2017 was a big year for JuJu Smith-Schuster. He was selected in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, which he celebrated by jumping into the ocean. He turned 21, but before doing so recorded more touchdowns than anybody else in NFL history prior to his 21st birthday. And he became a sensation around the city, and around the NFL as a whole.
While his play on the field has much to do with what has made him so endearing in Pittsburgh, Smith-Schuster has also quickly turned himself (and his dog) into something of a social media savant. I honestly don’t really get into following players on social media and stuff, but it’s hard to avoid seeing things from time to time, and most of what I see is from this young man.
The height of his national attention came in the middle of the season when he had his bicycle swiped from his home. At the time, he did not have a driver’s license and relied upon a bike as his only means of transportation. He pedaled himself to work at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex every day, so it was a big deal.
When he posted about the theft on social media, it blew up. It trended on Twitter. His bike got its own Twitter account. It was covered on news broadcasts. The city gathered up its resources in the attempt to retrieve the bike. And then it was returned.
“It amazed me”, he told the Steelers’ website about how the whole thing blew up. “That is why it was the best thing that happened this year. It was crazy. I didn’t expect it to go like that. It went viral, not just in Pittsburgh, but across the world. That is how much power this city and Steelers Nation has. I was stunned”.
It wasn’t because he got his bike back, or because it went viral. It was because it showed how much the fans care for and support their players. It was something of a fun story in itself, which helped drive it to viral proportions, but it also indicated that the city took him in as one of their own despite being a California boy.
“That shows how much love the fans have for the Steelers. For me it meant a lot”, he said. “At the time, me riding my bike to work every day was my only transportation. When all of Pittsburgh grasped that it meant a lot to me and I got my bike back. That meant a lot to me”.
When he got his bike back, the team’s celebration coordinator played it up by bringing out a chain to ‘lock up’ the sideline exercise bike after he scored a key touchdown, one of nine that he scored on the year, all told.
The love between Smith-Schuster and the city of Pittsburgh well and truly appears to be mutual, and hopefully it’s a relationship that lasts for a long time.