LATROBE, Pa. -- Today is the final day of my tour of the AFC North training camps. Honestly, this is the first time I felt like I was at training camp this summer.
The Steelers are the only team left in the division who pack up their bags and go away for camp. Like they've done for 47 years, the Steelers eat, sleep and practice at St. Vincent College, which is about an hour outside of Pittsburgh.
"It's a tradition that we embrace and that we're very appreciative of the opportunity to step away and to come together and develop individually, and more importantly collectively," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "It creates a little bit of adversity. Guys are on top of each other. But at the end of the day, it's a growth process. I think it's something that helps team development. No doubt. I'm an advocate of going away to training camp."
Removed from their families, the players have all of their thoughts squarely on football. Their circle of friends during camp is composed of teammates.
It's the ultimate in team-building, and it's been proved over time. Five of the last seven Super Bowl champions -- the Steelers (twice), Colts, Packers and Giants (who held camp in Albany in 2007 but not in 2011 because of the lockout) headed away from their own facility for training camp.
There were three teams in the AFC North who traditionally went away for camp. But the Ravens and Bengals decided to end their traditions and moved their camps permanently to their own facilities this year. The Bengals went to Georgetown College in Kentucky since 1997, and the Ravens were at McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., from 1996 to 2010.
Baltimore and Cincinnati are following a strong trend in the NFL. In 2000, only five of the 31 teams stayed at home for camp (16 percent). This year, 18 of the 32 teams are doing so (56 percent).
"It's been outstanding,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said of the team's first downtown camp. “All the people involved have done a tremendous job and made it very stress-free for me, which is a good thing. Just the whole environment here throughout the stadium has been great."