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Football season nears

In case you haven’t noticed, it has been a little more than six months since the football season ended for the majority of fans in our region.

For most, that happened at the end of what was a pretty rough two-day period in January.

That end came for the Steelers with a 48-37 loss to Cleveland in a wild card playoff game Jan. 10 in Heinz Field, a game that was never as close as the final score indicated. It was a tough night for local fans — the Browns had pretty much put the game away in the first quarter, after which they led 28-0.

In fact, the first play of the game set an ominous tone — the opening snap sailed over Ben Roethlisberger’s head and was recovered 22 yards later in the end zone by Cleveland’s Karl Joseph.

(OK — if you’re a Browns fan, you had the chance to enjoy one more week of football before the season came to an end with a 22-17 loss in Kansas City on Jan. 17 in a divisional round playoff game.)

The Steelers-Browns game was followed the next night, Jan. 11, when Ohio State suffered a 52-24 loss to Alabama in the college football championship game.

Add it all up, and it has been a tough six months as we have sat waiting for the new season to begin.

And that happens Wednesday, when the Steelers open training camp. The location will be different — the National Football League was not comfortable COVID-19 protocols could be met if the team held its workouts at its traditional summer home of St. Vincent College in Latrobe, so this year’s sessions will be held at the team’s practice facility on the South Side and at Heinz Field.

A limited number of tickets will be available for the practice sessions inside Heinz Field, which will begin July 28. There’s no charge to attend, but you do need to reserve a seat on the team’s website.

Fans also will be able to attend Steelers Fest, which will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 31 in the area around Heinz Field.

The Steelers and Dallas are allowed to open training camp a week earlier than the rest of the league because they are scheduled to play each other Aug. 5 in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton. That means the Steelers and Cowboys will end up with four preseason games this year, a change from past years.

With the NFL adding a 17th game to the regular season, one game has been cut from the preseason, meaning the league’s other teams will play just three exhibition contests.

Another change is that, with one other exception, the other teams in the league — including the Browns — will open training camp on July 27. Members of the public again will be able to access Browns training camp sessions, but they will need a ticket, and if this year is like other recent years, the sessions will sell out fast. The Browns will play their first preseason game Aug. 14 when they visit Jacksonville.

Tampa Bay, by the way, will open its training camp July 25 because it will open the season on Sept. 9 against Dallas.

It all will lead up to the regular season, which will open on Sept. 12 for the Steelers, who will visit Buffalo, and the Browns, who will visit Kansas City.

Ohio State, meanwhile, will open its season Sept. 2 when it visits Minnesota. Pitt, WVU and Ohio University all open their seasons on Sept. 4: The Panthers at Heinz Field against UMass, the Mountaineers at Maryland and the Bobcats at Peden Stadium against Syracuse.

Locally, high school football returns at 7:15 p.m. July 24 when the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference holds its 75th Rudy Mumley Charity All-Star Game at Wheeling Island Stadium. That game will start the countdown toward the regular season, which will open on Aug. 19 in Ohio when Buckeye Local travels to Barnesville. West Virginia schools will start play the following week.

As always, the best way to get ready for the high school football season will be to make sure you get a copy of the Gridiron 2021. Recognized with numerous awards from The Associated Press Media Editors in Ohio and the West Virginia Press Association, the publication will be included in copies of our newspapers on Aug. 18.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)

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