Luncheon helps kick off season

The Steelers close out the preseason on Thursday night, but got a jump on getting ready for the regular season with the 2010 Steelers Kickoff Luncheon at the Pittsburgh Hilton Hotel earlier in the day.

The luncheon, which is hosted by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, was a chance to introduce the 2010 team and coaches to the packed house, many decked out in Steelers attire.

"Every time you come to the luncheon you know it's about that time," said wide receiver Hines Ward. "We want to get that introduction to our fans for the upcoming season. It hits home. Next week we start it up. It starts today with the kickoff luncheon. We get a kick out of it. You see some of the highlights from last year and then the excitement for the upcoming season."

Fans that arrived early had the opportunity to obtain autographs from former Steelers Andy Russell and Robin Cole and bid on silent auction items.  

After that the team was introduced, coming through the crowd while Renegade blared through the speakers, and then everyone watched the 2009 highlight film while enjoying lunch.

Steelers President Art Rooney II got the program rolling when he welcomed the guests, thanking them for their continued support and loyalty and for joining the team to get in the mood for football season.  

"Last year we didn't reach all of our goals, but still we set an attendance record at Heinz Field and that's a tribute to our fans," said Rooney. "They are always there, through thick and thin. This year when we opened training camp the fans were filling the place.

"There is a reason we have the best win-loss record in the NFL at home and that's our fans. Thanks again for your support. Thanks for helping us get this season off to a good start by being here today and I know you will be there each and every week."

Coach Mike Tomlin got the crowd fired up as he talked about the goal for the Steelers for 2010. 

"We are excited about the challenges that lie ahead," said Tomlin. "I assure you this collection of men seated before you have been working extremely hard to help us pursue the goals we aspire to. That should end in Dallas in pursuit of the Lombardi Trophy."

Tomlin also knows how much the fans mean to the organization and gave them the props they deserve.

"We thank you for your support and look forward to seeing you at Heinz Field," said Tomlin. "I have been in several organizations in this league and there is none other like this one and it's because of all of you guys."

Former Steelers offensive linemen Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wolfley served as the emcees for the luncheon and introduced the players and coaches to the crowd, with plenty of cheering taking place. 

"It was so welcoming and great," said wide receiver Antwaan Randle El, who received thundering applause welcoming him back to the Steelers. "To have your name called and them receive me back it was good to get that applause.

"It's something for the fans, they get a chance to see us and talk about the season that is coming up. It's always great to have the season start."

While the applause for the players was impressive, it paled in comparison to the ovation defensive coordinator and Hall of Fame inductee Dick LeBeau received. LeBeau received thunderous applause and a long standing ovation – with much of the cheering coming from his own players.

Ben Roethlisberger was acknowledged as the team's 2009 MVP and thanked his coaches and the organization, and then gave praise to his teammates who helped him win the honor. Roethlisberger then turned the microphone over to rookie Maurkice Pouncey and invited him to address the crowd, making the number one pick the victim of a yearly joke played on an unsuspecting rookie. Pouncey, though, handled it well doing the best thing he could – thanking the fans.

Mike Wallace was honored for winning the 2009 Joe Greene Great Performance Award, presented to the team's outstanding rookie and Max Starks closed things out after he was acknowledged as the Steelers 2009 Walter Payton Man of the Year.

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