"The Bus is coming back to the Steelers."
Those words, happily proclaimed one of my best friends eight years ago on April Fool's day, would become a running gag that is brought up nearly every time we see each other to this day. It's a funny memory now, but I certainly wasn't laughing when I found out that I had been the recipient of my friend's April Fool's Day joke.
On April 1st, 2007, I was getting ready (well, procrastinating is more like it) for my afternoon classes at a local coffee shop right beside the campus of Ohio State University. The Buckeyes basketball team had made it to the NCAA Final Four, and several of my friends from the student radio station went down to Atlanta to cover the event.
My best friend on the broadcast team, Brian, called me as I was polishing off my second coffee while getting ready for another rousing two hours of German 300. While I thought the call would be to discuss the Buckeyes' chances at upsetting Florida that night (they didn't, even though Greg Oden looked like Joe Greene in basketball shorts that night, terrorizing the Gators for 25 points), Brian started the phone call by saying he had some big "news".
"The Bus is coming back to the Steelers."
Brian knew that I was a die hard Steelers fan, and that Jerome Bettis was my all-time favorite Steeler. So hearing this almost made me feel alright with not being prepared for the German test I was about to bomb.
After dropping the great news, Brian specified, saying that Bettis would be joining the Steelers as a running backs coach, meaning that he would be reunited with Willie Parker and many of his teammates that he had just won a Super Bowl with back in the 2005 season. Hearing that the Bus would be back in the 'Burgh uplifted my spirits about the Steelers (who were coming off an 8-8 season) and the upcoming football season. Needless to say, it was a very good afternoon.
Now, while smart phones existed back then (I had to ask several of my tech friends to make sure), they weren't as popular and efficient in 2007 as they are now. I certainly didn't have one back then, so I couldn't immediately confirm Brian's great news. So I just told myself to be patient, but for the remainder of that afternoon, I couldn't wait to get home and read about the news of Bettis rejoining the Steelers.
You can imagine my disappointment when I saw no mention of Bettis joining the Steelers staff on steelers.com, ESPN.com and on various other Pittsburgh sports websites. I phoned my dad, whose pulse on daily sports news is so good I think has Adam Schefter on speed dial. After pops couldn't confirm Bettis rejoining the Steelers, I decided to get to the source of the story, my good friend, Brian.
Now Brian is a Cleveland native and a diehard fan of all Cleveland sports. Despite this, he and I always kept things cordial when our teams faced off. We didn't like each others teams, but we showed a respect that was not replicated by our other two broadcast buddies, one a Giants and the other an Eagles fan (this scenario played out beautifully earlier in 2007, with the four of us huddled around a hotel TV watching the Eagles defeat the Giants in a playoff game., It was quite possibly the hardest I've ever had to hold back from laughing as my Eagles friend Dylan was holding back tears). Given our history, I never would have suspected that Brian would have played a joke involving the Steelers with me. How naive, I was.
I asked Brian directly where he had heard the news about the Bettis. To Brian's credit, he didn't string out the story and further toy with my emotions; he told me point blank that the Bus wasn't coming back to the Steelers, then, in the most stereotypical way, said: "April Fools, buddy."
What followed on my end of the phone call was about 10 seconds of that roller coaster, just got dumped by a girl gut feeling, which was followed by a slightly forced laugh over the phone. It stunk to be fooled into thinking that my favorite all-time Steeler would be re-joining the team only to be told hours later that it was a hoax. But it wasn't like Bettis was coming back to reclaim his dominance as the NFL's greatest power back. Per Brian, Bettis was coming back to help out Parker and the Steelers running backs, and as cool as that would have been to see, the notion was easy to let go.
Regardless, Brian felt plenty bad about his gag, and apologized to me one time for every point Pittsburgh scored against Cleveland in their first game into the NFL in 1999 (I owed him at least one Browns dig in this story). I assured him that there were no hard feelings, and our friendship went on just as it had before. Well, one thing has been different, and its that on every April 1st, I text to my old friend, Brian, asking him if he had heard that the Bus was coming back to the Steelers.