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Kozora: A Thank You

By Alex Kozora

I know I’ve written a lifetime of words the past couple weeks but hopefully you’ll allow me to write a few more.

August 14th made one year since being hired here at Steelers Depot. It was only fitting that the last day of training camp fell on the same day.

During this time, I’ve learned a lot about you guys. And through this article, maybe you’ll learn a little more about me.

Before the Pittsburgh Steelers opened camp, I figured I’d mention a little about everything that I had done in my first year. But then training camp happened, attending a couple practices turned into potentially ten, and by the end, we were at every one. It was an incredible experience, one that words will never do it justice. To give its due, that’s where I’ll focus much of this self-indulgence on.

The Place

St. Vincent College. Admittedly, I haven’t been to many college campuses. I only looked at two colleges out of high school, only applied to one – Clarion. It was close and more importantly, it was cheap. Student loans kick in six months after graduation. Big-money schools were out of the question.

My point is, I have only been to a handful of colleges. But I dare you to pick one more beautiful than St. Vincent. You can’t. Nestled in Latrobe, right off Route 30, is the prettiest place on Earth.

Fog that greets the hills in the morning, a sunset that says goodbye in the evening. Walk through the entrance and merchandise tent, and you come out on the other side with a panoramic view of Chuck Noll Field.

Walk to the other side of campus and you can stand next to the fencing for autographs. By the time the gates open, the line is a half-mile long. Once the staff gives them permission to enter, a sea of bodies sprints uphill to be first in line. James Harrison didn’t run this hard in the Super Bowl.

I’ve run it. I’ve watched it. From afar, you’d think someone was handing out the keys to a Ferrari.

For a kid, an autograph from Ben Roethlisberger is infinitely more valuable.

Smell the burgers and hot dogs wafting off the grill at the concession stand that – and I assure you this is not a paid advertisement – are reasonably priced.

There was one day where free black ‘n gold pierogies were handed out. Not the most aesthetically appealing but tasty nonetheless. On others, free cups of ice cream.

Spend as much or as little as you like. It’s as fan-friendly as they come.

Sit in the bleachers to take in practice and you’ll see the planes take and off and lane at nearby Arnold Palmer Regional Airport. It’s a little surreal the first time you see it.

As you leave, drive past the endless acres of corn that grows on campus. I bet more than one person has plucked an ear or two.

Put the Steelers on the field and you can’t replicate a more magical slice of the world than this. Food, football, and a view. Perfect.

The People

As in, the people I got to personally meet throughout camp. The names too numerous to list. But thank you all who came up, shook my hand, and said you read our work on Depot. It truly means a million.

Because Steelers’ nation lives everywhere, Steelers’ nation travels from everywhere to attend. I met people from New York, Washington D.C., and probably parts beyond. Stroll through the parking lot and you could recreate a map out of the license plates.

One-hundred percent true, once while walking into camp, I passed a line of six or seven cars. Not one of them were from Pennsylvania. All from different states.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank the great group of personal friends I have who helped me go to camp. A family with one car isn’t exactly training-camp friendly. I didn’t think it was feasible for me to go to all 15 practices. My friends helped make it happen. Thank you.

The Readers

You all stole the show. It’s because of your support that made all of this worth it. The followers on Twitter, more than four times than what I had before camp began, the commenters on here, the listeners on The Terrible Podcast.

An enormous thank you to everyone or donate. $5 or $50, it was all more than I could have ever expected. I’ll have a real dinner instead of surviving on McChicken’s. Promise.

Like the people, the readers came from every corner of the world. Kind words sent from right here in Pennsylvania to California, Texas, Denmark, Quebec, Mexico, and even Brazil. It’s still difficult to wrap my mind around it all.

I know most of you will say you learned from me, but I learned one very important fact from all of you: You all care about every detail of this team. It’s not just about the headline-grabbing players. Where else can we have an intelligent debate the merits of keeping David Paulson versus Rob Blanchflower? How many other places are even mentioning where Wesley Johnson lines up in each practice? What other website has Lew Toler’s number one fan?

That’s what I love the most: the appetite for information. The X’s and O’s, the minor details of the team and the game, that’s what separates our writers and our readers from the rest.

And what a group of writers we have. A staff that works tirelessly. Someone tell Dave to sleep every couple of days. Someone give the heads up to Matthew that you’re not supposed to be able to write a first half recap before the TV crew tosses it to commercial. Someone alert Nick that preseason charting has been outlawed by The Geneva Convention. The daily outflow of information is nothing short of remarkable. Without a paywall in sight.

Final Thoughts

Might as well keep with tradition since that’s how I’ve seemingly been ending every article I’ve written the last three weeks.

I don’t do many things well. I’m the farthest thing from an athlete. A dreadful swimmer. Try to talk to a woman and I ramble on about “how mild this summer has been” for a half hour. It’s not pretty.

The one thing I am able to do, while I still have a lifetime to learn more about, is talk football.  Thank you for sharing that with me.

I was once criticized for not having access or talking to anyone. And the way that was inferred is correct. I’m not credentialed. I don’t get any quotes from anyone. I’m not walking the sidelines.

But that is such an incredibly narrow scope to define “access.” It implies reporting only takes place away from the sidelines. It ignores the most important part of the job – what takes place on the field. That’s what matters. Never lose sight of that.

As long as I have a pen, a notebook, and a pair of eyes to watch practice, I have all the access I could ever need.

Thank you all for one marvelous journey. It’s been an amazing year.

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