Steelers ‘mean so much to us’ say training camp fans

July 29, 2018
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A girl looks over merchandise on display Thursday, July 26, 2018 during the first day of public Steelers training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe.

The nine-hour drive didn’t faze the Embry family.

They packed up their Antonio Brown jerseys and headed north from Nashville to black-and-gold country to get their first taste of Steelers training camp.

“The team means so much to us,” said dad Byron Embry. “Really, we came so the boys could experience it.”

With wife, Nikki, and their sons Preston, 7, and Aiden, 5, the family got a head start on Thursday’s first public practice at Saint Vincent College after several days of catching the sights around Pittsburgh. The summer vacation destination was a surprise to the boys.

“I was very excited,” Preston said.

Fans poured into the Unity campus when the parking lot gates opened at noon. They twirled Terrible Towels from the windows of their vehicles and shouted with excitement. They quickly got inside to snap pictures with mascot Steely McBeam, play games and buy T-shirts before practice and autograph sessions.

The Embrys began planning about six months ago for their first foray. Byron Embry remembered falling in love with the team as a young boy growing up in Arkansas. Nikki Embry became a fan after meeting him. Now they plan church around the team’s schedule. Training camp was a perfect introduction to the team for Preston and Aiden, she said.

“It’s a really big deal because this is so far away for us,” she said.

Tammy Hilario had a much shorter drive, coming from McKeesport with her son, Marcello, who was in town from Florida. Training camp was a tradition Tammy Hilario had with her father when she was young.

“This is our first time together here,” she said. “It was very important for me to come this year.”

Marcello Hilario is a JuJu Smith-Schuster fan and brought a Steelers flag in hopes of getting the wide receiver’s autograph.

“He’s just funny, I watch his Snapchats a lot,” he said.

Jeff and Roberta Smart had a 16-hour drive from Orlando, Fla. A native of Foxborough, Mass., Jeff Smart said he became enamored with the Steelers during the 1970s while watching a game as a young boy.

“I just loved the colors and their defense,” he said.

When the couple met 15 years ago, Roberta Smart joined him. Now, they’ve made the drive to Westmoreland County four times. On Thursday, they both wore black and gold T-shirts with #Shalieve printed on them in honor of injured linebacker Ryan Shazier.

Since they can’t go to any games during the season, training camp gives them their black-and-gold atmosphere fix.

They’re even considering retiring here, quite the opposite of retirees from Western Pennsylvania heading to Florida.

“We’d like to come up here,” he said.

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