Brett Keisel knew that the Steelers had a huge following in Mexico, but he never realized how big until he was part of two fan camps the team hosted this past weekend in Mexico City, Mexico.
"It was amazing," said Keisel. "I heard Steelers Nation has a huge following in Mexico, but it blew me away when I got down there and saw how many people were there, how excited and grateful they were to see us. It was an eye-opening experience. You figure we never play there, but they know so much about the game and are huge fans."
The Steelers hosted a one-day Fan Camp that drew 650 adults at Tecnológico de Monterrey University at Santa Fe. Keisel and teammates Charlie Batch, James Harrison, Ryan Mundy and Emmanuel Sanders, as well as Steelers alumni Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wolfley, conducted individual drills, teaching the group the ins and outs of the game.
"I was pleasantly surprised by the support there," said Harrison. "It was a little bit of a different experience because it's in a foreign country. But as far as the fans, they were just as excited as all fans are and the coaches were as knowledgeable as our fans here."
The following day 350 kids attended a Youth Camp where the players taught individual drills needed to participate in football, all the while encouraging the kids who might not have experience playing the game.
"It was fun, but also challenging," said Keisel. "The language barrier was challenging. I would say or do something and my interpreter would tell them to do it, and they did a great job, but it's hard to transition it. It was fun getting them going, though."
The camps, which were attended by Ambassador Earl Anthony Wayne, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, are part of a continuing effort on the part of the Steelers to engage the huge fan base in Mexico.
"The attitude of all the Steelers involved made the event and the experience a blast for all the participants," said Christian Septien, from Pasion Acerera in Mexico. "Both groups, kids and adults, had the opportunity of meeting players and seeing that beyond being excellent athletes, they are excellent human beings who are willing to share experiences, knowledge, a smile or a good time. The fans really appreciate all the efforts."
The Steelers played the Indianapolis Colts in a preseason game in 2000 in Mexico City, and have held a youth football camp there in the past as well.
"The Mexico fan camps were a tremendous experience for the players and staff who participated," said Omar Khan, the Steelers director of football and business administration. "We had the opportunity to see the passion of our fans there first hand."
That passion was present from the time the group arrived in Mexico City and Terrible Towels and black and gold clad fans were everywhere.
"Everyone was amazed at our size and how big we are," said Keisel. "Anywhere we went people wanted pictures and an autograph. It was amazing."