Steelers are no-shows at autograph session

June 16, 2007|By MARIE GILBERT

There was no mistaking his allegiance.

Wearing a Hines Ward jersey and holding a Terrible Towel, Brad Byers had to be a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

Byers came straight from his overnight shift at a local warehouse to stand in line on Saturday at Valley Mall for autographs from four current Steelers.

Admitting he was tired, he quickly brushed it off.

"I can sleep tomorrow," Byers said. "The Steelers are in town."

Unfortunately, he was wrong.

As Steeler Nation converged on the mall, word spread that the noon autograph session with defensive backs Anthony Smith and Ryan Clark had been canceled.

Clark, who was visiting family in New Orleans, arrived at the airport to find out his flight had been delayed. He would be unable to get another flight until early afternoon - too late for the autograph session at the mall. Anthony Smith wanted more money for his appearance.


"When he found out that Clark was unable to make it, he wanted us to double his fee," said promoter Pete Ausiello of B&G Sports Memorabilia, who represents the four players who were to appear at the mall.

"We won't be held ransom for more money," he added.

Steelers fans purchasing tickets for autographs were told the 2 to 4 p.m. session still was scheduled.

But it wasn't long before the hundreds of fans on hand learned that linebacker James Harrison had canceled his appearance. Instead, he decided to attend a football camp sponsored by a friend.

That left linebacker Larry Foote, who told organizers he would be there. But, flying out of Detroit, he encountered a number of airline problems and also missed the event.

"We've never had anything like this happen," Ausiello said. "We've had a player here or there pull out on us, but nothing like this."

Brian Kaltenbaugh, marketing director of Valley Mall, said the day was disappointing, but "things happen that sometimes are beyond our control."

"There had been a lot of buzz about the Steelers being here," he said. "There are so many Steelers fans in this area. But they seem to be taking this very well."

Although the players were not on hand for autographs, there was plenty of Steeler merchandise available from vendors.

Arthur Gibson of Greencastle, Pa., wearing a Super Bowl XL championship cap, brought his son to the mall to get his football autographed.

"Since the players aren't here, we were told that organizers will take the ball, get it signed and then ship it back to us free of charge," Gibson said.

Gibson said he grew up in Ligonier, Pa., which is east of Pittsburgh, and has been a fan since he was born.

"I'll be a Steelers fan forever," he said.

Gibson said he just built a new house, and is planning on having a Steelers room.

"I already have a lot of stuff," he said. "But today, I'm adding to it."

Corey McCarney of Hagerstown had come to the mall for autographs, but also to purchase Steelers merchandise.

"Our house is all Steelers," he said. "Even the walls are black and gold. So I'm always looking for something else to add to my collection."

Jason Armstrong of Hagerstown said being a Steelers fan comes naturally.

"My family is from Pittsburgh, so it's in my blood," he said.

Armstrong said he was headed to the beach, but had to stop off at the mall for the Steelers event.

A member of a local Steelers fan club, Armstrong also signed up Saturday to be part of a large national fan club.

"I'm really filled with optimism about this coming season," he said. "I guarantee, the Steelers will be in the playoffs."

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