The NFL, to help contain the spread of COVID-19, has ordered all 32 teams to conduct their 2020 training camps in their own local team facilities.
But that doesn’t mean every team will feel “at home” while not going away. For the Steelers, the league mandate brings an abrupt end to a tradition that began in 1966.
Latrobe, Pa., has been known for two things as a small town of less than 10,000 people about an hour east of Pittsburgh. The first is being the birthplace of Rolling Rock Beer. The second is hosting the Steelers annually for their preseason preparations for more than five decades.
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This year, the Steelers won’t be training at Saint Vincent College on the field named for Chuck Noll, their late Super Bowl-winning coach.
While the Steelers have a terrific modern facility called the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sportsplex in the South Side neighborhood in their own backyard, Latrobe has been the NFL’s best, most picturesque out-of-town camp around for a long time, seeing most of the franchise’s greatest players pass through over 54 years. The community in the Laurel Highlands has provided a beautiful hilly backdrop for the intensity and heat of camp.
Given the ardent nature of Steelers fans, the short trip from Pittsburgh was also a key revenue driver for the businesses in Latrobe in July and August. But in a year when NFL camps are bound to have no sweaty faithful in attendance, the experience wasn’t set up to be the same, anyway.
Although most teams hold camps in their team facilities now, other teams impacted by a full home camp are the Raiders (Napa, Calif., since 1996) and Cowboys (Oxnard, Calif., since 2004). Las Vegas will conduct camp in its new Henderson, Nev., headquarters, while Dallas won’t travel from The Star in Frisco, Texas.
Should the fight against the novel coronavirus take more positive turns, one can presume the Steelers will resume camping in Latrobe in 2021. For one year, however, they will need to adjust to breaking a long-standing routine.