Before yinz get all jumping ugly, no, I haven't converted to Islam. I would hope yinz would know better.
My hadj, or pilgrimage, will take place today as I load up the fruit of my loins and head to St. Vincent's College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. It's one I've made before, but the sanctity of it all never fades as we go to see my beloved Steelers at training camp.
My first pilgrimage was when I was about eight. Back then, it was so much different. I stood face-to-face with some of the greats of the game. Their names read like a who's who of NFL royalty: Bradshaw, Harris, Bleier, Cole, Greenwood, Ham, Furness, Webster, and Blount. There were no fences to keep fans from their heroes like there are today. It was magical.
Over the years, the players have changed, but the excitement and magic still remain. Autographs can be obtained if the players choose to sign, and that's half the fun. Tonight, my kids and I will sit down and see whose signatures we got. I'll go through the pictures I take and replay the precious time with my kids and my team over and over in my head. We'll make memories that will never fade, and THAT'S what I want for my kids.
I want my kids to be able to look back at all of the hoopla and say, "I remember Mom taking us to training camp. Damn, that was great!" I also want them to have stories to one day tell my grandchildren and be able to pass on the magic to them.
I hope to keep them grounded with admiring those who play for the love of the game and not the money. Too many of today's youth glorify those who feel they are above the law: Vick, Burress, Holmes (that one kills me as a Steeler fan), and Ray Lewis to name a few. Players with character like Warner, Polamalu, Marino, Kelly, and Flutie are a dying breed. When did it all change?
Today's hadj will not involve praying five times or blowing up innocent infidels. It will, however, most likely involve fervor and the laying on of hands.