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My first BTSC fan encounter was actually a rather pleasant one

Meeting BTSC readers and listeners? Not a bad experience.

Syndication: Asbury Park Press Tanya Breen / USA TODAY NETWORK

The headline of this article is a little misleading because it implies that I’ve only had one encounter with a fan/reader/listener of Behind the Steel Curtain content.

That’s actually not true. I’ve had two of them, both in 2022, in fact.

Before I tell you about the first one, one that occurred in January, I must tell you why I’ve always been a little afraid to meet any Steeler fan who may know me from Behind the Steel Curtain.

For some reason, I’m considered to be an edgy writer, someone who isn’t afraid to push the envelope (I believe those two things are the same, which also makes me wordy).

I can see why people would feel that way about me. After all, I am writing about sports, the most important topic in the world.

Some of my most controversial articles have talked about the beauty and success of Mason Rudolph’s (now ex) girlfriend; people worrying about other people doing things on the sidelines before games; fake mock drafts on April Fool’s Day; and people not reading articles before commenting on them (believe it or not, this may have been my most controversial piece).

Obviously, these are taboo and polarizing subjects. Therefore, you can see why I’ve received emails over the years from people telling me how ugly I am, Facebook messages challenging me to meet someone somewhere for a fight and had a YouTube video made about my “burial.”

I ran into a woman I kind of knew at a wedding a few years ago and asked her out for a beer. Her response was “maybe,” and nothing else came of it that night (probably because of my ugliness). Anyway, I remembered that some old flames had contacted me in the past on Facebook via the “Message Request” feature, so I checked it out a few days later to see if this woman had reached out to me (desperate move, I know).

I didn’t find any messages from this woman from the wedding, but I did stumble across a three-year-old rant from a BTSC reader who was responding to the article I wrote shortly after the Steelers had signed Mike Vick back in 2015. The article was titled: “If you stop following the Steelers because of Michael Vick, you probably weren’t much of a fan anyway.” This was the most-read piece I have ever written. It was viewed over 80,000 times, retweeted 160-plus times and shared on Facebook thousands of times.

I received dozens of nasty emails and DMs during the summer of 2015 but never thought to check Facebook for “Message Requests.” Back to this rant: I won’t get into most of the details, but the person wished that my family would suffer critical injuries in a horrific automobile accident.

I will, however, share with you a Facebook message from December 31, 2021, from someone calling themselves Michael Pettaway (he apparently even went to William & Mary): “Did I hurt your feelings? Typical loser...why do people like you even watch football let alone think you can talk about it? I look forward to meeting you in Pittsburgh we have mutual friends Happy New Year.”

The “meeting you” and “mutual friends” parts were chilling.

Considering many of my online “encounters” with BTSC readers and listeners over the years, you may understand why I acted the way I did when I met my first fan in January.

I was buying antifreeze at an auto parts store near my home one Sunday morning when the gentleman behind the counter asked me if I did a Steelers podcast he listened to. I had a mask on because the store required it for COVID purposes, so I felt a bit anonymous when I said, “No, not me, but there are certainly a lot of people who do podcasts.” I just couldn’t admit to it. I was hesitant. This was literally a few weeks after “Michael Pettaway” had messaged me to tell me he couldn’t wait to meet me. I could kind of tell the guy knew I was full of it, but my fear overrode my shame.

Not one of my proudest moments, but, again, I am someone who has been threatened with violence for writing fake mock drafts.

Just to show you how bad it’s sometimes been in the “encounters” department, Justin Hartwig, the Steelers starting center during their Super Bowl XLIII season, once emailed me and called me an idiot several times throughout his correspondence.

Fast-forward to last Thursday. I was at Kelly’s, a bar in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh, enjoying a few post-run beverages with the running group I hang out with on a weekly basis.

Most of the folks had left after an hour or two, and I was settling up my tab at the bar. This dude came over to me and said, “I know you,” and he shook my hand.

I said, “You do?” He said, “Yes, you’re Tony Defeo from Behind the Steel Curtain.” I didn’t have a mask on, and I also had just consumed a few “beverages,” so I quickly mustered up the courage to not act frightened. In all seriousness, I immediately realized that this was going to be a pleasant encounter, and it really was.

In the name of privacy, I won’t reveal the guy’s identity, but he was totally cool and seemed to know a lot about the Behind the Steel Curtain community of writers and podcasters. I had a really interesting conversation with him, as did two of my running buddies who were sitting at the bar when he came over to introduce himself to me.

We all talked about the Steelers, Kenny Pickett, the prospects for the 2022 season and even some college football.

It couldn’t have been a more fun experience.

What’s the lesson here? Most people are cool, and it’s highly unlikely anyone is going to introduce themselves to you as a fan of your work before beating the living heck out of you.

Much like doing a podcast at all, hosting a podcast, and interviewing players, meeting people who recognized me from BTSC was something I had to go through eventually.

I did that, twice, and I can now retroactively say that they were both great experiences.