Mehno: Camping at St. Vincent has different air

PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Steelers training camp opened on Friday, and even if it’s not quite the same after 8-8 and diminished expectations, it’s still significant.

It’s the time of year that coaches love. The slate is clean, the fumble-fest at Cleveland is a dim memory and, perhaps most importantly, the players are under lockdown.

For a few glorious weeks, Mike Tomlin doesn’t have to worry about a middle-of-the-night phone call providing the latest police report from Carson Street. If coaches had their way, the players would be sequestered all season.

In recent years, a lot of NFL teams have abandoned remote sites and just held camp at their practice facilities. The Steelers have spurned that trend, believing there’s a bonding value in having players crammed into a dormitory for a few weeks. There’s also that glorious 40-mile distance from Carson Street.

In the old days, players used to lug window fans and even air conditioners into the dorms. Things have been upgraded now, so that isn’t necessary. Camp has also changed to reflect coaching paranoia.

Covering camp used to be fairly simple. There was one staff meeting room that was off-limits to the media. These days there are multiple sheets of rules, and most sentences start with the word “Don’t.” The next renovations at St. Vincent College may well include parapets for armed sentries.

There’s the classic story about a geography-impaired rookie who deplaned at the Pittsburgh airport, jumped in a cab and told the driver to take him to St. Vincent. Upon arrival, he had to wake a Steelers official to get the money for the sizeable tab. There’s another story about a very marginal player who was among the first cuts one summer. He was spotted on the grounds a couple of days after he’d gotten the bad news. Turned out he really didn’t have anywhere to go, and he’d developed a fondness for the cafeteria meals.

A journalist who was between marriages in the ’70s told of meeting a female fan whose devotion to all things Steelers might even include some after-hours socializing with a guy who merely wrote about the team. They arranged to meet in a parking lot along Route 30.

He pulled up slowly at the appointed hour and saw a car flicking its headlights. He responded in kind. They drove closer together. The typist lowered his window and was dismayed to discover his fellow flicker was one of the Steelers’ defensive stalwarts. The female fan had apparently led on more than one person.

It’s training camp. It’s hot and sweaty (although less so with Casey Hampton gone). And best of all? It’s nowhere near Carson Street.

Mehno can be reached at