By Teresa Varley
There was plenty of laughter and smiles, just what the doctor ordered, when the Steelers rookies visited Children's Hospital.
The players took part in the hospital's Sun 'n Fun event and even though rain forced things inside the atmosphere was still bright and cherry.
"It's great to get out in the community and show our faces outside the helmet," said quarterback Dennis Dixon. "I like doing stuff like this."
The rookies, along with Martin Nance who was just added to the team's practice squad, hung out with the kids making arts and crafts, signing autographs and posing for pictures, sharing stories and just having fun. Offensive tackle Tony Hills and Nance also went room to room visiting the kids who weren't able to make it to the play area.
"I had a lot of fun," said tight end Dezmond Sherrod, who visited a children's hospital his senior year at Mississippi State. "It feels very good to come here. Kids don't have a lot of opportunities to meet the Steelers. It's good to come here and put smiles on their faces and meeting them is putting a smile on my face."
Some players opted to let their "artistic talents" come out with drawings and painting, while others made "D-fence" signs with Popsicle sticks. They also worked on making a snake out of cords and beads, something that left some of the players scratching their heads trying to figure it out.
"We won't be doing too much of this any other time," said linebacker Bruce Davis of the artwork. "I didn't need too much help on the drawing, but I was lost on the beads."
They got some lessons from a few of the kids to help them along with the snake project, but it didn't always work.
"This was incredible," said linebacker Patrick Bailey. "I lost this art of doing crafts as a kid. It's fun to re-learn things from the kids. For them to teach us stuff is just great. I would have never have thought to make this again. But it's more difficult than it looks."
That it was.
"They tried to listen," said Erica Witherspoon, a 14-year old patient who needed plenty of patience teaching the players how to work the beading magic. "They are good listeners. But their art skills could use a little work.
"They are really nice. I thought because they were football players they would be mean. But they are really nice. And I never thought I could teach them anything, but I did."
Davis settled for a less complicated bead project, making black and gold bracelets with the kids. But cornerback Roy Lewis took on the challenge of making the snake and was the only one who succeeded.
"I have always been an artist, so I tied to show that side," said a smiling Lewis. "I heard the rest of the guys have let the rookie club down with their skill level, so I had to make it up. I made a couple of helmets, D-fence Popsicle sticks and footballs. And I made the snake."
The visit was arranged as a part of the Steelers Rookie Club, which aims to get the players involved in the Pittsburgh community.
"It's easy to forget what we have been given, but it's definitely a blessing to be able to do this," said Davis. "To see one kid smile and know you are getting their mind off things and helping them have a better day is the best feeling you can get."
This was the first of many projects the rookies will take part in, and it will be hard to top the good time they had.
"Just taking the time out of our day to come here and spend some time with these kids is really phenomenal," said Lewis. "You see the difference it makes. They are smiling, enjoying themselves. They are in a place where a lot of times the atmosphere is kind of down. This is an opportunity for us to raise their spirits and lift up this place and I think they enjoyed it as we did."