To use the idiom that a "cloud is hanging over someone's head" is understood to mean that something bad has happened that will affect them, and maybe affect them for a long time: But to say that a cloud has been hanging over the Steelers' heads recently means something much more literal, because that cloud has been loaded with rain.
On Thursday at Saint Vincent College, Coach Mike Tomlin had to shave the final 11 plays off the final competitive period when lightning moved into the area. The following day was to include Friday Night Lights, the team's traditional short trip on yellow school buses for a night practice at Latrobe Stadium that's a significant fundraiser for programs in the Latrobe School District and the community at large.
Invented by Coach Bill Cowher as a way of preparing his players for the changes in kickoff times they inevitably will face in every regular season, and then embraced by Tomlin for how it takes the players back to their football roots with the way it's about boarding school buses and competing in the sport they love under the lights inside a high school stadium, Friday Night Lights starts with an autograph session and ends with a professional fireworks display that annually draws big crowds.
But for the first time in its history, Friday Night Lights had to be cancelled because of a combination of dangerous lightning and a downpour that flooded pockets of Unity Township. It rained so hard for so long that the grass fields on the Saint Vincent College campus remained too sodden to host Saturday's afternoon practice.
The Steelers' response to that was to load the team onto buses and make the trip to Pittsburgh to conduct the regularly scheduled 1:55 p.m. practice on the grass fields at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
"I first want to start by saying we're just really disappointed for the fans this weekend," said Tomlin. "We were looking forward to entertaining them and gaining a lot of energy from those guys at Friday Night Lights and also at (Saturday's practice on campus), but unfortunately the weather dictated otherwise."
With the yellow school buses packed with Steelers players and staff and sitting on campus as the rain pounded the area on Friday night, word drifted back to Saint Vincent College that most of what looked to be another capacity crowd made the wise decision to leave the stands and head to their cars. Based on that, and the fact the forecast called for storms through much of the night, the decision ultimately was made to have the players change out of their cleats and re-board the yellow school buses for a walkthrough inside a local gymnasium.
To add insult to injury, less than halfway through the workout on Saturday back in Pittsburgh, the skies opened up again and dumped enough rain to soak everyone participating or watching. But since there was no lightning, Tomlin kept the team on the grass and the practice was completed.
"I really was pleased with the guys' intensity and urgency in spite of everything," said Tomlin on Saturday. "We came back into the city to get our work done today, and I just thought we had a really good practice in spite of some of the some of the hurdles that we had to deal with from a weather standpoint. We don't run away from those issues, we want to run toward those issues, because we play in all weather conditions, just not lightning.
"And so it was good to see them remain singularly focused and have good competitive days in spite of the adjustments."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"No real news from an injury standpoint. The guys who have been described as day-to-day will continue to be described that way. There's been some guys who had increased participation like Minkah Fitzpatrick and others, and it's reasonable to expect that to continue particularly as we push into next week and start leaning in on the preseason opener." Tomlin confirmed that Cam Sutton, who didn't finish Thursday's practice with what was described as a lower body injury, was not seriously injured. He also said Chase Claypool (shoulder) carried pads on Saturday and is working his way back to participation.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Following an off day on Sunday, the Steelers will be back at Saint Vincent College for scheduled padded practices on Monday and Tuesday, with both set to begin at 1:55 p.m. The team's preseason opener will be at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 13 at Acrisure Stadium.