Normal people would call them water breaks. The lexicon-bending head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers once famously called them “hydration opportunities.”
But whichever phrasing is preferred, they are absolutely essential during the summer heat of training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. And for whatever reason, players taking water bre – err, hydration opportunities – is among the most frequently photographed training camp subjects by our photographers, stretching back for decades. (The others? Players: arriving in unique vehicles; carrying things to their dorms; interacting with fans; sitting on their helmets).
It’s like a meme from before memes were a thing.
I asked the Post-Gazette’s ace sports photographer Matt Freed why photos of guys drinking water make for an intriguing photo. “Probably because of the general boredom of training camp. You see the same things every day,” he said, adding, “sometimes the [assignment] desk will call and say, ‘It’s really hot out. We need a weather feature picture.’ ”
Though the temperature and humidity have ticked up in the past few days, the weather has more often been pleasant rather than punishing during the 2013 edition of Camp Tomlin. The temperature in Pittsburgh hasn’t gone above 84 degrees since the start of camp and most days have been in the mid-’70s. Hence, we haven’t seen the annual water shot – not yet, anyway.
But compare this relatively mild year to that of camps gone by. Writing in July 1998, Chuck Finder said the Steelers came to Saint Vincent prepared to contend with a nasty heat wave:
Armed with 400 cases of Gatorade, 200 cases of bottled water, 150 cases of Gatorade supplements, a herd of water buffaloes, a state-of-the-art Slush Puppy machine and a frozen flotilla of Popsicles, the Steelers came to training camp fully equipped to beat the heat. Unofficially, it is their first scheduled opponent: July 21-Aug. 21, at Latrobe.
The Great Meteorologist in the Sky graciously provided a canopy of clouds under which the Steelers toiled yesterday morning, the start of two-a-day practices. The heat index, measured closely by the team’s medical staff, hovered at a bearable 86 for the morning. But it reached 95 under clear skies during the day’s second session.
“It got a little hot this afternoon,” Coach Bill Cowher mused after one lineman, Tony Orlandini from Pitt, walked off the fields with 20 practice minutes remaining with cramps.
“Hopefully,” the coach added, “it’ll get a little hotter tomorrow.” …
Finder also noted that a certain rookie that year found an extreme way to cool down.
Nevertheless, the thick air and even thicker activity here yesterday combined to make it feel toasty enough for Steelers rookies, free-agents and selected veterans to hose down Saint Vincent College’s fields with perspiration. Which might explain why Hines Ward threw himself into a garbage can afterward.
The golden barrel was one of three sitting along the side door to Kennedy Hall, housing the team’s training room and locker room. The barrel was filled with ice water and, up to his waist, a 6-foot, 194-pound rookie receiver weaned on the brutally hot fields of Georgia sat inside clutching a Gatorade in his right hand and an orange drink in his left.
“I don’t have any legs,” he said, “and it’s the third day of training camp.”