools are going to have Pro Days, plus dealing with players who opted out of the 2020 (college) season. There are many more challenges in preparing for this daft than there were last year."
The Scouting Combine was invented as a means for NFL teams to acquire and share comprehensive medical information of 300-some prospects, and even though it has evolved into a made-for-television event that is a revenue producer for the NFL and the City of Indianapolis, acquiring and sharing that medical information remains the most valuable part of the whole exercise.
"We're still working on (how we're going to acquire the medical information), said Rooney. "I am concerned about what's going to happen with getting physicals and those kinds of things. That remains a bit of a question mark as we sit here today."
Rooney was somewhat more optimistic that once the virtual draft is concluded, the NFL might be able to return to something approaching normalcy.
"As we sit here today, our plan is to have training camp in Latrobe. We still have a ways to go to get there, but I think there's a pretty good chance that's going to be able to happen," said Rooney. "We're still hopeful we're going to have some form of offseason program, and it's probably not going to start on time but I think it's important particularly for the young players that we get back to having an offseason program and then a full training camp and preseason games. I think we need to have that to help the young players continue to develop."