Jerome Bettis carrying a television in 1999. Plaxico Burress hauls a mattress. James Harrison: big guy in a little car in 2009. Brett Keisel reports to Steelers training camp in 2012

"The Steelers training camp through the years"

Later today, the employees of a local family-owned company will report to a semi-rural retreat for a series of team-building exercises designed to help them maximize productivity in their workplace, and a gaggle of media will chronicle their arrival, what they’re bringing with them, and how they got there.

What is the fascination? Well, the employees are professional football players and the family business is the Pittsburgh Steelers. And that team-building exercise is the team’s annual training camp at Saint Vincent College.

This photo-op is as sure of a sign of late July in Western Pennsylvania as humidity and thunderstorms.

The juxtaposition of these giant men – with giant paychecks – hauling their own stuff into the dormitories of a small Catholic school (even though most of them are from humble backgrounds and only just removed from college themselves) has a certain endearing and amusing quality.  

But if it’s not that, then it’s their cars, because generally speaking, they have cooler ones than the rest of us.

The interest dates to the 1970s when the “Super” Steelers of that era were nothing short of superheroes around here.

Vito Stellino noted in the July 12, 1976 Post-Gazette what the back-to-back defending Super Bowl champions were driving and carrying as they made their way to to training camp. 

"LATROBE — In assorted vehicles ranging from Lynn Swann’s Porsche to Moon Mullins’ jeep, the Super Steelers came back to training camp yesterday. …

… The vets hauled in their fans and TVs and plugged them in. …”

The photo with the story is of Swann carrying a case of motor oil from his Porsche.

A July 17, 1981 John Clayton story in The Pittsburgh Press features the above photo of John Stallworth carrying a refrigerator into the dorms.

In 1999, Jerome Bettis lugged a TV into a dorm and in 2003, Plaxico Burress brought his own mattress. In 2006, Max Starks arrived in a beautiful classic Chevy Impala. In 2009, James Harrison – he of the surly disposition and totally jacked frame – hammed it up by arriving in a tiny Smart car.

And in 2012, Brett Keisel arguably topped them all, as Ray Fittipaldo wrote a year ago today:

"Veteran defensive end Brett Keisel arrived at Saint Vincent College in style Wednesday afternoon. Well, if not style, then Keisel’s definition of it.

While the rest of his teammates were showing up in Cadillac Escalades, BMWs and other assorted luxury cars, Keisel drove an orange Kubota front-loading tractor onto campus to check into his dorm room. Keisel has made a habit of arriving to camp with a grand entrance, and he said his inspiration for the tractor was a nod to his days as a youth when he worked on farms in his native Wyoming.”

So who will show up with what, and in what today? It won’t matter to most fans as long at the ultimate destination is a return to the playoffs.

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