Football, Wild Bill and a friendly billionaire at Steelers training campAug 17, 2017 By Randy Tucker, Staff Writer
An annual event was repeated Tuesday for my son-in-law Adam and me as we visited the football field at St. Vincent's College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. The NAIA facility east of Pittsburgh is the home of Steelers training camp and a hive of activity each August afternoon when head coach Mike Tomlin sounds the horn at 2:55 pm.
Fans line the walkways from the St. Vincent dormitories, hoping to get a glimpse or possibly an autograph, of one of the players as they take the field, but that doesn't happen until practice is over. But they do cheer their gridiron heroes. In Pittsburgh no one gets more applause than receiver Antonio Brown.
The Florida native is an enigma at Tomlin's working-man-style approach to football. While the rest of the team practices alone, Brown has a media relations staffer, a personal trainer and his high school coach, James Upton, with him throughout practice.
Upton's background coaching football in Florida is much different from prep coaches in Wyoming.
"We'd have 200 kids go out for football," Upton said. "We'd find any reason to cut down the roster. Don't tie your shoes? Boom, you're gone."
Upton indicated that as talented as Brown was as a high school athlete, there were better players at his position until his junior year. It's the type of competition that leads an athlete to bigger and better things.
Questions abound about why Brown is allowed to have a staff with him at practice. Brown, along Ben Roethlisberger and rookie T.J. Watt have become the faces of the franchise, and this may explain the lax attitude toward Brown and his entourage.
The other players don't give Brown any slack, though. As he was doing elaborate stretches with his trainer while the rest of the team ran sprints several defensive players chided Brown.
"That stretch explains all those kids," one player yelled as he ran by.
The 29-year old Brown has five children with three different women -- sons Antonio Brown Jr., Autonomy Brown, Ali Brown, and Apollo Brown, as well as a daughter, Antanyiah Brown. He has three with his current girlfriend, Chelsie Kyriss, but Brown's propensity to date models has Kryiss taking to social media proclaiming their commitment to each other.
It wasn't what I was looking for in a football camp story, but many of the local and online reporters thrive on the gossip surrounding prominent players and are happy to share that information with anyone who will listen.
As far from the glamorous night life as you can possibly get led to a surprise meeting with Captain Wild Bill Wichrowski of Discovery TV's "Deadliest Catch."
Wild Bill's flowing mane of gray hair stood out among the reporters and VIP's on the sidelines, and I took the opportunity to speak with him.
When he heard where I was from, he joked "Wyoming? The fish must be this big out there," and he held his hands about 10 inches apart.
Quick to defend the Wyo-ming wilderness I responded, "I'll show you some Wyoming fish," before pulling out my cell phone and showing Bill a few pictures of seven- to eight-pound rainbow trout we've caught in Fremont County.
His response, "Those are freshwater fish?" said it all. It's doubtful he'll ever take his Bering Sea trawler to the Cowboy State, but he was impressed with the fish in our waters.
Most reporters flock to Tomlin, Brown or Roethlisberger after practice, but I've made it a point to find assistant coaches, media personnel and for the first time, Art Rooney III, the owner of the Steelers.
I'd interviewed the late Dan Rooney a couple of times at camp but this was the first time meeting his son, the newly arrived heir to the Rooney fortune that is the Steelers. He was amiable and said he had traveled through Wyoming a couple of decades ago on an Oregon Trail reenactment. He is probably the only owner in the NFL who knew of Riverton, Lander, South Pass and Sweetwater Station.
The welcoming attitude of the Steelers organization is reminiscent of Tim Harkins and the staff at the University of Wyoming. They treat the media equally, whether you're from ESPN or an online blog. It's a far cry from trying to attend even a Denver Broncos practice, where security suggests the arrival of Vladimir Putin, and screening falls just short of demanding a DNA sample.
The front-line people who make close proximity reporting possible at one of the NFL's prestige franchises are the key to good media relations.
We worked with Steelers public relations director Ryan Scarpino in the past, but he moved on, leaving a staff of three to do the work of four while they interviewed for the vacant position. Dominick Rinelli took the position of public relations/media manager and arranged for our seamless visit to camp.
Public relations media intern Joe Lofton was a gem to find on the field. The former wide receiver for the Tiffin University Dragons earned an internship with the Steelers soon after graduation in 2014 and now spends long days from early morning until late at night managing hundreds of reporters and visitors to practice.
Lofton enjoys his work with the Steelers but looks to advancing his career when the opportunity arises. His love is the NBA and the Los Angeles Lakers. Once you're on the inside of a professional sports organization, many doors open. Perhaps Joe will make the front office someday in one of the hundreds of professional franchises that dot the American landscape.
It's all in a day at St. Vincent's.