Stories from Saint Vincent

By Ed Bouchette
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 8 years ago

Good morning,

My first attempt to cover training camp at Saint Vincent College came up short, but not for reasons other than I ran into a group of Steelers players on a picket line along the road leading to the campus.

It was 1974 and the players were on strike, at least some of them were. I was a rookie not long out of Indiana University of Pennsylvania in my first year as sports editor of the Indiana (Pa.) Gazette and I decided I would cover the Steelers, at least as often as I could around my other duties of covering high schools and IUP.

Not all the players were on strike. Chuck Noll and his staff still had enough to practice at Saint Vincent that day, including quarterback Joe Gilliam, who would take the starting job away from Terry Bradshaw to open the season.

But on this day, I did not write about football, because some veterans, including Jack Ham, were on the picket line carting signs that read “No Freedom, No Football.” They were joined by some striking electrical workers – from West Penn Power, I believe – who also carried their own strike signs.

I stopped the car and interviewed them – Ham, some others and even the electrical workers, who told me they were there in support of their union brothers. So I did not write about football practice that day, but of Jack Ham and other players on the picket line, joined by some regular workers on strike and what that whole scene was like. Joe Gordon, the great Steelers PR man at the time, saw my story and wrote me a nice note – snail mail, which is all we had back then – crediting me for digging up something no one else had.

There would be enough time to write about football later – in days, weeks, months and now 41 years late and still writing about training camp at Saint Vincent College.

This will be the 50th training camp the Steelers have held at Saint Vincent. I’ve covered, in one way or another, 41 or 42 of them. The reason I can’t remember the precise number is in 1976, I left Indiana to join the McKeesport Daily News and the Steelers were not my beat and I cannot recall if I went there for a story or two that summer.

I know I was at all the rest, writing stories, even my first year at the Post-Gazette in 1983 when I was an inside editor and sometime writer. When I joined the Tribune-Review in Greensburg in 1977, sports editor Dave Ailes covered the Steelers but I backed him up and wrote plenty of stories at camp during my time there through 1982. I also covered most home games during that time and traveled some.

Covering the Steelers became my fulltime beat at the Post-Gazette in 1985 when they were not happy with the coverage from the fellow the paper hired and with several days left in camp put me on the beat after I had returned from Pitt camp in Edinboro.

I’ve been there ever since, living in the dorms, most of the time without air conditioning in the same dorm as the players, Bonaventure, which since has given way to newer air conditioned dorms. Over the next few mornings, I’ll tell you some stories from those summers in Latrobe, starting with a few early ones.

After covering all their home games in 1974, I knew the landscape a little better in 1975 when I went to write about the reigning Super Bowl champs. Instead of talking to Joe Greene or Franco Harris or any of the stars from that team, I concentrated on a rookie tight end, Randy Little, their 11th-round draft choice from West Liberty. I wanted to know what it was like for a late-round pick to try to make the Super Bowl champions roster. He was down about it, and honest in talking about it. He didn’t think he had much of a chance after looking over all the talent on the team. I wrote my story and in the next day or two, he quit. I received another nice note from Joe Gordon.

In 1977, I was working in Greensburg and lived only a few miles from Saint Vincent. That was the epic summer of the lawsuit by Oakland Raiders defensive back George Atkinson against Chuck Noll for calling him part of the NFL’s “criminal element.’’ Camp was a mess. Jack Lambert was a holdout. Mel Blount sued Noll after Noll acknowledged at trail on the West Coast that he too could be part of the criminal element. Noll was in and out in order to testify at the trial.

One Saturday morning, Ralph Conde, a talk show host on Greensburg station WHJB, announced that Lambert had ended his holdout and reported to camp. I immediately hustled down to Saint Vincent, ran to practice and looked for Lambert. Back then, Noll refused to put players’ names or numbers on their practice jerseys, but Lambert always stuck out. I could not find him.

Rich Emert, then covering the team for the Beaver County Times, was watching practice. “Where is he?” I asked Rich. “Out there,’’ he said. I still could not find Lambert. “Where?’’ “Out there,’’ said Emert, having no idea what or who I was talking about.

He finally asked, “Who are you talking about?’’


Emert said he had no idea, and then I told him the story.

We both requested to talk to Dan Rooney and he met with us after practice. I told him what was being reported and he laughed. He’s not here, Rooney said, not unless he came disguised as one of those pine trees on top of the hill.

The report was false and the linebacker was nowhere to be found. Lambert ultimately would end his holdout. Those trees, about Lambert’s height at the time, would grow mighty tall on that barren hillside until they chopped them down to build a new dorm, where I and many others now stay during camp.

My boss at the Post-Gazette, Bruce Keidan sent me to camp in one of the summers before it became my beat. I believe it was 1984. I was to write about kicker Gary Anderson. Back then, you would request an interview with someone and they would send you up to his dorm room.

Anderson’s roommate was punter Craig Colquitt. It was the first time I had met either. So I started interviewing the kicker for what I thought would be this nice little story on his early success with the Steelers when Anderson started popping off. He accused Chuck Noll of not paying enough attention to special teams. Then Colquitt chimed in with some choice criticisms of his own about it.

Yikes, here were the kicker and punter ripping the Emperor. That just did not happen. Instead of another lame feature from training camp, I had a damn good story that everyone would remember, including perhaps my bosses at the Post-Gazette when it came time to turn the beat over to someone in 1985.

But at first, it did not go to me. See you tomorrow.