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Renatta Signorini
A man shields himself from the rain while waiting for the first Steelers public practice at training camp on Friday, July 29, 2017 at St. Vincent College in Unity.

A steady downpour Friday afternoon drenched plenty of dedicated Steelers fans. But as long as their precious memorabilia — some signed and others awaiting the perfect player autograph — was dry, that’s all that mattered.

“The weather was very concerning to us because we travel so far and if we miss that opportunity, we kind of lose it for the whole season,” said Roxanne Jackson, who came to St. Vincent College from New Jersey with her family for the first public practice at training camp. “We’re going to tough it out. We’re going to bleed Steelers black and gold.”

The forecasted rain Friday and a flash flood warning by the National Weather Service did not deter droves of black-and-gold clad fans from getting a glimpse of their beloved team. Practice was moved from the Unity campus to Greater Latrobe’s high school stadium about 3 miles away as rain stretched through the afternoon. Fans made the short drive and staked out covered spots to watch practice.

As the first rain drops fell at St. Vincent, Shawn Weinus pulled a garbage bag out of his backpack.

But instead of covering himself, the Schuylkill County man slipped it over the helmet that sat in his lap.

“I do this for my brother,” Weinus said, leaning into a reporter and mentioning that he is a Dallas Cowboys fan. “He takes me out to dinner, he buys me a drink. That’s my payment. I’m OK with it.”

His brother, Kevin Weinus, also of Schuylkill County, was waiting in line to access an area where players sometimes sign autographs before and after practice. The pair has been trying for the last two years to get quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s signature on the helmet.

But the autograph area on campus never saw any markers or paraphernalia Friday with the venue change.

Fans waiting in line there opened umbrellas, huddled under trees, put on flimsy ponchos or just stood there and got pelted by raindrops.

Friends John Walker and Kenny Mullin, both of McKeesport, stuck it out for a while.

“I brought a poncho this year; that I didn’t have last year,” said Walker, who carried a large clear plastic tote filled with jerseys and helmets he hoped to get autographed. “It’s easier to get signed once it’s dry and with the helmets, the water could wash it right off.”

“Rain or shine, I was still coming,” said Mullin, who pulled a wagon with helmets and a cooler inside. “I brought a poncho for myself because last year I was drenched.”

Long before it started raining, Steelers fans began lining up outside of the parking area. Elbert and Barbara Davis left their Virginia home at 10:30 p.m. Thursday and drove through the night. They were among the first several cars in line and made friends with Jackson, her husband and two of their sons — their oldest had to stay home for work.

“It kicks it off — you gotta be here,” Barbara Davis said.

“I don’t care if I get wet,” Elbert Davis said.

They brought umbrellas to use for shielding from the rain or sun, though there wasn’t any of the latter Friday.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374, [email protected] or via Twitter @byrenatta.

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