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Pittsburgh Steelers celebrate 50th year at Saint Vincent College

LATROBE, Pa. -- Antonio Brown rolled up to the players' dorm for camp on Saturday in a matte-black Rolls Royce with a yellow racing stripe down the middle, Steeler logos on the rear-view mirrors and his signature emblazoned on the sides.

You'd think something like that would be a tough point of reference for an NFL owner in his 60s.

But Art Rooney didn't have to dig deep to play it off. He immediately said to his star receiver -- "Antonio, watch your keys." And then, he told Brown a story from the '70s about how he and fellow ballboy Bill Nunn swiped Mean Joe Greene's keys and took the-then rookie's brand new Lincoln Continental out for "a little ride."

"We didn't tell Joe until about 10 years ago," Rooney said, with a smile.

And that right there might be the greatest positive that this venerable place still retains for the Steelers, in an era where training camp isn't really "camp" anymore, and more clubs are forgoing the ambiance of far-flung campuses for the comforts of home.

Saint Vincent College has, in many ways, tied a half-century of Steelers generations together. The team on Sunday celebrated 50 years of camp at the small Benedictine school, a tradition rarely seen these days.

Maybe that's why you see Ike Taylor standing alongside Carnell Lake behind the secondary during 7-on-7s, the just-retired corner here helping out and catching up with one of foundation pieces of the 90s, who's coaching the corners. Or you look over, and there's Joey Porter, now the outside linebackers coach, with Charlie Batch, who (like Taylor) is in Latrobe in an unofficial capacity.

Or you see Todd Haley telling second-year running back Dri Archer that he was on the same field 40 years ago, running around as a kid.

A few minutes later, Haley, now the Steelers' offensive coordinator, points up to the open hill in front of him and explains where the dorms were when he stayed here with his dad Dick, who was the scouting-side architect of the 1970s dynasty. He then points over at the dorms where the players and coaches are now and says, "these weren't here."

"I know what the root beer tasted like out of that little coaches office up there on the corner -- I got millions of memories," Haley continued. "It's amazing for me to come back and be a part of something that was really all I knew as a kid. My life revolved around the Steelers and my father, and being on this hill and watching Mean Joe and all them walk up the gauntlet. It's 40 years. I mean, they've been here 50 years, I wasn't far behind as a kid being up here."

The construction of new (and pricey) practice facilities and advances in technology, as well as the shortening of camp and rise in rules governing coaches, have been attributed as reasons why so many teams now stay home.

The old Cheese League (there were once five teams stationed in Wisconsin for camp) has long been down to one, that one being the team that actually calls the state home. Two of my favorites from my early years covering the league -- Northern Arizona University (Cardinals) and Lehigh (Eagles) -- have more recently been shuttered as NFL sites.

And there's no reason to think more won't be deciding soon that it's not worth the trouble to go away.

Conversely, the Steelers find value in doing it this way. Haley says it's impossible to measure the benefit he's seen, now in his fourth year back with the team. He even concedes, "the Patriots, they're at their place and they win the Super Bowl," before steadfastly adding, "I believe in it."

He saw it work for his dad. It works for him now, for a lot of the same reasons.

And if you think about it, that's kind of the idea in a nutshell, and enough to outweigh the alternative.

"I think for us, it's hard to think of what doesn't work," said Art. "Our fans love it here. Our players love it here. Our coaches love it here. It's been a good place for us, and we've been successful coming out of here. What's not to like?"

It's not 1966 anymore. Lots of things have changed.

But as Brown can now tell you, the stories coming out of this place really aren't much different.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

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