FORT WORTH, Texas — For most boys, having a catch with dad means grabbing a couple of mitts and a baseball for a leisurely toss and bonding time with their father.
For Greg Warren, it meant squatting in a vacant lot next to his family's home in Mount Olive and whistling a football between his legs to his father 15 yards behind him.
Teaching his son to long snap was a way for Bob Warren to spend time with the older of his two boys. But there was also a practical purpose: Warren, the coach at Southern Wayne High, didn't have anyone else to do it.
What began as a way to fill a void on Southern Wayne's varsity roster turned into much more. It helped pay for Greg Warren's tuition at North Carolina and has kept him in the NFL for six seasons.
Warren, Pittsburgh's long snapper, will be a part of his third Super Bowl on Sunday, when the Steelers face Green Bay. And the man who taught him his craft will be among the 100,000-plus fans expected at Cowboys Stadium for the 6:30 p.m. kickoff.
"I don't think either one of us ever thought it would go anywhere past high school," Greg Warren said this week. "I think we've both been very surprised at how [far] it's taken me."
Bob Warren had snapped for his high school in Goldsboro and would practice in his backyard with a plywood board on which he had painted a bull's-eye. So when Greg Warren reached high school, it was only natural his dad would teach him to snap.
"There's sort of like an art to it. It takes a lot of work," Bob Warren said. "He enjoys doing it, and it was a good time to spend quality time with him, too."
The two would spend summer evenings practicing in an empty lot next to their house on Chris Street.
"We went out there one summer three or four days a week and snapped 30 or 40 balls each time," Greg Warren said.
Besides snapping, Warren started two years at center for his father's team. In the spring he competed in the shot put for Southern Wayne's track team.
He was preparing to go to East Carolina and follow his parents into public education as a biology teacher when a UNC assistant stopped by the high school while recruiting one of Warren's teammates. The coach told Bob Warren the Tar Heels needed a long snapper.
Warren enrolled at UNC, showed up for a walk-on tryout when classes started and made the team. After redshirting his first season, Warren started for the Tar Heels the next four seasons, the last two of which after he'd earned a scholarship.
Warren signed with the Steelers in 2005 as an undrafted free agent - only a handful of NFL long snappers get drafted - and made the roster when Pittsburgh released veteran snapper Mike Schneck.
Warren, 29, had to survive a roster cut last summer when, with two preseason game remaining, the Steelers brought in Jared Retkofsky, who took over for Warren in 2008 and 2009 after Warren sustained season-ending knee injuries. There were concerns about Warren's health, and new special teams coach Al Everest said he had to tweak Warren's stance and footwork, which had gotten out of whack after the surgeries to both of Warren's knees.
But when the opening-game roster was announced in September, Warren was on it.
"Everything I've ever gotten I had to work for. A lot of these guys have God-given ability that has gotten them here," Warren said. "But mine was a skill that I had to learn and I have to continue to perfect. It makes you real appreciative because it can be gone real quick if you don't stay on top of your craft."
Warren is in the final year of his contract and hopes to stay in Pittsburgh.
During his rookie season, Warren snapped in the Steelers' Super Bowl win over Seattle, but he was sidelined when Pittsburgh beat Arizona in the Super Bowl two years ago. Everest said he's glad Warren is getting the chance to play in another one.
"He doesn't have a lot of plays, but they have to be done the right way. He has pressure on him from that standpoint," Everest said. "He's done a real nice job, been very consistent at it. I think he's gotten better as the year's gone on."
During the Steelers' celebration after the win over Arizona, Warren motioned for his parents to join him on the field at Raymond James Stadium.
Warren told his dad he needed his ring size.
"This one's for you," Greg Warren told his father.
Warren spends his offseasons in Goldsboro and remains close with his father and former coach.
"A lot of people say we're the same person because we look alike, sound alike and act alike," Greg Warren said.
Bob Warren, 53, retired last month from Southern Wayne, where he was the football coach, boys track coach and co-athletic director. He plans to work at a friend's barbecue restaurant but will find time to work with his son in the offseason.
The neighbors eventually built a house on the lot next door to the Warrens. Father and son now drive 2 miles to the high school to continue their tradition.
"We'll go wherever we have to go to find somewhat level land and mark off 15 yards and just snap," Bob Warren said.
And every once in a while, Bob Warren will squat down over the ball and show his son how it's done.
"He can still turn right over without warming up and throw you a ball that's not as fast as mine, but just as good," Greg Warren said. "I don't know when the last time he snapped was. It's probably been a couple years. But I guarantee you it'd be right on the money."
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