Steelers imitator isn’t first fan imposter to take the field
He comes dressed in full uniform, wearing a number not issued by the Pittsburgh Steelers since star safety Troy Polamalu retired after the 2014 season.
He looks genuine, with the rolled-up shirt that exposes six-pack abs. He has eye black on his face, a red tattoo on his left biceps, wristbands on his arms and a helmet on his head.
Somehow, the man wearing No. 43 sneaks past security and makes it onto the turf practice field at Saint Vincent College on Saturday afternoon. Looking for his 15 minutes of fame, he gets about 15 seconds before the Steelers learn they have an imposter in their midst. (His dream lives on for another 10 minutes as security is slow to arrive and usher the man off the premises).
The man’s identity remains unknown. The Steelers, wanting the man’s time in the spotlight to cease, are releasing no information — on whether he was arrested or whether security has been increased for daily training camp practices that end Tuesday in Latrobe.
Rumor is the man showed up seeking a tryout with his favorite team and a desire to cover All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown.
No matter his intentions, the man will go down as one of most infamous sports imposters in recent memory.
He also joins a list of fans — real or fictional — who have attempted to live out the dream of playing with the pros.
Willie Mays Hayes
Perhaps the imposter had visions of being the next Willie Mays Hayes, the fictional Cleveland Indians outfielder from the movie “Major League.”
Hayes’ cover is blown before the first practice, and his bed — with him still sleeping in it — is moved from the dorm to the parking lot. Hayes awakens and realizes, “I’ve been cut already.”
Not to be deterred, while wearing his pajamas, Hayes joins two other players in sprints and beats them easily despite their head start.
“Get him a uniform,” manager Lou Brown says.
Despite a difficult start with Indians — Brown tells him, “You might run like Mays, but you hit like (expletive)” — Hayes scores the winning run from second base on a bunt single to beat the New York Yankees in the climactic final game.
Unlike Willie Mays Hayes, Vince Papale is a real person who gets a real tryout and turns it into a three-year career with the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1970s. Papale never plays college football, but he has some legitimate football experience before joining the Eagles — two years with the Philadelphia Bell of the World Football League.
Papale’s performance in the tryout earns him a shot at training camp in 1976 and, at age 30, he become the oldest rookie — kickers aside — to make the NFL without benefit of college football experience.
Papale plays in 41 games with the Eagles, mostly on special teams, and his story is turned into the movie “Invincible,” that stars Mark Wahlberg and is released in 2006.
In January, a middle-aged fan wearing New Orleans Pelicans practice gear, sneaks onto the court and takes a shot during warmups for a game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The fan, purported to be Detroit comedian Tony Roberts, is seated at courtside, and he ambles onto the hardwood during warmups.
With his head covered by a hoodie like other players, Roberts blends in for a few moments. After stretching and doing a jumping jack, he waves his arms in hopes of getting his hands on a basketball.
Someone — an innocent ball boy or a bemused player? — throws him a pass, and he gets off a shot before a security guard catches on and escorts him back to his seat. Video shows the officer scolding Roberts, but because of his celebrity status, it doesn’t not appear that he is ejected or punished by the Pelicans.
Brentwood car salesman Brian Jackson tries to pull the ultimate quarterback sneak when he impersonates Steelers quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and third-stringer Brian St. Pierre in 2005.
Jackson allegedly dates two women using the players’ personas and signs footballs and jerseys and poses for photographs with children and other fans.
Perhaps Jackson’s biggest crime is rendering an authentic Roethlisberger jersey worthless with his inauthentic signature. The jersey is valued at $75 before Jackson signs Big Ben’s name on it. For that, he is charged with criminal mischief.
Jackson is ordered to undergo psychological counseling and sentenced to 30 days in jail after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct.
The punishment doesn’t work. A year later, in August 2006, Jackson is charged again, this time for impersonating tight end Jerame Tuman. He additionally is charged with scamming a woman out of $3,200.
Jackson pleads guilty to two counts of theft by deception and one count of identity theft. Jackson is sentenced to three months in jail and placed on probation for five years.
Perhaps the ultimate imposter from these parts is a genuine Pittsburgh professional athlete.
Al Martin, the Pirates left fielder in the 1990s, claims he attended USC on a football scholarship and played two seasons at strong safety for the Trojans. The information is part of Martin’s official bio in the media guide.
In 2001, while Martin is with the Seattle Mariners, the ruse is uncovered. USC officials offer no recollection of Martin playing football at the school, let alone giving him a scholarship. The Seattle Times uncovers the lie after Martin says that a collision with teammate Carlos Guillen reminds him of the time in 1986 when he tackled Michigan running back Leroy Hoard head-on in the Rose Bowl.
USC and Michigan didn’t play that season.
Don’t forget, Martin also is the same guy who infamously was married to two women at the same time in the ’90s.