Matt Spaeth was all smiles as he walked around the Steelers' practice facility, shaking hands and getting hugs from staff members, shortly after the tight end signed a free agent deal to return to Pittsburgh.
For Spaeth, it was the welcome home he had waited for ever since he signed as a free agent with the Chicago Bears two years ago.
"It means so much to be back," said Spaeth. "Being here, it was my first team, and it's like home for me. It's not where I am originally from, but returning here feels like I am returning home.
"It was very tough leaving. I told some people I left here with tears rolling down my face and I returned with a big smile. That shows the emotions I have gone through leaving and coming back."
Spaeth was the Steelers third-round draft pick in 2007 out of Minnesota, seeing playing time mainly in the two-tight end set and on special teams. He became a free agent in 2010, signing with the Chicago Bears, where he has played the last two years.
The Bears released Spaeth on March 13, and among the teams to express an immediate interest were the Steelers. For Spaeth returning was an easy decision.
"I love the family atmosphere here," said Spaeth. "That is a big part of it, a part I love. It's everything, from the organization, to the coaching to the teammates. It's a great place."
Like several other of his teammates that left the Steelers and returned, Spaeth followed what the team was doing, even though at times it was tough.
"I kept a very close eye on the Steelers," said Spaeth. "It was weird. It was bittersweet watching them because I always wanted them to be successful, and I wanted them to win and the guys to play good. But it was bitter because I was jealous that I wasn't a part of it."
Spaeth will provide depth at tight end, but he also provides a safety valve for the team with Heath Miller coming off surgery for a torn ACL, and his recovery timetable not known.
"It's a great opportunity for me to return," said Spaeth. "Heath is a tremendous player. I know he was hurt, but I don't know much on his time frame. I am just here to do whatever they ask, to have a role and to play hard and do whatever I can to help this team win."
- Press Release: Steelers sign TE Matt Spaeth