Way back on April 1, 2013, I did something that would ultimately become an annual tradition: I wrote an April Fool’s article that made many people angry.
Despite how notorious that special day on the calendar had always been for pulling crap on folks, the folks in Steeler Nation never seemed to catch on—even when the articles were littered with disclaimers.
I was going to do one this year, but I noticed that the punch these articles used to have started to fade some time ago. I don’t know if it was because people began to catch on or because just about every article published by anyone about anything (even ones written by well-intentioned non-antagonists) soon started to elicit the same angry outrage as your garden variety April Fool’s piece.
No matter the reason, there was no doubt that the magic was gone.
Besides, I could publish 50 fake mock drafts between now and the real one, and they still wouldn’t make as many people as angry as my piece about Mason Rudolph’s new love did back in February. If you remember that article, you may recall saying it was “cringeworthy” or “embarrassing.” As satisfying as it is to offend people by accident, it’s nothing compared to when I do it on purpose. Unfortunately, I just don’t think I have it in me to put in the work to outrage as many people as that piece did—true art often happens on its own.
With that in mind, here are my five favorite April Fool’s articles of all time:
That April Fool’s article was written in 2017, and the third player in question was former Steelers quarterback Neil O’Donnell. If you know anything about Steelers’ history, you know why I thought an article about retiring O’Donnell’s No. 14 would make people so darn angry. Due to coral’s new system that has eliminated old comments, I can’t see how many readers were upset. I also don’t remember anyone being outraged (I collect moments of outrage like one collects stamps). But maybe if I bring it up again, I’ll peeve off at least one person.
No, instead, I “confessed” that my late grandaddy, Eugene Mankowski, an oil baron from Dallas, was secretly a fan of the Cowboys and maintained his allegiance after moving his family to Pittsburgh. He had also instilled that same love for America’s Team in me. This one was from 2014, and it was enjoyable for so many reasons. For example, I got to make fun of both the Terrible Towel and Jack Lambert. I also recall some folks getting seriously agitated by it. However, the most priceless “gotcha” moment came courtesy of my cousin Russ, a man who knew OUR late grandfather, and that he lived in Pittsburgh his whole life and retired after many years as a custodian in the Pittsburgh Public School system. A day or so after the article was published, my cousin Erin, Russ’s sister, texted me and said that her brother was freaking out after reading the article. Gotta love it.
Ah, yes, the April Fool’s article that started it all. This one had the Steelers, among other things, trading Ben Roethlisberger for Joe Flacco and firing Mike Tomlin in favor of Rex Ryan. I also suggested that the Steelers trade several first-round picks to acquire a few veteran players—including Santonio Holmes. I was proud of the responses of many folks, folks that were both embarrassed and outraged.
I didn’t include the ‘mock’ portion of that title—that came courtesy of editor Jeff Hartman—but that didn’t stop dozens upon dozens of people from ripping me for, among other things, suggesting that the Steelers, a team that seemed to be mostly set at wide-receiver, trade back in the first round and select Pitt’s Tyler Boyd. In addition to making many people angry—including a man on Facebook who cryptically threatened to beat me up—I was proud of coming up with “Defeo’s Draft Diary,” the official name of my ranking system for players that I may one day copyright and use if I ever actually get serious about rating draft prospects. (Btw, that fake Tyler Boyd suggestion doesn’t seem so bad after the whole Artie Burns fiasco, does it?)
2015 was a crazy year for me in terms of reactions to articles. First, former Steelers center Justin Hartwig emailed me one day and called me an idiot several times for mentioning his name as part of the team’s offensive-line woes in the late-’00s. Also, there was my Michael Vick article that I wrote shortly after Pittsburgh signed the controversial quarterback to be the backup in August of that year; this article was viewed over 80,000 times (I was so in awe, I did nothing but continuously check BTSC’s traffic numbers for days), shared on Facebook 50,000 times and retweeted 163 times. Given Vick’s history, you can imagine the vitriol that was included in the many emails, random Facebook messages and DMs I received for about a week or so.
But nothing in 2015 made me prouder than the April Fool’s article that suggested that the Steelers Super Bowl victories from the 1970s—victories that included many close and controversial calls—were made illegitimate over time due to the advent of instant replay and the implementation of countless rule changes. I actually conceived the idea on New Year’s Day of that year, and I simply couldn’t wait to spring this on people three months later. As you might imagine, folks were beside themselves—as if someone was going to show up on the South Side of Pittsburgh and take at least four of those Lombardi trophies away. My brother-in-law’s brother, who caught onto the joke pretty quickly, posted the article on his Facebook page and feigned outrage. One of his friends was so angry, he said he had trouble sleeping later that night.
Also, if I remember correctly, the piece was one of the top trending Steelers stories on Yahoo for at least a couple of days AFTER the prank-pulling holiday.
This prank had such a reach, I was still receiving emails from outraged fans nearly a year later.
There you have it. While I didn’t write a Pittsburgh Steelers April Fool’s article for 2021, I truly hope that at least one person was offended by something I included in this article about past April Fool’s articles.