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Thursday April 24 2014
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Training Camp: BnGG Style

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According to Scarborough Sports Marketing and ESPN sports polls, Pittsburgh has the largest female fan base in the NFL, more than doubling the number of female pro football fans on average. Women comprise 55 percent of the team’s fan base.

And for the past 12 years, the Steelers have been reaching out to women in the unique way that only the Steelers organization can do, opening training camp doors to over 300 women from all over North America to participate in Women’s Football Camp.

John Simpson, Steelers Marketing and Events Manager, believes that Women’s Football Camp is all about passion.

“This year, camp sold out in a record 30 hours. We have embraced our female fans for a long time, and in response they make this event a success,” said Simpson, who added that the “family atmosphere” the Rooney’s have created within the team extends to the fans.Photo by Vikki Tuk

The family affair was certainly front and center at this year’s camp. “Brett’s Bearded Beauties” took camp by storm, led by matriarch Bonnie Liska, her two daughters and close family friends. This is their eighth year at camp, and this year they were rewarded for their creativity by Brett Keisel himself. Nearing the end of practice, he crossed the practice field to take a moment to thank and speak with the group.

“I was like, ‘Mom, Brett’s crossing the field. Mom, he’s coming this way,’ and before I knew it it he was right in front of us,” said Dawn Elder Conley. “Brett was so awesome. He asked us about our day and thanked us for our effort. Camp gives us this opportunity. It’s something we cherish and as a family will continue to do.”

Photos of the group with their namesake landed in newspapers as far away as California.

The camp consists of four rotations, each run by current or former Steelers and assisted by members of the Pittsburgh Passion. The women are introduced to basic skills on Offensive Line, Defense, Receiving and Special Teams.

Former Steelers center Jeff Hartings who put the women through the O-line paces, ex-linebacker

Jason Gildon was relentPhoto by Vikki Tukless teaching D, former quarterback Kordell Stewert flashed his famous smile while showing gals running routes and hurling perfect spirals in their direction. But perhaps the most popular station was the special teams portion, led by long snapper Greg Warren and kicker Shaun Suisham.

“Not too many people know how difficult it is to pull off a good long snap. It’s a specialty,” explained Warren, now participating in his sixth women’s event. “Showing women how to do it is especially gratifying. They are determined to get it right. Plus, the women every year are just fun.”

After lunch, the women were treated to the 2011 NFL Films video recap, highlighted by the ladies’ deafening cheers each time a new player appeared on the screen.

After the film, the ladies were given sideline access to watch practice—with the special bonus of Dan Rooney being in attendance—and the day ended with dinner and an autograph signing by Emmanuel Sanders and Isaac Redman.

Recapping this experience on one page of a newspaper is difficult for a life-long female fan such as myself. It is simply something one has to experience. The entire Steelers organization welcomed the ladies with open arms: from the alumni running the drills, to the players on the field, to the training staff tending with injuries, to the front office folks who seemed to know most participants by name.

Photo by Vikki TukBy the day’s end, it became apparent why and how the Steelers are indeed a family. It’s little wonder as to why Steelers have the largest female following in the NFL. To them, everyone matters. That’s the foundation of Steelers Nation.

It’s all starting to make sense. The Steelers have not made the playoffs the past two seasons. Those two years have seen the team part ways with players who were integral to a sustained run of success that resulted in a pair of Super Bowl championships.
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