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Levon signs on for Steelers fans

December 10, 2006|by CHRIS CARTER/Staff Correspondent

Fans showed just how large the local Pittsburgh Steelers fan base is Saturday afternoon as hundreds flocked to the Valley Mall to meet former All-Pro linebacker Levon Kirkland.

Kirkland signed autographs and posed for pictures for members of Hagerstown's three Steelers fan clubs and other fans for almost two hours during an event sponsored by Tri-State Helmets.

"I thought this was a great opportunity because there's a large Steelers fan base in Western Maryland," said Todd Webster, the owner of Tri-State Helmets who coordinated the event. "And a lot of people remember (Kirkland) as a great player."

Fans lined up as much as three hours early to meet Kirkland, have a piece of memorabilia signed and have their picture taken with the former All-Pro linebacker, still boasting a frame similar to that of his playing days when he tipped the scales at 275 pounds.

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Friends and families of Steelers fans saw the autograph session as great holiday gift.

"My dad is a Steelers fan but he lives in Arizona and doesn't get to see a lot of the games," said Tim Adams, who had a Steelers mini-helmet signed for his father, Rodney. "He's been a fan for a long time. His stepdad actually tried out for the Steelers when football was just getting started."

Other fans came dressed in yellow and black simply wanting to meet Kirkland, who helped the Steelers to six straight playoff appearances in the 1990s, including Super Bowl XXX.

Kirkland was a two-time Pro Bowler in his 11-year NFL career - nine seasons with the Steelers. Since retiring in after the 2002 season, Kirkland returned to his alma mater, Clemson University, though in a non-football capacity. Kirkland coordinates minority recruitment initiatives, assisting qualified applicants in the enrollment and registration processes.

"You play for a long time and you wonder what you'll do without football for a while," Kirkland said. "Fortunately for me, I was a guy who got my degree and I was able to go back to Clemson University and work with those guys and it's been good. What I do is just try to bring more diversity to the campus."

Kirkland admitted that he prefers college football to the NFL, but said he tries to keep close tabs on the Steelers, who got off to a slow start this season, but have won four of their last five games.

"You always kind of keep up with those guys but you have so many things going on in your life that you don't pay as close attention," he said. "I think this is a season where they won the championship and now everybody's after them. But Coach (Bill) Cowher always has a great foundation and they're going to bounce back next year."

Webster was in negotiations to bring Kirkland to Hagerstown for about a month and a half before finally sealing the deal. Tri-State Helmets has discussed plans to sponsor similar events involving current or retired athletes in the future.

"Our goal is to bring some more athletes and do more things like this," Webster said. "As long as people want it, we're going to keep doing it. This was the first time we've done this and it went smoothly, so we're going to try to do more in the future."

Tri-State Helmets, which is based in Maugansville, makes customized mini-helmets for local and professional sports teams.

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