Mike Corathers from Summerville, South Carolina shares his experience at the 2011 Steelers Men's Fantasy Camp:
I came to camp this year with Al Campos, Keith Rocci and Larry Chapman, three guys I did not know before 2007 and met at Men's Fantasy Camp. Keith and I now attend the Steelers opener each year and all of us communicate by text or email since we live in different states. We all know on Sunday afternoons we will be watching the Steelers and cheering with technology during the games. We are all members of Steelers Nation. They are my brothers.
It is no coincidence that the overriding theme this year was brotherhood. The casual fan may get a glimpse of that from time to time during games, but to experience it first-hand amidst former players is truly special. Seeing Delton Hall, one of the most intense players and hardest hitters ever to don the black and gold get choked up and seeing Hall of Fame Legend Jack Ham really encompasses what this camp means to me. Other great moments since coming to camp have including walking out of the dorm room to find Keith Willis sharing his black and gold experience with my roommates and Dermontti Dawson thanking us for being there in 2008.
To have these players available on such a personal level after years of watching them on television and from our seats is so special it takes my breath away. Shooting a game of pool with Bubby Brister, having breakfast with Tunch Ilkin, having your photo taken with the Lombardi Trophy, all occurrences at the greatest fan experience anyone could ask for.
Personally, I have been to fantasy camp five consecutive times which places me in the Fantasy Camp Hall of Fame. I have three other camp brothers in the Hall with me. Combined we have 22 years of camp experience, friendship and memories to cherish for a lifetime.
We started on Friday when we checked in and learned the 2011 Steelers alumni lineup included Tunch Ilkin, Craig Wolfley, Bubby Brister, Jason Gildon, Justin Hartwig, Josh Miller, Keith Willis, Louis Lipps and Delton Hall. It's then a behind-the-scenes tour of Heinz Field. After the tour it is off to a number of local Steel City eateries. Jerome Bettis' Grill 36 is next to the stadium and there are a host of Primanti Brothers locations.
Conveniently located en route to St. Vincent College is another common stop for all of us – the Steelers Sideline Store at Monroeville Mall for any last minute "must-haves" before arriving for sign-in. Once signed in it is Friday evening and that means the first of two nights of stories, jokes, food and a stack of raffle prizes.
Saturday morning begins with a breakfast buffet to fuel you for a morning of three offensive or defensive drills. There are six drills throughout this casual two-a-day practice. If your group has offensive drills in the morning, you knock out the defensive drills after a great lunch and a classroom session. This year at our Team Meeting in the afternoon we were fortunate enough to listen to the Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert.
Saturday evening's dinner is top-notch with prime rib. After dinner we all gather for the remainder of the Steelers alumni to share camp stories and then the guest speaker. The five speakers during my time have been Mike Tomlin, Rocky Bleier, Hines Ward, John Stallworth (my personal football hero) and Jack Ham. There is no lack of awe during that time.
As camp Saturday winds down the campers break up and catch up on reading, do jigsaw puzzles, play board games, and various other activities. Sunday brings another great breakfast and the Skills Competitions: a QB Challenge that looks easy until you try it, a Punt for Distance and a Punt/Pass/Kick contest that has been my personal nemesis that I will conquer one day. Campers are split into three age groups for the challenges and the top two in each age group receive amazing prizes that are well worth giving the challenges a try.
Goodbyes are said, bags are packed, keys dropped off and the 363-day process starts all over again as we look forward to another 48 hours of Steelers experience that every Steelers dad, son, husband, brother, grandfather, uncle, nephew or cousin deserves at least once in their lifetime.