The first pre-season game is always a sigh of relief to the established veteran. It means a day off from camp, room service and loafing the day before the game. Maybe a cameo appearance for a series or two. Not to mention some much needed down time the day after.
For the rookies and bubble guys, it's more than that. The game is on. Jobs and your livelihood are at stake. You know it could be the beginning of the end of your career.
There is a sense that this wonderful NFL life, which is so tantalizingly close, but so hard to grasp and hang on to, is whirling in a perfect storm that can break your frigging heart.
So in light of that, here's Uncle Wolf's tips to the Steelers rookies for a better Hall of Fame experience:
* Know the anticipation will be agonizing. If you're a young buck and never been to the big show, you will feel a regular season vibe in your gullet.
* As a young guy those self-doubts and confidence issues clanging around in your gourd have been battled by everybody in that locker-room. And by those guys whose head busts are sitting in the next building over.
* Expect the wait to a nighttime kickoff on game day to be as long and frustrating as a week in camp.
* Preparation is the key, though things will not be overly complicated. Yet the difference in making the play is as little as a quick twitch in the wrong direction. Twitch well.
* Hope you've been paying attention in the meetings boys. Taking notes and learning to handle film study can be as monotonous as watching the grass grow. But in watching accomplished veterans go about their business, and learning from it while trying to emulate it over and over again on the field is job one.
* "Paralysis by analysis" is a training camp staple I heard from Chuck for over a decade. With so much new terminology, different caliber players, and the pressure of a nationally televised coming out party for all your buds, it's easy to understand why it happens.
* Better yet adhere to the tried and true Nollism that says "If your're gonna make a mistake, make an aggressive mistake." In other words, if you're lost, go blow somebody up.
* You should have already volunteered for every special team. Drive Coach Lig crazy with your servitude to the special teams. Be so close to Lig that if he farts, tell him "your voice has changed, but your breath smells the same."
* When you're backing somebody up and hanging out on the sideline, be in the game visually and mentally. Wear or carry your helmet at ALL times. Don't be a water cooler conversationalist. If somebody gets hurt, know who it is and how it might affect you personally.
* Watch your position during the game, talk to the vet, tell him what you saw. He'll most likely appreciate it and it gives you an opportunity to learn something. Ask questions and bank the answers.
* Put on the blinders when you take the field. There's an awful lot of pomp and circumstance surrounding the Hall of Fame, and the history of those who have come before you can be overwhelming.
* That goes double for the cheerleaders. I'd never seen cheerleaders like I saw in the NFL when I was a rook. The Chief had it right. The show is on the field and the girls just distract you.
My rookie year we were in Atlanta, and in the fourth quarter as a young, high testosterone single guy I had struck up a conversation with a Falcon southern belle.
We were punting, and one man short. Guess who? I was making good time all right -- with the southern belle and the sprint onto the field at the last second. Chuck knew I was late, but until this moment he never knew why. I'll run gassers after I've finished this article.
* Take the early bus on game day. This is especially true if you're a hog. There's wisdom circulating while you lock and load. Observe, listen, and speak little.
* To counteract the surge of adrenalin and not revving up the engine too early there's no better comfort than being with battle-tested vets, not in the confines of your room with another high-strung jittery newbie. Hanging around vets who have been there, done that, tends to settle the stomach.
* Speaking of stomach, for a night game, always eat eggs benedict with extra hollandaise sauce for Pre-game. Greases the innards, stays with you all night, and goes down easy. Best of all, they come up easy, too. Less roughage.
* Last of all, relax. I mean, it's just a game ... right?