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Steelers excited about Winter Classic

by Dan Rosen /
PITTSBURGH -- He has zero hockey background -- and at 6-foot-1 and 325 pounds, Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton doesn't exactly blend into a hockey crowd.

Big deal.

Hampton is a huge Penguins' fan -- in more ways than one. But Hampton is also a jealous Penguins fan because it certainly appears that his day job will prevent him from enjoying the festivities that will take place on his home field come New Year's Day.

The 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field isn't designed to accommodate the Steelers' travel schedule for their game in Cleveland on Jan. 2, and Hampton -- as big as he is -- doesn't exactly have the power to overrule his boss, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, who also happens to be a Penguins fan.

"I'm upset that I'm not going to be able to make the game," Hampton told following the Steelers' 27-3 win against Carolina on Thursday night. "I think it's going to be exciting all the way around for the city, for everything. I'd like to be able to go to the game."

Hampton hails from Galveston, Texas. If he wanted to see an NHL game he'd have to drive roughly 300 miles to Dallas to catch the Stars. Hampton, though, was already 16 years old and well on his way to a football career -- first at the University of Texas and then in Pittsburgh -- when the Stars relocated to Dallas from Minnesota.

It wasn't until he got to Pittsburgh and finally attended a game at old Mellon Arena that he found a fascination with the sport and his adopted NHL team.

"I'm in Pittsburgh and I've been here for a long time," Hampton said. "I've been here for 10 years now, and any team you have to support them. I never liked hockey because I had never been to it, but once I went to a game and I saw how fast it was and how exciting it was I liked it."

"Casey, I remember seeing him have a picture taken on the glass, hands raised after a goal," Steelers Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert, a Penguins' season ticket holder for 42 years, told "He's into it."

Like any fan, Hampton has his favorite player.

"Malkin is my guy," Hampton said. "He's a big smooth guy. I like his style and the way he goes about things. Everybody likes Crosby, but I like Malkin."

Steelers placekicker Shaun Suisham has a hockey background. He grew up in Wallaceburg, Ont., and used to play hockey just like most every other kid in his small community.

Suisham told he's excited for the Penguins and Capitals to get the opportunity to play at Heinz Field because "this is a special place to play in any sporting event."

He would jump at the chance to skate on the Heinz Field rink.

"Sure I would, but I don't think you'd like what you saw, though," he said. "I am a Junior C player, I'm not an NHL player, but this is exciting and maybe I'll get to catch a little bit of it on TV."

Hampton isn't volunteering for any skating sessions.

"I used to skate back in the day, ice skate and everything, but I went roller skating not too long ago and I can't do it no more," he said laughing. "It just wasn't a pretty sight."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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