Melloncamp Memories

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This post has nothing to do with the rock guy Mellancamp, but a Mellon arena memory during a Chuck Noll training camp. When I heard the Pittsburgh Penguins rang down the curtain on their 1,667th regular season game at Mellon arena by going wam-pum on the Islanders I had a nostalgic moment which brought back a flood of memories of days gone by sitting in at the arena watching everything from a circus to rock concerts, televised giant screened boxing matches and of course hockey games.

Back in the early eighties Tunch Ilkin and I, accompanied by our wives, went to see Crosby (David, not Syd) Nash and Young. It was a Saturday night during an evening off from a Chuck Noll training camp. The highlight of the evening came in the form of a stirring rendition of “Southern Cross” when the roof of the arena silently  slid open revealing a clear starlit night sky during the song and a beautiful gust of Pittsburgh summer breeze gently rolled in. I remember the vivid contrast of gently swaying to the beautiful rhythm of the song and loving the warm air blowing in my face like a Labrador Retriever hanging out of the window of a car and simultaneously feeling as if someone had beaten me from head to toe with a baseball bat.

Chuck Noll training camps are yearly nightmares that haunt me to this day. Rare is the year when the haunting spectre of walking the gauntlet (the proverbial cattle call before the media), running 350’s (a tortuous conditioning drill), opening the camp with Oklahoma drills (otherwise known as hamburger, ball-buster, or the meat-grinder) doesn’t roust an otherwise comatose sleep. Some of the dreams were so real I would wake up drenched in sweat and checking to see if the horsehair mattress we used to sleep on in a non air-conditioned sweat box called Bonaventure Hall at Saint Vincent University, where the Steelers hold training camp, was underneath me.

Those dreams would start around draft time and OTA’s (we used to call them mini-camps). I wonder how many of today’s players might have a few sleepless nights commencing about now. Then again, as i’ve told many a young player today, Chuck’s camps were never about making the team, but more of surviving the day. Survive that day, and you’d have another. Survive enough of those other days, and then you contemplated making the cut. Such was the misery of a Noll-era training camp.

There weren’t too many NASA scientist egg-head types who could speak Latin in camp, and I played with some guys that couldn’t spell “Carpe diem,” even if you spotted them all 9 letters, but to a man they sure as heck knew what it meant.