By Jeremy Hritz
Wow, it’s finally here.
After a sad and dejected winter sullened by a flat out lumber laying at the paws of the Brown, springtime is in effect, and the optimism of a fresh Steelers season is upon us. Every team is undefeated and hopeful of a playoff berth and competing for a Lombardi, and as names begin to be called from a podium in Cleveland, visions of future splash plays by strange faces will be a part of new mental movies we play in our brains as we anticipate kickoff 2021.
The draft has always been a highlight of the NFL season for me, and I have my grandfather to thank for that.
Growing up in Western, PA in a defunct coal-mining area, the gray landscapes out of my grandfather’s windows were only brightened for me by the pictures of football players on NFL publications, specifically Pro Football Weekly and Streets and Smith. My grandfather was not only a Steelers junkie, but a draft junkie to boot, and he made lists and lists of prospects he’d like to see in Pittsburgh on free notepads my gram took from the Golden Corral, in addition to the utensils, sugar packets, and whatever else she could take home for free for later use. His draft notes were the equivalents to today’s mock drafts, minus the technology, but for such limited access to prospect info, his knowledge was profound.
I didn’t quite understand the draft at first, and it wasn’t like he gave me any formal lesson on it, but through osmosis and influence of environment, I subconsciously internalized the purpose and structure of the draft and saw the appeal and the fun of it all.
My grandfather, or Pups as we called him (no clue where that came from), was a rare bird in the sense that he was present at every Steelers Super Bowl in the 70s (I can’t imagine his disappointment with the 80s teams). His passion for the team wasn’t boisterous or showy, he purely enjoyed the game, learning the players, and knowing his team inside and out.
He used to VHS every game each season and keep them in the event he wanted to watch the game again. Can’t imagine what he’d think of today’s NFL Gamepass. His videotaping eventually wore off on me in my teens as I did the same thing and watched games at least twice to make sure I was aware of every nuance.
He didn’t talk much, but he’d give his two cents every so often. I remember he wasn’t a fan of the Plexico Burress selection from Michigan State in the first round back in 2000, and he was sure to remind me of that when Plex foolishly spiked the ball while it was still live against Jacksonville and gave the Jags a gift of a turnover. That was the last year we ever went to a game together, the opener at Three Rivers against the Ravens in which the Steelers lost 16-0. This game was the first installment in the short-lived Kent Graham series. He was a lifelong season ticket holder and lived for Sunday’s. But he also lived for that annual stretch of days called the NFL Draft in the spring.
Every year during draft time, I think of Pups and his Streets and Smiths. I think of his old school prospect lists. I think of his VHS collection.
I wonder, today, what his analysis would be of this years Draft. Would he go Harris? Or would he go JOK? Maybe he’d trade out.
I don’t know. But one thing is for certain. He’d be watching. The whole goddamn draft, down to the final 7th round pick.
I don’t remember terribly much about my grandfather. But the pieces that I do, like the Draft, I hold on to tightly. It makes me feel like a kid again.
And it makes me grateful that he passed on his passion to me.