The Pittsburgh Steelers are no strangers to trick plays. Last year, the team ran one to clinch a rousing 21-10 win against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. But this season, Steelers fans and Pittsburgh residents Chet Vincent and Jason Georgiades will try for an even trickier win: convincing the NFL champion Steelers to incorporate the pair’s own gadget play into the team’s offensive playbook.
The play, dubbed “The Steal Phantom,” is top-secret. Its target, Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, is a very busy man. But the mission – whether received or intercepted – will become the subject of a feature-length documentary co-directed by Vincent, a GW senior, and Georgiades, a junior at the University of Pittsburgh.
No one but Vincent and Georgiades know the particulars of the play, which they keep locked inside a black briefcase emblazoned with the Steal Phantom logo: a question mark converted into star quarterback “Big Ben” Roethlisberger’s ubiquitous number seven.
“We want to see if a regular person with no money – we’re not sick, we’re not dying, we’re not the president – can get a professional sports team to run our play,” Georgiades, 20, said. “It’s a goofy approach to cropping the border between professional sports and fans.”
Vincent and Georgiades, who attended Pittsburgh’s Shady Side Academy together, conceived the project last summer over a late-night banana cream pie at Pittsburgh’s Ritter’s Diner.
“At that time, it was just a stupid idea,” Vincent, a 22-year-old English major at GW, said. “It probably shouldn’t have gone this far.”
But within the next week, Vincent and Georgiades had the trick ironed out. Since then, the “stupid idea” has gained a Web site (www.stealphantom.com), a $2,000 budget and the attention of several local newspapers. Add cameraman and University of Pittsburgh graduate Trevor Cushing to the mix, and they had a film in the making.
The project has also gained a following in Pittsburgh, a football town where, Georgiades said, “you go to work 9 to 5, and Steelers on Sunday.”
To create buzz for the movie, Georgiades has even taken on the persona of “Coach Jason,” dressing up like Steelers head coach Bill Cowher and filming around Pittsburgh with the Steal Phantom briefcase handcuffed to his wrist.
“We’ve already become a small local phenomenon,” he said.
Getting footage of the real Steelers themselves has proven more difficult. Whisenhunt has yet to grant an interview; the Steelers that have ended up on camera have been caught around Pittsburgh with what Vincent describes as “ad-hoc shooting.”
“We basically ambush,” Georgiades admitted.
Some of the players have been receptive to the film’s fan-power message. Others, however, haven’t shown much interest.
“There was a (2005) Cleveland Browns game where a fan ran onto the field, and (Steelers linebacker) James Harrison kicked him up and basically body-slammed him on the ground,” Georgiades said. “He was the first Steeler that we interviewed.”
The chance to interview players has been a thrill for the filmmakers, who count themselves among, in Georgiades’ words, the “notoriously intense fans” of the Steelers Nation. Still, the filmmakers’ message is largely a condemnation of the materialism that has consumed professional sports.
“I don’t think the fans are important anymore,” Georgiades said. “It’s the money.”
Last year, the Steelers paid Roethlisberger $9.5 million in salary and signing bonuses while the median income for an entire Pittsburgh household lies just under $29,000.
“(Professional football) has become this big, almost pornographic showcase of money and wealth and players,” Georgiades said. “It’s a bunch of millionaires running around playing a little kid’s game.”
As for the play itself, the filmmakers insist that it’s solid. “We watch a lot of football,” Vincent said. “So we know how it’s done.”
But Vincent admits to one catch: “We haven’t actually run it.”
The filmmakers will fix that this Thanksgiving weekend, though, when they meet up in D.C. to stage the play on a local field. After attending the Steelers-Ravens game on Saturday in Baltimore, the filmmakers will give The Steal Phantom a proper test-run on Sunday, using a full 11 players each on offense and defense. The footage will appear in the film, set to be completed in spring 2007, and might even be sent to the Steelers as proof the play is workable.
Vincent said anyone who will be in the District next weekend should contact him if they want to help out with the filming. Those interested must, of course, agree to keep the specifics of the play under wraps.
“If they tell people what the play is,” Vincent said, “we will crush them.”
If the Steelers ultimately decline the play, The Pittsburgh Colts – a semi-pro football team Vincent claims he “never knew existed” – has shown interest in the project.
“We are interested in running the play,” said Bill Keith, Colts’ player personal director and defensive coordinator.
The Colts, a small community team that plays for zero salaries and draws 300 to 500 spectators a game, seems to share the filmmakers’ spirit.
“We’re a semi-pro team.” Keith said. “We’re a league of redemption.”
While the filmmakers are excited for the Colts to run the play – jokes Cushing, “they’re not, you know, buying Hummers with baby sealskin hub-caps” – they aren’t giving up their original goal just yet. And with their current losing 3-6 record, the Steelers might need all the help they can get.
“If they don’t want to listen, then that’s the point of our film,” Georgiades said.
Cushing added, “The climax of the film becomes: ‘this is as far as you’re going to get.’ Go Pittsburgh Colts, or something.”