There is a certain sense of separation that fans have with the players. Many of them are millionaires, some exponentially richer than you’ll ever be. All of them are elite athletes—well, except some of the specialists. They are also celebrities of sorts, though their recognition also varies relative to their success.
There are many ways in which we are unlike those we root for, and sometimes those differences make us lose sight of how similar we can be as well. Though not entirely. There is a reason that players like the Pittsburgh Steelers’ fullback, Roosevelt Nix, always manage to become favorites of the fan.
They are the ones in whom we most see ourselves.
A defensive lineman from Kent State, Nix originally moved over the linebacker in an attempt to hook on with an NFL roster as an undrafted free agent in 2014, the Atlanta Falcons taking a crack at converting him to fullback. The conversion failed and he was cut—and it was televised as well—but he underwent the same transition a year later in Pittsburgh and made the team.
He did so doing the dirty work, showing up on special teams primarily and recording a blocked punt in the preseason which registering tackles in the process. Almost as an afterthought, they just kept using him as a fullback on offense as well, and when he made the roster, that continued into the regular season.
Nix was a longshot and he continues to play like it. He persisted because he has the love of the game that fans like ourselves share, and so his first opportunity to score a touchdown was huge for him.
To this day, months removed, he still calls his first touchdown a “surreal” moment. “Just to be able to score an NFL touchdown is a beautiful thing. You dream about that as a kid, I am going to do this, I am going to do that when I score. Then the whole time you don’t do anything because you are so excited that you scored”.
His first touchdown actually came as a pass-catcher against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 14. He must have been the fourth or fifth option on the slow-developing play from the one-yard line, but he bowled over the defender as though he were flying down the field on a kickoff.
His teammates were as excited about his opportunity to score as he was, even if he maintains that he has both of his touchdown footballs in his living room, and that he looks at them every day. When the Steelers rolled into Houston on Christmas Day and had opportunity to put the game well in hand, they gave the ball to Nix.
He punched it in from one yard out to give the Steelers an early 17-0 lead over a team playing its third-string quarterback. They would again try to get him to score in the regular season finale, and Ben Roethlisberger and his teammates kept feeding him even in the Pro Bowl, a further testament not only to how much he means to his team, but to how much those small opportunities mean to the football player and fan inside of Nix.