With the advent of modern technology, especially the flight of sophisticated, swooping drones, has apparently come a paranoia within the Pittsburgh Steelers organization about keeping practice as secure as possible.
If you happen to drop by one of the Steelers’ three practice fields you may see evidence of this counter-espionage. It is in the form of a wall of tarpaulin draped at one end of the field. That end of the field just happens to be near an office building.
Hey, you never know who may be lurking behind one of the windows with a powerful lens or recording device. Has anyone seen Bill Belichick lately, by the way?
Of course, the cynical among us would ask what might be going on at a Steelers practice that could interest anyone? Last week in Green Bay, the Steelers were drubbed 51-34.
It was the most points the Steelers had ever allowed in a preseason game and there were some mighty mediocre Steelers teams in the 1960s. Did you know the 1969 Steelers, Chuck Noll’s first as head coach, went 1-13? They beat the Detroit Lions in the opener and it was all downhill for there.
As you might suspect, the Pittsburgh media has taken great delight in this. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review says the tarp, which is black, the color of opaque, stands about two stories tall once mounted on its four pillars. The practice facility is smack in the middle of a commercialized area where people come and go any may feel compelled to peer.
Inquiring minds asked Steelers coach Mike Tomlin about the wall on Thursday
“You know how it is, man. This is interesting times. Drones and so forth,” Tomlin said. “We do what we’ve got to do to prepare and be ready to play to have a level and fair competitive playing field.”
Major League Baseball is replete with examples of teams stealing signs and working to prevent others from stealing them, too.
One of the most preposterous examples of this came in 2017 when the New York Yankees complained that the Boston Red Sox were using an Apple Watch to get a leg up. MLB investigators were able to prove that the Sox figured out a way to use that technology to steal the catcher’s hand signal and then relay the information to hitters.
Tomlin stopped short of saying what purpose the wall – let’s call it The Steel Curtain – is meant to serve. He told reporters it would remain “somewhat mystical” until he felt it was the right time to divulge its purpose.
Normally, NFL and college coaches take a more direct approach to protecting their privacy. They simply close practices to media and fans. And those practices which are open, especially on outdoor practice fields and stadiums, are monitored by security looking for unauthorized guests, carrying suspicious looking gear. They also are very distrustful of dirigibles, as you might suspect.
ESPN reports that Nick Saban’s Alabama football program has an agreement with an apartment complex adjacent to their practice field prohibiting tenants from hanging out on their balconies during practice.
Goodness gracious, Nick. Really?
“You always have dudes out in the parking lot, and you don’t know really where they are from and they send security out,” Steelers tight end Jesse James told ESPN. “It’s not something you really notice while you’re practicing, but if the defense is out on the field going against the scout team, you can see stuff going on.”
Perhaps Tomlin is worried the Cleveland Browns, of all people, are looking something on Ben Roethlisberger to help them in their season opener in Cleveland?