Hardy Nickerson is going back to Pittsburgh, where 15 seasons ago he began his NFL career. But very little about Pittsburgh or the Steelers is the same.
In 1987, Nickerson was a rookie on a Steelers team coached by Chuck Noll. The Steelers were housed in Three Rivers Stadium and they practiced on an 80-yard patch of grass that was surrounded by three warehouses.
"There was no grass anywhere to be found. They finally found a patch of grass to practice on over by the warehouses. Otherwise, we practiced right in Three Rivers," Nickerson recalled.
The patch of grass is gone and so is Three Rivers, replaced by brand-new Heinz Field, where the Jaguars and Steelers will meet Sunday in the two teams' final game as AFC Central mates.
Nickerson played five seasons for Noll and one season for Bill Cowher. Under Noll, the Steelers were truly old school. Noll rarely provided more motivation to his players than, "let's go." He believed strongly in the concept of professionalism and the need for players' motivation to come "from within."
"He'd say a couple of words before the game; maybe a couple of words on Wednesday to start preparation. That was it," said Nickerson, who had never seen the inside of Noll's office and contends he didn't even know where it was.
"That was expected," he said of being mentally and emotionally prepared to play. "If you weren't, you were gone. Cowher was a little different. He'd get fired up like the rest of us; very much a players' coach."
Noll introduced Nickerson to the old ways of professional football. "We didn't have numbers on our practice jerseys. We barely had a weight room. It was so small it was a joke," Nickerson said, laughing.
"The game has changed a whole lot since then. You have to have the facilities and equipment (to compete)," the Jaguars middle linebacker added.
These days, the Steelers play in the NFL's newest tribute to stadium construction and are housed in the NFL's most impressive training facility, a three-building complex that includes an administration building, a massive indoor workout facility, and a sports medicine unit.
"I'm an old-school guy," Nickerson said. "I kind of like it the old way. Each player was responsible for getting himself ready. That's when you find out what your capabilities are and whether you're willing to push yourself to be a winner. Now, it's like things are handed to you."
All of that is committed to memory, now. Nickerson won't find it in Pittsburgh this Sunday.