Perhaps watching the Penguins and Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup final rubbed off on the Steelers yesterday because they held a practice and a hockey game broke out.
Fights during voluntary spring practices are not usual, but they do occur on occasion. It's rare when two of them take place, as they did yesterday, each involving an offensive tackle.
Willie Colon, the team's starting right tackle, went to the ground at their indoor practice facility while wrestling with second-year linebacker Lawrence Timmons. Not long after, veteran backup tackle Trai Essex and linebacker Arnold Harrison went at it.
"It was humid in here," fellow tackle Max Starks gave as a possible reason for the two scuffles. "I don't know, maybe they've been watching Georges Laraque," the Penguins enforcer.
Neither scuffle lasted long, but coach Mike Tomlin brought his players together after practice to lecture them about it.
"Practice broke out into a fight," Tomlin explained. "You know, the competition is good, but the level of intensity has to be there if we want to get better.
"You have to understand professional etiquette; that's what we talked about after practice. These kinds of things have to happen as we develop our football team because it gives us a venue to address them, and why we do what it is that we do and how we approach what it is that we do.
"You don't like to see it happen, but it's a necessary evil. I'm glad that it happened, we addressed it and move on."
The Steelers have four more spring practices -- one today and three more next week -- before they wrap things up until training camp at St. Vincent College July 27.
Each team is permitted to conduct 14 voluntary organized team activities (OTA) in the spring, plus a five-practice required minicamp over three days. But even when not conducting the practices, players routinely show up starting in February for weight and conditioning training and more informal work on the field.
It's a far cry from the days when Chuck Noll would conduct only a three-day minicamp for rookies and young players after the draft, then a five-day minicamp for all the first week of June.
"Camps have gotten shorter," Tomlin said of the summer sessions at St. Vincent, "we're in an era of free agency, we have a lot of new people, there's a lot of turnover in professional football now. You can point to a lot of reasons that make [the spring workouts] beneficial and necessary."
Among other benefits, Tomlin said, are to improve players' technical games and "the thing we can't measure, which is camaraderie."
The scuffles yesterday were a blip as far as fights among teammates go. The most famous spring fight in Steelers lore occurred in 2000 when an on-field tussle between linebacker Earl Holmes and halfback Richard Huntley spilled over into the locker room at Three Rivers Stadium and a chair-swinging brawl ensued among teammates.