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Brian's Song

The strange celebrity of Brian Jackson

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There is an old saying that if you buy a diamond ring for a dime, you probably have a ring not worth a nickel. And that's exactly what a few Pittsburgh-area women learned this summer.

 

During this year's preseason, with the Steelers reporting for training camp in Latrobe and opening their 2005 campaign, at least one Pittsburgh woman believed a 31-year-old, kinda round-shaped car salesman named Brian Jackson when he claimed to be star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. It later developed that another woman had believed Jackson when he claimed to be backup QB Brian St. Pierre.

 

Living in Pittsburgh, I found it astonishing that Jackson could pull off such a scam. My own interest in sports aside, I find it difficult to pass a day without seeing a photo of Ben Roethlisberger in the local press, on TV or on the Internet. We are inundated with constant news of Big Ben's helmetless motorcycle exploits and the minutiae of his health. Will Ben wear gloves in the playoffs? Is Ben's shoulder okay? Which knee is hurt? Other than a big snowstorm blowing in, or a water-line break in Munhall, there is no bigger story on the local news than the Pittsburgh Steelers.

 

A quick test to prove my point. Which of these requests can the average Pittsburgher answer with more alacrity?

 

1) "Name your district's councilperson"

 

2) "Name the head coach of the Steelers"

 

I thought so.

 

If you're within reception distance of KDKA's broadcast signal and you're capable of mistaking Jackson for the 2004 NFL Rookie of the Year, you're probably likewise capable of mistaking Paul Giamatti for FloJo. (And oddly, if Jackson resembles anybody famous, it may be Giamatti. Only with less charm.)

 

By impersonating famous -- or, in the case of St. Pierre, at least semi-famous -- Steelers, Jackson stood to gain a date and maybe some nooky. What Jackson did is foolish, hurtful and immoral. But it's also something else: desperate.

 

When he met a woman willing to buy his line of BS, he wasn't merely trying to get his joint worked. In this era of reality TV and instant classics, anybody can be famous. And in an era when anybody can be famous, what does it make you if you aren't famous? I mean, what kind of nobody hasn't merely missed out on his 15 minutes of fame, but hasn't even been featured in one of the many reality series?

 

Before we judge Jackson too harshly, though, let's remember that he did this for a reason. He had reason to believe that, in a celebrity-obsessed culture like this one, a famous name is all it takes to get yourself some action. His scam could only work on people who didn't know what the Steelers quarterbacks actually looked like, people for whom the mere name was enough.

 

Who knows how many women Jackson used this line on who actually had seen the sports section, who had watched the local news or the games, who laughed him off or told him off on the spot?

 

This may be the era of Hillary Clinton, Maureen Dowd and Oprah. Unfortunately, it is also the era of Paris Hilton, Wife Swap, The Bachelor and The Swan. Jackson was preying on the fact that some women would be willing to bask in the reflective glow of Ben Roethlisberger. Or even his backup. Because in Pittsburgh, you don't have to understand two-deep zone coverage to realize that the Steelers are a much bigger deal than just about anything else in town.

 

During the opening funeral of Big Chill, the minister asks: "Are not the pleasures of being a good man among our common men great enough to sustain us anymore?"

 

Simply put, no.

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