Who is the most popular Steelers player at this very moment?
There are a few who come to mind, but I know one thing: If second-year receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster ran for mayor of Pittsburgh, and the only eligible voters were children, no amount of gerrymandering could save his opponent from certain defeat.
I attended training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA, on Sunday with my brother and niece, and there was no mistaking who my niece’s favorite player was. She wanted Smith-Schuster’s autograph, and she probably could have gotten it from him had her miserable uncle been more willing to stick around after practice and wait for the 21-year old out of USC to wade through the seemingly endless amount of kids who were absolutely eager to also get his autograph.
We were sitting behind the end zone where the action always seems to take place at camp, and each time there was a Smith-Schuster sighting, the kids would scream “JuJu!!!!!!!!” Smith-Schuster didn’t always dance after catching a pass and running all the way into the end zone for a pretend score, but he did it enough for the kiddos to expect him to do it every single time. (By the way, you know how adults are always saying they just want the players to hand the football back to the officials after scoring a touchdown like they used to do in 1948? The kids on hand last Sunday didn’t seem to mind the fake touchdown celebrations one little bit.)
At one point in practice, Smith-Schuster even jumped over the black-and-gold barrier that separates the players from the fans and briefly played catch with some little boy.
And this was the day after JuJu made his training camp entrance by doing those Fortnite dance moves in front of a throng of youngsters who reacted as if they were teenage girls from the 1960s and had just seen the Beatles.
Anyway, back to Sunday. All afternoon long, it was little cries of “JuJu!!!” “We love you, JuJu!!!!” “Where’s JuJu???”
I’m telling you, the actual Fortnite characters could have been out there catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger, and the cheers wouldn’t have been any louder than they were for No. 19.
Smith-Schuster is already a legend with the youngins, and it may just be a matter of time before the adults completely embrace him, too.
Smith-Schuster looks like he might actually turn into a great receiver. He’s got it all — from size to speed to athleticism. He’s been nursing some injuries early in camp, but since they haven’t prevented him from doing dances that I can’t even attempt, I’d say whatever is ailing him can’t be all too serious.
Antonio Brown may be leading the Steelers’ receiving corps in every possible statistic, but if this JuJu love-fest continues, Smith-Schuster will pass him in endorsements and be omnipresent on our TV screens like Peyton Manning was before everyone hated the owner of Papa John’s.
Finally, not to be all religious, but to quote the bible: “Do you hear what these children are saying?”
They’re saying JuJu Smith-Schuster is a star, and I think we grownups need to listen to them.