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Football has returned

Believe it or not, it’s been a little more than six months since the Steelers closed their 2021-22 football schedule.

The last two games of that season marked the end of a couple of eras for fans in the Tri-State Area. When it came to an end with a 42-21 loss in Kansas City on Jan. 16 in an American Football Conference wildcard playoff game, it marked the final game in the career of Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger completed 29 of 44 passes for 215 years and two touchdowns in that contest.

His final appearance at home came one week earlier, on Jan. 9, when Roethlisberger completed 30 of 44 passes for 244 yards and one touchdown (while also throwing an interception) as the Steelers claimed a 16-13 overtime win over Baltimore.

While no announcement had been officially made, just about everyone knew that game would be his last home game. What almost no one anticipated at the time, however, was that it would be the last game the Steelers would play in a stadium named Heinz Field.

After a 20-year deal for naming rights to the stadium — and a one-year extension — expired at the end of the season, that contract was sold to someone else, and the North Shore facility will now be known as Acrisure Stadium. Just like it was tough watching Roethlisberger take his final snaps in January, it was difficult to watch Monday as the massive ketchup bottles were removed from the scoreboard.

So, to recap, it’s been an eventful six months — the Steelers will have a new quarterback and will be playing in a familiar stadium that will have a different name come 1 p.m. Sept. 18 when New England comes to Pittsburgh to open this year’s home schedule. That game will come one week after the Steelers begin the regular season in Cincinnati.

Before Sept. 11 arrives, there will be training camp, which, for the Steelers opens Tuesday. Rookie and veterans will report the same day to St. Vincent College in Latrobe, a return to normalcy after COVID restrictions meant the last two camps were held in Pittsburgh. And, as in years past, you’ll be able to get an up-close look at how the camp operates beginning Wednesday. There is no charge to attend any of the 18 sessions, but you will need to have a ticket, which can be obtained through the team’s app.

The Steelers will play the first of their three preseason games at Acrisure Stadium at 7 p.m. Aug. 13 when they meet Seattle. They will travel to Jacksonville on Aug. 20 before closing out the preseason Aug. 28 at home against Detroit.

While everyone reports for the Steelers on the same day, the Browns rookies reported to camp Friday at their facility in Berea. Cleveland will hold 11 open sessions beginning July 30 for fans who have requested tickets through their app. The Browns open their preseason schedule Aug. 12 in Jacksonville, and will play home games against Philadelphia Aug. 21 and Chicago Aug. 27. Cleveland’s regular season opens in Carolina on Sept. 11, and it first home game will come Sept. 18 against the Jets.

If you are a fan of college football, you will have to wait a little bit longer to see game action, but you will be rewarded with a couple of big games that first week. That includes opening night, Sept. 1, when the University of Pittsburgh welcomes WVU to Acrisure Stadium for a 7 p.m. kickoff in the return of the Backyard Brawl. And then on Sept. 3, Ohio State will host Notre Dame in a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. That’s two major games involving four of the region’s favorite teams before Labor Day.

Locally, the football season was scheduled to open at 7:15 p.m. July 23, with the 76th-annual Rudy Mumley All-Star Football Game at Wheeling Island Stadium. That game starts the countdown toward the start of the high school football regular season, which will happen Aug. 18 when Toronto visits Wellsville, Harrison Central visits Claymont and Buckeye Local hosts Barnesville.

As always, the best way to get ready for the season will be to pick up a copy of the Prep Football 2022. It’s a publication that has won numerous awards from The Associated Press of Ohio Media Editors and the West Virginia Press Association.

You will find it included in your Aug. 17 editions of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.

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

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