It must be in the water.

I’m still a Pittsburgher, even though technically I live too far east these days, just 20 minutes or so from Latrobe, PA — home of St. Vincent College, which is better known as the home of Steelers training camp. You can’t live in the ’Burgh and not know about this annual ritual: The swallows flock to Capistrano; the Steelers — and their minions — flock to Latrobe.

I’ve never been there to watch training camp practices and scrimmages, snag an autograph, or see the boys up close. But I’ve been to the campus a couple of times to see a play (just last Saturday in fact) — that would be a stage play not a hut-one, hut-two play. It doesn’t take long to understand the attraction of the place. It’s beautiful (even without the Steelers in view), and the revamped field is a dream (is that Lambert coming out of the corn?). You can picture hanging out there and looking down on the field, talking ball with the guy (or gal) sitting next to you, with the Laurel Mountains as the backdrop.

The campus is also home to the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media — yes Mister Rogers. Oh yeah, there’s a magnificent Basilica as well — stunning at night. The Steelers and Mr. Rogers and God — an embarrassment of riches.

Before the play, we ate at a nearby restaurant, Sharky’s, popular with the locals and the players. Of course, it’s decorated to the hilt with black & gold (including the waitresses) and has TVs all over the dining room showing current Steelers news coverage as well as highlights of past events — games, Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions, ceremonies at Three Rivers & Heinz Field, player interviews, etc.

It’s amazing what a magnet those screens are. Show any highlight from any game in the golden years and it’s hard to keep your eyes off the sets. Show any aging player and it’s sure to spark a memory of some game, play, or event. It’s 30 years later, for goodness sake, but people are mesmerized. How can you explain such devotion?

I’m guessing it’s something in the water. I drank it 30 years ago and was hooked. Me and about a bazillion other Steelers fans — at home in Pittsburgh or wherever their lives led them.

But that doesn’t quite explain the many, many fans who have never set foot in the ’Burgh at all, let alone in the sleepy little town of Latrobe (that’s LAYtrobe). 

OK, how about this: It’s the water if you ever lived here; it’s the thirst for it — the thirst to be part of that big-awesome-love-hate-black-n-gold-towel-waving-Steeler-nation-madness — if you haven’t.

And, yes, there are those of you who live here and don’t give a hoot about the Steelers — those of you rolling your eyes all “What’s wrong with these people?” I’m afraid you’re on your own. Find your own magic potion. Wave a towel for whatever it is “you people” root for. Look down on us black & gold crazies. Whatever. Just don’t stand in front of the TV. And pass the water pitcher.

I believe that water is the only drink for a wise man.
                                             ~ Henry David Thoreau