Returning to Latrobe: “That’s What Makes Pittsburgh Different”
Former players’ annual pilgrimage back to Saint Vincent College is a part of Steelers’ lore and Steelers’ culture. And it’s one of the things that defines the organization in the eyes of former safety Ryan Clark.
If you ventured out to training camp and you were paying close enough attention, you saw more than just the 2023 Steelers under construction.
You also saw the Steelers’ culture.
You saw a parade of alumni, one after another, on the field along with those who happened to have been lucky enough to score sideline passes. You saw them chatting with the current players and coaches, and with one another.
The latter interactions weren’t always necessarily between former teammates.
Just being a former Steelers player was often more than enough, as was the opportunity to get back out on the Saint Vincent College grass.
If you made it to Latrobe and you were there for more than autographs and selfies, you saw living, breathing Steelers’ history.
That included Super Bowl champions (Rocky Bleier), but also long-snappers (Mike Schneck).
It included Hall-of-Famers (Rod Woodson) and Jeremy Parquet (three career games played in 2008).
One after another they came, even if only for a few hours.
And it’ll happen again next summer.
“It’s the way we’re treated,” former safety Ryan Clark maintained upon his return on Aug. 8.
Clark broke into the NFL with the New York Football Giants, and also spent a few seasons with the Redskins before and after his Steelers’ tenure (2006-2013).
He’s an alumnus of three organizations but he feels a kinship with just one.
“I’ve gone to other places and I can’t necessarily compare it,” Clark explained. “I’m invited back to a lot of things in Washington. I don’t go back often but I’m around every now and then.
“You don’t have to be invited back here. Coach (Mike) Tomlin didn’t know I was coming here today but he pulls up in his golf cart, I’m on the sideline, and the first thing he asks is, ‘Are you getting everything you need?’
“To go to a place and have them continually treat you like family, especially when you can no longer do for them … I can’t help them win a football game but even without being able to give them anything, they still open up the doors to me. (General Manager) Omar (Khan), Mr. Rooney (Steelers president Art Rooney II), everybody treats you as a part of the family, and I think that’s what makes Pittsburgh different.”
Clark maintained former Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder also perceives the Steelers as such.
“I have a podcast called ‘The Pivot’ and Channing Crowder and (former Jaguars running back) Fred Taylor came with me last year to (former Steelers linebacker) Joey Porter’s charity event, and (Crowder) said, ’This doesn’t happen in Miami, this amount of guys don’t come back.’” Clark relayed. “There isn’t this level of closeness anywhere else.”
Clark first experienced this component of Steelers’ culture when he played for the Steelers.
He’s come to appreciate it now that he’s on the other side, particularly how it’s grown in scope.
“I thought that was just because they were all Hall-of-Famers,” he recalled. “The guys you would see were in the Hall of Fame. It wasn’t like you’d walk around and just see some slappy. It’s like, that’s Joe Greene, that’s Mel Blount, that’s, God rest his soul, Franco Harris. Yes, those dudes can come around because of who they are, but it’s not just them.
“That’s what makes this place different. Yes, the precedent was set by continuing to treat them the way that they earned. But they treat everybody like that, everybody has a place here. Anybody that put their hand in the pile, as Coach Tomlin would say, is welcome.
“And I don’t believe it’s like that everywhere and I think it’s a beautiful thing.”