As many of you know, I was a Fan of the Week for Sunday Night Football on NBC for the Steelers-Bengals game this past weekend. This post is a chronicle of my experience. (It’s long, so be warned!)
The whole thing started off sort of surreal. Last Thursday evening, I came home and checked my Twitter. That’s when I saw the following tweet:
I wasn’t sure what to think at first. Since I hadn’t checked Twitter in a few hours, I was concerned that my window to actually speak to someone from NBC had passed. I assumed that I would be up against many other fans and it’d be a long shot that I’d actually be named a fan of the week.
I quickly sent a direct message to the account and within 30 minutes I was speaking to Emily from NBC. She asked me a few questions and explained that they had a Fan of the Week drop out and they were scrambling for a last minute replacement. After chatting for a few minutes, she “officially” I asked me to be a Fan of the Week. I was stoked! I wasn’t sure what all it would entail, but it involved the Steelers and a possible free jersey, so I was in.
On Friday, I arrived at the SNF bus at 4:30.
I was the first one there, and I met the SNF bus crew, including social tour host Lindsay, and Donte and Trey. I got to tour the bus and it was pretty awesome.
HDTVs, tablets, director’s cut of SNF videos. They even had a spot in the back of the bus that was set up like the SNF broadcast booth. They had footballs on display, a wall signed by football stars and other personalities, including Steelers Super Bowl XL MVP-turned-broadcaster Hines Ward.
The bus was opened to the public for tours and the next Fan of the Week to join me was Ian, @thesteelersnat. Ian & I have been Twitter friends for years, but this was the first time we had met in person. Ian was awesome & quickly decided to decorate the Bengals helmet with his Steelers Santa hat. I added my Terrible Towel and Lindsay took this photo of us.
Bengals fan Shawn (@whodeybaby) arrived next. He was a pretty nice guy for being a Bengals fan. He was not pleased to see what we had done to the Bengals helmet. He told us a little bit about his face painting and what he’d be wearing on gameday, though I’m not sure that prepared me for he was wearing on Sunday!
We were supposed to go ice-skating at the PPG plaza rink. It turns out none of us were thrilled with the idea, so Lindsay asked what else could we do. Ian and I, being the native yinzers, suggested Market Square. We walked around there and even got our picture with Santa. Ian and I asked Santa for a defense. Shawn asked for “a Super Bowl. Just one. I don’t need six like these guys. Just one would be nice.”
After our visit with Santa, we continued walking through Market Square. As we passed Il Pizzaiolo and I mentioned how good their cannoli was. Shawn’s eyes lit up when I said cannoli and so we went in and ordered one tiramisu and six cannoli to go.
They had asked our jersey and t-shirt sizes prior to tonight, so we were expecting them. I had asked for an Antonio Brown jersey, something I’d been wanting for awhile. We also got an SNF towel, SNF Chapstick, a magnetic SNF schedule, and a bottle opener shaped like a credit card, so it fits in your wallet (I thought the bottle opener was the coolest thing). We all put our jerseys on and Lindsay interviewed everyone individually for this video before we went on our ways.
On Saturday, the bus was on the North Shore at the Science Center in the morning, and we were all given two free passes. I was unable to attend this event, but everyone said it was a pretty good time.
We met for dinner Saturday evening at the Jerome Bettis grill. This was the first I’d met Jeremy (@WhoDeyAllOver), the other Bengals Fan of the Week. We all brought guests with us and had dinner in a private room with Lindsay, Donte, and Trey. It was a relaxing dinner and it was very cool being in a private room. We got to see a Steelers 80th season football which had the signatures of every member of the 2012 team on it.
As dinner was winding down, we were told where the bus would be parked for the tailgate the next day. We were told to arrive by 3:45 p.m. Lindsay had been promising us “surprises” all weekend, so I was wondering what would be happening on Sunday. I could have never prepared myself for what actually wound up happening.
I arrived at the tailgate on Sunday at 3:45 and brought my dad as my guest. Since we have season tickets, he would be going to the game anyway, I would just be sitting with the other Fans of the Week. The tailgate was great and I got a few photos of my dad standing in front of the faux SNF broadcast booth, which was awesome.
The bus would be opened to the public for tours before the game, so we gathered our stuff and prepared to leave the bus around 5:30. Before we left, Donte thanked all of us for being such great Fans of the Week and told us “Once you’re a Fan of the Week, you’re always a Fan of the Week.” He encouraged us to stop by the SNF bus at future games. He then presented us with our game tickets.
I had a pretty good idea of where the seats were located, and a quick look at the Heinz Field seating chart confirmed it: The seats were around the 45-50 yard line, about 10 rows behind the Bengals bench. I was so excited! This is my seventh season as a season ticket holder, and my seats are in the Upper End Zone. I truly do love my seats and will never, ever complain about sitting up high, but I was excited to see the game from a different vantage point.
After giving us our tickets, Donte and Lindsay told us to plan on meeting back at the bus around 6:20. Donte said there “may be another piece” and at that time and that Lindsay would escort us into the stadium. I wondered what the “other piece” would be. I thought it might be meeting Hines Ward or another NBC Sports broadcaster, or maybe we’d get to tour the stadium or press booth, but I really had no idea. We all arrived back at the bus at the given time. Lindsay was there to great us and introduce us to Scott, the man behind the official Steelers Twitter account. Scott then presented us Fans of the Week with these:
I can’t even begin to explain how excited I was. I have seriously dreamed of getting to be on the sideline for warm-ups, but I never thought I’d actually get to be there. Walking through the halls under the stadium was exciting. Talking to security guards was exciting. And walking out of the tunnel onto Heinz Field grass was a completely surreal feeling.
I stood on the sideline near the Bengals bench for a few minutes, and then walked to the South End Zone. The Steelers defensive backs were nearby, still in sweats. Coaches and players all made their way to the field. When Mike Tomlin walked out from the tunnel, I yelled “Mike Tomlin, I named my cat after you!” Ian and I had talked about it earlier, and he pointed out it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I agreed. I’m sure if Tomlin heard me, he thinks I’m a complete nut, but I’m okay with that.
The entire time I was standing on the field, I marveled at every player that walked past me. It’s obvious that these guys are big guys, but I never quite appreciated it like I did when seeing them up close. Even at training camp, I’ve never gotten as close to the players as I was on Sunday.
I snapped a bunch of photos (365, to be exact) until my phone eventually died. I reveled in every moment that I was on the field. As my father said to me after the game, “I’ve been going to Steelers games for fifty years, and I’ve never been on the field. I really hope you enjoyed it.” I really, really did.
As the players left the field, we walked out to the concourse to navigate our way to our seats. Ian told Jeremy we would be walking through the Great Hall and we would see the Lombardi trophies. Jeremy sarcastically replied, “All six?!” Yep. All six.
We made our way to the seats and they were right on the 50-yard line. They were better than I could have ever imagined.
Honestly, after the amazing weekend I had, I had almost forgot about the reason we were all there: football! The Steelers dominating the Bengals and playing well was the icing on the cake. It perfectly capped off what was truly one of the best weekends of my life.
Thanks to the SNF on NBC crew, especially Lindsay, Donte, Trey, Emily and Ashleigh. Thanks to the Scott from @steelers and the Steelers organization–getting to go on the field for warm-ups was a dream come true! And thanks to my fellow Fans, Ian, Shawn, and Jeremy–couldn’t have spent the weekend with nicer guys. It was so much fun to share this experience with you all!