Posted: Tuesday Jul 15, 2014
July 15, 2014
While the opening of the 49th annual Pittsburgh Steelers Summer Training Camp at Saint Vincent College gets extensive media attention in newspapers, radio, television and online media and attracts tens of thousands of fans to the campus, their first visit to Saint Vincent College in 1966 was brief and quiet.
A review of the Latrobe Bulletin’s reports revealed that the presence of the Steelers at Saint Vincent in 1966 was secondary to reports about local baseball leagues and Arnold Palmer's appearance in the 48th annual PGA tournament.
The first public mention of the Steelers coming to Latrobe appeared in a story by Sports Editor Steve Kittey on July 5, 1966: “It seems summer has just reached us, but already all the National Football League teams are about set to open their training camps. For our pride and joy in the NFL, Pittsburgh, the moment of truth is fast approaching for it and new coach Bill Austin. This Friday, Austin will hold an early week of workouts for 51 players, most of whom are rookies. Next week, the entire squad will gather under the auspices of Austin’s watchful eye. Site of the training camp is the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, Rhode Island. The final two weeks of the Steelers’ training camp will be held on the campus of Saint Vincent College."
The next mention of the Steelers arriving at Saint Vincent College was not until August 12, 1966 when Kittey, who is still the editor in Latrobe, reported: “Just a reminder to die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fans that Coach Bill Austin will bring his National Football League entry to the Latrobe district Aug. 29 through Sept. 7 when the Steelers will be training on the campus of Saint Vincent College. Currently, the Steelers are training at Rhode Island where they also trained last year. The Rev. Conall Pfiester, O.S.B., (treasurer and procurator at Saint Vincent) and Steelers owner Art Rooney Sr. indicated the Steelers are considering using the Saint Vincent campus for pre-season training next year."
On August 29, 1966, the Steelers arrived on campus and the Latrobe Bulletin reported: “The Steelers began practicing at Saint Vincent College this afternoon in their first workout since Saturday’s 17-6 defeat at the hands of the Green Bay Packers. Can’t help becoming more enthused about the chances of the Steelers making a respectable showing in the NFL season after Saturday’s game. For the first time in the exhibition grind, Packer Coach Vince Lombardi went nearly full time with his first string lineup, but the Steelers refused to be overpowered . . . The team will be practicing all week at the Saint Vincent campus for those interested in watching the workouts. The sessions will be conducted in the open and all fans are welcome to attend.”
Latrobe Bulletin’s August 30, 1966 article by Assistant Sports Editor Robert Osborne noted that the media were already being courted by the rising franchise: “The Pittsburgh Steelers officially opened drills at Saint Vincent College yesterday by hosting a press day which was fully attended by members of the press, radio and television of the Pittsburgh district. The 'new look' Steelers went through a light exercise drill which consisted of running plays against a mock defense for the benefit of the hundreds of spectators who lined the hills surrounding the practice field . . .”
Training camps were visited by hundreds of fans in those days until the Super Steelers of the 1970s captured four Super Bowl Championships and drew thousands of fans for their annual pilgrimage to training camp. With two additional Super Bowl Championships, The Steelers camp is regularly recognized as being the most fan-friendly in the NFL and draws some of the league's largest daily crowds. Sports Illustrated's Peter King has labeled it "the most picturesque camp" and “the most fan-friendly.”
The credit for the selection of Saint Vincent is attributed to Arthur J. Rooney Jr., a 1957 graduate of Saint Vincent College who was the son of Steelers owner and founder Art Rooney Sr.
The Steelers camp at Saint Vincent and the Vikings camp at Minnesota State University are the second oldest sites in the NFL. The oldest continuously operating camp is the Green Bay Packers camp at another Catholic college, St. Norbert, in DePere, Wisconsin, which started in 1958.
The camp has continued at Saint Vincent under Head Coaches Bill Austin (1966-1968), Chuck Noll (1969-1991), Bill Cowher (1992-2006) and, since 2007, Mike Tomlin.
Saint Vincent College is preparing to welcome the Steelers players and staff and to accommodate thousands of visitors for Training Camp XLIX as well as the news media from all over the world who will be following them.
The players report on Friday, July 25, with the first open practice scheduled for Saturday, July 26, at 2:55 p.m.
Prior to holding training camp at Saint Vincent, the Steelers practiced at Moore Field in Pittsburgh (1933-1937), St. Francis College (1938-1940), Hershey (1941, 1945-1946), Philadelphia (1943), Waukesha, Wisconsin (1944), Alliance College (1947-1951), St. Bonaventure College (1952-1957), California State Teachers College (1958-1960), Slippery Rock College (1961), West Liberty College, 1962-1963) and University of Rhode Island (1964-1966). It is noted on the Pittsburgh Steelers website that the team held some practices at Saint Vincent College on their way back to Pittsburgh in 1966. Although a brief encampment, Saint Vincent and the Steelers attribute it as the first Steeler summer training camp in Latrobe.
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