January 31 9:29 am: Tweet from @AntonioBrown84 : Indianapolis #steelernation talk to me
January 31 9:39 am: Tweet from @sdpaladin : @AntonioBrown84 I live in Indy! Let's get lunch! How's 12:30?
It started just like that.
Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown had arrived in Indianapolis for the Super Bowl with some time on his hands. So he told his fans where he was. Seth Paladin, a die-hard Steelers fan, had planned his normal Tuesday. He was about to start his day as a sales representative for home security company ADT. But the fan in him decided to be bold, as he quickly scanned his Twitter timeline before going out. Not expecting much, he tweeted at the Steelers Pro Bowler, with 85,000 followers. He wanted to see him in person.
“When I first tweeted at him, I thought there was a very slim chance that he’d see it," Paladin said. "When he replied, I thought to myself, ‘This is crazy.’” What happened next is the most amazing story of athlete-fan interaction in the short history of social media.
That's a pretty high bar, by the way.
Kevin Durant, in the mood to play flag football during the lockout , was told there was a game at nearby Oklahoma State. He showed up. Chad Ochocinco treated 66 of his Twitter followers to a fancy dinner. Shaquille O'Neal offered tickets to a game for anyone who tagged him in a mall. He gave away 30 tickets that day.
But no professional athlete has ever spent the kind of time with a fan that Antonio Brown spent with Seth Paladin during Super Bowl week.
After a series of replies, direct messages, texts, and calls, Brown eventually invited Paladin to his hotel room. They immediately hit it off. With an open schedule, the two of them headed over to a local gym.
There, Brown showed Paladin, a Pittsburgh native, his workout routine. They lifted weights. They swam laps in the pool.
And if the story stopped there, it would have been remarkable. But it was far from over.
That night, Paladin invited Brown to his friend's birthday at the upscale chain, The Capital Grille. Brown, who signed a 3-year, $1.29 million contract as a sixth round draft pick in 2010 and made a second-year minimum of $450,000 this past season, graciously picked up the entire bill full of drinks, appetizers, entrees and dessert.
Brown then went with Seth, and his five friends, to the Pacers game, where Brown sat on the floor for what he said was his first time.
"I saw what guys like Ochocinco did on Twitter and I wanted to give it a try," Brown told me. "I know there's a lot of support for us in Steeler Nation and it was fun to be with a fan and see what motivates him every day."
And if it ended that night, it would have been an amazing story that at least Paladin would remember for the rest of his life.
But, the next morning, there the two were, Brown and Paladin, at the breakfast table after yet another workout session. After Brown made some appearances in Indy, they met for lunch. Seriously? Is this really happening? What could two total strangers have to talk about after spending so many hours together?
“We talked like any two young guys would,” said Paladin. “We talked about our families, sports and all things Steelers. There was never any awkward silence and the conversation flowed.”
The next day, Paladin and Brown were working out again. They got massages. At night, they went to the Madden Bowl, where Brown arranged for his new friend to get access to the VIP area and introduced him to some of his NFL-playing friends.
Brown had a full plate on Friday, but the two spent most of Saturday together. They met for an early morning Pilates session, which Brown does three times a week in the offseason.
"His abs were a little weak," Brown said of Paladin.
Later that day, Brown realized while at a Celebrity Flag Football Challenge, that he forgot to pack a pair of dress shoes to match his suit for the inaugural NFL awards show that night. So Brown got his wallet, and gave Paladin, who he had brought to the game with him, his credit card.
“I thought it was very cool that he trusted me this much after just meeting me on Tuesday," Paladin said. "It felt good."
So while Brown played, Paladin went to Saks Fifth Avenue and picked up the size 11 Gucci shoes Brown was looking for.
On Super Bowl Sunday, Brown had an early flight out of Indianapolis. But before he stepped in the car to go the airport, Paladin was in the hotel lobby waiting for him. Paladin told him how much the week meant to him and how he took out the time to make a fan's dreams become reality.
"I realize we've been put in a position to be role models," Brown said. "I'd gladly do this again."
Said Paladin: “Twitter has always been a neat tool, but this encounter took it to another level for me. Twitter puts everyone on an even playing field. Don’t pass up an opportunity to interact with a role model, because you never know what they might say. Trust me."
Tyler Burns assisted in writing this.
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