Football fever was in full swing on Wednesday at the annual Steelers Kickoff Luncheon, held at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown.
The luncheon, which is hosted by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, is the unofficial kickoff of the 2011 season.
"We love football and the start of the regular season is something any player looks forward to," said former Steelers safety Mike Wagner. "That is what they think about since the end of the prior season. It's something I look forward to. The fans are all hyped up and looking forward to it."
Wagner signed autographs for fans before the luncheon along with Gerry Mullins and J.T. Thomas.
"It brings back fond memories of when I was a player," said Mullins. "Everybody that lives in the Pittsburgh area follows the Steelers. The support keeps getting stronger. We had great fans back in the 70s when we were winning Super Bowls, but now it is astronomical. It was always great in Pittsburgh, but I was just in Mexico and there were Steelers fans there. They are everywhere."
Thomas said that football season is similar to other major holidays, something that people look forward to with great anticipation.
"Steelers football has become a red letter date on people's calendar, like your birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas – there is Steelers football season," said Thomas. "Those things always bring excitement, family and community together. It's no different. It's like a national holiday season. It's great for the community. "
That excitement and anticipation could be felt in a packed ballroom where fans cheered during the showing of the 2010 highlight film, especially when watching players celebrate winning the AFC Championship at Heinz Field.
"Looking at that film it reminds me again there is no better scene than all those fans waving the Terrible Towels at Heinz Field," said Steelers President Art Rooney II to the crowd. "This year we are going to carry on a tradition, which is every week invite a group of fans to start the Terrible Towel wave right before kickoff. So come early and make sure you have the towels ready to go."
And right on cue, fans had their towels going.
"We appreciate the very best support of any professional organization in the world and that is you guys," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "You support us, inspire us. What you see before you up here is a group of very capable men. But more important than that, you see a group of men that are willing to do what it takes to be champions. They care about each other and simply want to provide what it is we are capable of providing.
"Thank you for your support. We look forward to chasing that World Championship for our fans this year."
Emcees Bill Hillgrove and Craig Wolfley introduced the players and coaches, with Dick LeBeau getting the loudest and longest ovation for the second straight year. Several played up their ovations, having fun with the crowd, including Troy Polamalu who did his best "pageant wave" to the crowd, while James Harrison egged the crowd on to be louder putting his hand behind his ear, and Brett Keisel showed off his new beard with pride.
Polamalu was recognized at the Steelers 2010 MVP and the team's 2010 NFL Man of the Year, and he humbly spoke about it.
"To be honest I have been dreading this moment since I won this award, I am glad it's about over," said Polamalu. "I have been very blessed and fortunate to play for the best head coach and defensive coordinator in football and surrounded by a great group of brothers. I am also thankful for the support from the fans."
Rookie Maurkice Pouncey was also highlighted for winning the Steelers 2010 Rookie of the Year and his thank you was short and sweet.
"I want to thank my teammates, coaches and especially all of you fans."