By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
About the only person who wasn’t at Joey Madsen’s house on the final day of the NFL Draft last Saturday was the mayor of Chardon, Ohio, or so it seemed.
The Madsen clan and family had spent an excruciating three days in front of their television set, hoping more than expecting that the West Virginia University center would hear his name called. It was sort of Geno Smith without the cameras, maybe even more exasperating because of the way these drafts play out.
Smith, the Mountaineer quarterback, had expected to go in the first round and be the first quarterback selected, which made him a central figure of the ESPN and NFL Network coverage and then the poster boy for disappointment when his selection carried over into the second day and second round.
Tough it was, for it involved embarrassment and disappointment, but at least you weren’t jumping every time the phone rang that last day, as did the Madsens.
“It was a day of ups and downs,” Madsen admitted. “You are getting calls from different teams, and every call you get you think that’s the call. Your heart starts racing, and then they say, ‘Well, we don’t know. We’ll see what happens,’ and you have to slow your heart back down. It’s very stressful.”
Anyone who has ever applied for a job knows the feeling. Every time the phone rings, your heart starts racing, hoping it’s them with an offer. And when the mail comes, it isn’t long after the mail truck pulls away that you hustle to the box to check.
Madsen estimates that during that final day of the draft his phone rang “eight or nine times,” each time a different team.
So while there was a party atmosphere, with lots of gabbing and laughing, when that phone rang a hush would fall over the room while Madsen talked and got one disappointment after another.
“Three or four of them said they wanted to draft me but that they had other needs,” Madsen said.
Suddenly, as he looked at the screen, they were selecting Mr. Irrelevant, the last player in the draft.
Joey Madsen had not been drafted, leaving him with that sinking feeling.
But not for long.
Moments later, the Pittsburgh Steelers called and told him they wanted to sign him as a free agent.
Had it been Beyonce herself calling and asking him out to dinner, Madsen could not have gotten more excited.
He’d have been happy with any offer, but this was the Steelers, his team.
More than that, his mother’s team.
“That’s where I wanted to go all along,” he said.
Once upon a time, you see, there was a little Madsen, as difficult as that is to believe to see him today, whether or not he is sporting his trademark Mohawk haircut. And it mattered not that he lived right
outside Cleveland — he was a Steeler fan.
His mom, who is from West Virginia, was a Steeler fan and was not-so-gently nudging him in that position, but she didn’t need much help because Jerome Bettis was a Steeler and Madsen’s dream was to grow up into Jerome Bettis.
“My favorite player growing up was Jerome Bettis, because he showed a big guy could hold the ball, and that’s what I always wanted to do when I was little,” he said.
It didn’t happen, of course.
“I got a little bit too big,” Madsen explained.
But football was his game. It was made for his size, made for his personality. He liked being a player and he even liked being a fan, going to Steeler games when he could get tickets.
“It’s a dream,” he said, of going and being among the Steeler nation. “I’m almost like them. Maybe I’m a little bit laid back compared to real Steeler fans, but I’m hooting and hollering and screaming and having a great time.”
Now he’s hoping to give them something to cheer for.
“You have to show you are an asset,” he said of his approach to making the team. “I have to start studying that playbook. I’m good at that. I love reading the plays and going over them. I’m going to do that and show I don’t get hurt.”
Indeed, despite playing in the center of the line, despite the physical nature of the game in the trenches, Madsen never was injured, and never missed a game or a practice.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.