B.J. Finney became known to Steelers fans about a week before he actually arrived in Pittsburgh.
His signing announcement to 100 or so family and friends at a draft-weekend barn party was recorded for YouTube, where nearly half a million people took notice.
"I stand in front of you today as proof that dreams do come true," the young center from Kansas State announced while fighting back tears of joy. And then he let it rip: "I am under contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers!"
The room erupted because his friends knew that Finney was a diehard fan of the team, just as his father had been.
"My dad fell in love with the '70s dynasty, and ever since I was born it was black and gold on Sundays," Finney said last month from his seat in the Steelers' locker room.
Finney, of course, wished that his father was still alive to see the dream come true. Benjamin J Finney died of a heart attack eight days before Benjamin J Isaac Finney II turned 13. And his father went down a hero.
As an EMS provider, the elder Finney saved the life of an infant early in the day, fended off threats to himself and his co-workers later in the shift during a domestic violence call, complained of feeling sick later in the day, and died of a heart attack the next day in the locker room before he was to coach B.J.'s football practice.
J Finney left a wife and four children. B.J., the youngest, almost quit football but went on to lead Andale High to a Kansas state championship. He was recruited by Ohio University, but just before leaving for an official visit was notified that his scholarship was no longer available. So the state heavyweight champion pondered wrestling in college before accepting an invitation to walk-on and play football at Kansas State.
"Just to have an opportunity to play for Coach Snyder was a childhood dream," Finney said.
Bill Snyder is Kansas State, where he's coached for 22 seasons. He told Finney he could earn a scholarship if he proved worthy after the first season. Finney's mother agreed to pay for only two semesters, but that was all.
Finney not only proved himself to Snyder that first year and earned his keep, he became a four-year starter, a three-year captain, and in his final season was named the Big 12's Co-Offensive Lineman of the Year, along with Baylor tackle Spencer Drango.
Finney played 51 games at center and one at guard for Kansas State. He allowed only 2.5 sacks and was part of the all-conference team four times.
How did he go from walk-on to captain as a sophomore?
"I had a chip on my shoulder," Finney said. "I wanted to play. And after my freshman year, I was the only starter coming back on the offensive line. Someone else rotated in and had a lot of playing time, but I was the only starter coming back and I pushed the guys on the offensive line. I didn't accept anything but their best, and that's what I expected from myself. I wasn't somebody who would just talk. I would walk. I would push myself further than I would push the offensive line. When guys took notice of that, they knew that I truly cared about the team."
At the Combine, Finney measured 6-3 3/4, 318 and ran a respectable 5.25 40. He put up only 20 reps in the bench press and that may have played a part in going undrafted. But by the end of the draft he was hoping no one would take him, because he had already reached an agreement with the Steelers. So he sweated out the final 10 picks and secured his place in Pittsburgh.
"Just taking advantage of an opportunity to fulfill my dream, no matter how short or long that is," Finney explained. "With (Maurkice) Pouncey being here -- he's the best in the game -- I took it upon myself to learn from this guy. Even if I don't stay here, I'm still learning from the best center in the game playing now. It's a huge opportunity and a great one, so I wanted to take advantage of that, too."
Finney played mainly right guard on the third line this past spring. He did play center at times, and also got to play guard with the second line whenever Pouncey or Ramon Foster took a day off. Finney said he has no preference about the three interior positions, and said he might even be able to play tackle in an emergency as he had in college.
"It would be interesting," Finney said of playing tackle. "I'd fight. There'd be no question about that."
No one doubts that; no one who saw his YouTube video anyway. But signing with his favorite team wasn't the only highlight of that magical draft weekend. Finney also met the last person his father had saved, the daughter of a man Finney's father had once coached.
"She's 11 years old now," Finney said. "That threw me way off because I've been waiting to meet her for a long time. She was three weeks old, an infant, when he saved her. It was the day before he died."
Telling the story from Brett Keisel's old locker, Finney couldn't hold back tears as he spoke of the meeting.
"It took everything in me not to have a breakdown," he said. "I had my fiance sitting right there. It was a very, very special day for me. And then just to have this opportunity to play for this franchise that we love so much -- as you can see right now -- is just awesome."