Ready for prime time, players scrimmage live Steelers, Redskins make a media event

July 17, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

CARLISLE, Pa. -- Before the Pittsburgh Steelers held their first scrimmage against the Washington Redskins two years ago, a Steelers official asked a Redskins executive, "Is your scrimmage going to be open to the public?"

The Washington representative replied, "It's not only going to be open to the public, it's going to be televised live."

It hasn't taken the Steelers long to catch up to the Redskins.

The two teams will scrimmage twice at the Steelers' camp in Latrobe, Pa., today, and the evening scrimmage will be televised live in Pittsburgh.

And the Steelers won't show up wearing jerseys without uniform numbers the way they did the first time.

Steelers coach Chuck Noll's teams never wore numbered jerseys in practice and he treated the scrimmage as just another practice.

"This looks like Joe's Bar and Grill scrimmaging the Washington Redskins," one of the Steelers players said when the Redskins arrived for the first scrimmage in 1989.

But when Steelers officials saw what an event the Redskins had turned the scrimmage into, they decided to climb on the bandwagon.

Last year, the Steelers not only televised the Latrobe scrimmage in Pittsburgh, but had an autograph sessions for the fans on the field before the game. And they will do the same tonight.

Since the only alternative is summer reruns, the scrimmages are a prime-time attraction on TV, too.

"They [local television officials] told me this week that they got great ratings last year," Steelers business manager Joe Gordon said yesterday.

Gordon called televising the scrimmage a "PR thing" for the team. "It's a good conversation piece," he said.

When the two teams scrimmage here next Wednesday at Carlisle High School, it'll be televised in Washington.

Since the Steelers have all of their signed veterans in camp and the Redskins will be bringing rookies, except for wide receivers, coach Joe Gibbs jokingly proclaimed himself the underdog -- a position he has always liked.

But the scrimmages aren't about winning and losing. They're a time to evaluate young players.

"Tomorrow is going to be a shock for a lot of these guys," Gibbs said. "They're going up against a veteran group up there. It'll be their chance to show they belong on this level."

This is also the start of a second season for the four World League of American Football players on the roster.

Linebackers Eric Naposki and Kevin Woolfolk and defensive linemen Nate Hill and Lee Johnson played in the WLAF's inaugural season after being cut by NFL teams. All are eager to take another shot in the NFL.

Although the new league gave them some experience, Gibbs isn't sosure it will help them in their NFL quest.

"They may be hurt a little bit by that. They went full-bore through a full football season and they've had only six weeks off. It's harder for them. They're not rested up and they're carrying some bruises," he said.

The most obvious example is Naposki, who has been slowed by a pulled groin muscle suffered in his final WLAF game and a bruised shoulder he suffered in the first day of camp, but is trying to overlook them.

"I wish I had a few more weeks to take care of the healing process, but when it's time to go to camp, it's time to go to camp," he said.

The Redskins brought in Woolfolk yesterday because they wanted more help at linebacker. He replaced another WLAF player, defensive lineman Webbie Burnett.

The players have warm memories of the WLAF's first season and all say they'll go back if they don't make it in the NFL. They're

not bothered by the $20,000 base salary in the World League.

Naposki said, "It was the greatest experience of my life."

Woolfolk, who made $30,000 including bonuses, said, "They [fans] treated us like kings, and where can you make $30,000 in 10 weeks?"

NOTES: QB Mark Rypien remained the team's lone holdout yesterday, but the Redskins are hoping they can reach a deal with him by this weekend when the veterans are due to arrive. They also have to come to terms with three other veterans -- DL Eric Williams, CB Martin Mayhew and OL Joe Jacoby. . . . There'll be no kicking in the scrimmage today because the Redskins don't have PK Chip Lohmiller or P Kelly Goodburn and Chris Shale in camp yet.

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