The Pittsburgh Steelers vs the Chicago Bears 1997


At the beginning of 1997 when the NFL announced the Steelers would face the Chicago Bears in an exhibition game in Dublin, the Dedman household became a hive of activity. Planning for the adventure was necessary with the intention to spend a week in the city, not only to take in the game, but if possible, the Steelers’ training sessions.

I flew out Monday morning with my wife and no advance information regarding the Steelers' itinerary. It wasn’t ideal. The whole purpose of going early was to take in the Steelers practices and as the advance party, prepare the way for most of the Steelers UK Supporters (as Steeler Nation UK were known back then), who were arriving Friday.

Sports commentator Nick Halling had given me a name in the NFL media department to call. After we have settled into our hotel, I rang Dave Tossell, who was now in Dublin, and our plans began to fall into place. Not only did Dave tell me there would be a press pass waiting for me at the temporary NFL office, but he told where and when the practices were being held.

With the first full day in Dublin spent discovering the city centre, Wednesday was the excitement of watching the Steelers first practice at Dublin University. By this time, we had been joined by fellow Steeler fans from England, Dave Reid and Steven Melvin.

We head over to Dublin University, which is located on the outskirts of the city. There we were outside the sports complex on a bright summer morning. The gladiators, in the form of the Steelers and the Bears players, enter. They were accompanied by Pittsburgh’s media – including Myron Cope, Ed Bouchette and Sam Nover – and of course, a couple of Steeler Nation UK.

It wasn’t real… the opportunity to watch your team practice with no security involved. The journalists sit and wait on the sports centre's steps while the players dress for the practice in the locker rooms.

As we waited with the scribes, one of them came up, introduced himself and inquired as to why we were there. I don't think that Dennis Roddy could believe his ears. A Steelers UK Supporters Club? Travelling to Pittsburgh for games? 115 members? Travelling over for Super Bowl XXX? In Ireland simply for Sunday's game?

I think the new club membership card helped to convince him about how serious we were. Then Dave produced his copy of the newsletter which meant that any lingering doubts evaporated and Dennis had his first story of the week.

Heavy smoker Myron Cope sat outside smoking and muttering about the nicotine Nazis that wouldn’t allow him to smoke in the locker rooms.

Larger imageBill Cowher came out drinking some Irish spring water from a polystyrene cup that he eventually placed in the trash. As a joke, I said let's have the cup that Bill drank from and Dave retrieved it from the waste bin. Eventually Dave put it in his rucksack.

The players came out and everyone moved across to the open practice field marked up into two football fields.

The teams separated and began their warm-up before splitting into groups. Offensive linemen here, with quarterbacks and receivers there. Running backs practiced getting out of their stance while punt and kickoffs teams also went through their paces.

After the Steelers and the Bears had gone through their initial warm-ups separately, they then faced each other, eleven on eleven. Pittsburgh’s offense against Chicago’s defense, before the roles were reversed.

In an open area of the University, the almost complete lack of public interest to watch this unique experience made for a surreal atmosphere.

My eyes went everywhere and saw nothing. Eventually, I concentrated on my main man, Greg Lloyd. As he was coming back from injury, I was interested to see how fit he appeared. He certainly seemed to stretch out more than the other players, testing those powerful muscles in his legs to see what was going to be there for this year.

Larger imageDuring the scrimmage with the Bears, he didn't commit to full strength - then as a vet, he didn't need to. There was one interesting moment when it looked as though Carnell Lake and Greg had a disagreement. A blown coverage with Carnell saying, "I did. I tapped you." Nice to see the players taking it seriously preseason.

As the players were rotated, the veterans were offering advice to the rookies. I caught a glimpse of Lethon Flowers spending time with Cedric Samuel. Dave and I were discussing James Parrish and searching for his number when one of the Bears' staff overheard us and said that Parrish hadn't come over. Being an ex Steeler and a member of the Steelers list on the net, we had been interested in meeting up with him.

With the end of the practice, it was time for the stars to be interviewed by the waiting TV cameras. Both cities were represented by journalists and reporters. Dave approached Bill Cowher and obtained his autograph on, you guessed it, the polystyrene cup that the coach had used earlier. Neat, and an apt ending to a great morning.

We caught the bus back to the city centre to wander around the shops. Later, my wife and I returned to our hotel to wait nervously for our daughter to contact us regarding her graduation. It turned out to be good news and combined with the success of the morning, we knew now we could relax and enjoy the rest of the week.

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