The Pittsburgh Steelers vs the Chicago Bears 1997


For Thursday's practice, we were joined by quite a few more locals, mostly children. On the field, the same players, the same procedures, the same atmosphere except for more distractions from the youngsters. They didn't realise the danger they were placing themselves in when on the sideline with the play sweeping towards them. I don't think many of them had seen American Football played before. They just knew that this was a happening, but they weren't quite sure what.

I met up with Darren Conway, who organises the Bears' UK newsletter and his friend Steve. There was a little exchange of banter about the merits of both teams, but all in the best possible taste. It was Darren who gave me a copy of the schedule for the two teams while they were in Dublin.

The information was outstanding as it listed half an hour on Saturday at Croke Park as an autograph session with Steeler players. Something else to look forward to as we watched our favourite players participating in the scrimmages.

Larger imageCoach Cowher wandered from one group of players to another and then back again. Sometimes he looked a forlorn figure as he stood alone, watching the pieces of his immense jig saw coming together - or perhaps in his eyes, not.

As practice finished there were a lot more autograph hunters. Regretfully, not many of those chasing the players knew just who they were hounding. Nearly all the players were accommodating and friendly, but the reaction from the few rejected youngsters was disrespectful.

I eyed up Greg Lloyd carefully, wondering whether to take a chance and ask him if I could have my photo taken with him. Being of a reserved disposition, I put it off until another day. #

We made our way back to the main campus and had lunch in their restaurant before moving on to the NFL experience that was a couple of miles up the road. I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I had seen the one outside Super Bowl XXX, but didn't expect it to be anything like that.

I wasn't disappointed. Yancey Thigpen was signing autographs and we went to introduce ourselves. UK fan Steve Melvin asked Yancey to sign an Irish £10 note to go with the $1 note that Greg Lloyd had autographed several years previously. The Steelers marketing director, Mark Fuhrman, was in attendance so I gave him one of the club's membership cards.

Afterwards, my wife and I went into the city to buy my daughter a graduation present. While my wife was in the shop looking at the clothes, I decided to take the easy option and go into the pub next door. Outside in the street there was a camera man taping an interview. I didn't take much notice and went into the pub to get a drink. The film crew followed me in.

Larger imageWith a glass of wine in my hand I wandered off and found a seat to wait for my wife's appearance. The film crew came over and they started to tape an interview and I thought I recognised the interviewer as someone from Pittsburgh. My wife came in and I asked if she recognised him as the guy who had interviewed me in Pittsburgh four years ago. Straight away she said yes and I then realised it was Alby Oxingbridger.

When the interview concluded, I went over to introduce myself and wish Alby well. I noticed the person he was interviewing was wearing a Steelers shirt, but guessed he was Irish because of his hat.

Thursday evening saw more UK fans arrive and Brian Montague [who's a Bears' fan, but we accept him as one of us as he's been to see the Steelers play more times than he has the Bears]. The UK fans included Andy Duncan, Mervyn, Andrew McDonald James Delargy, Ed Veale, Nick Johnson with his wife and young boys, Laurence Jamieson and wife, Keith and Anne Nicholson. Also there were Richard Gilbert, Keith Randall, Terry Cozens, Peter Thorpe and Peter Murray.

That evening, an advanced party consisting of Jim, Les and Steve went over to Jurys, where the Steelers were staying to investigate its feasibility as a meeting point for the members the following night. They settled down in one of the three bars making their sacrifices for the club by tasting the beer.

In strolled Justin Strzelczyk with his lovely wife. Jim's hand immediately disappeared into the depths of his pockets to send a drink across to the couple. Before they could blink, a huge shadow was cast across their table and there towered Mr. Strzelczyk. The mountain had been moved to show his appreciation.

While they were talking, Les presented him with a membership card and promised him honorary life membership. They lads also thought about your editor and obtained his autograph for me.

With all the new arrivals, we took quite a few out to the final practice while Simon Charlton and Tony and Sarah Kamphuag joined us there. The people organising the field had learnt from the previous day and put up ropes to keep the increased crowds away from the players. Nick Hailing was there with Mike Carlson arranging some post practice interviews with Kordell Stewart and coach Cowher.

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