Steelers welcome youngest player
Talk about perfect timing.
Seconds after 14-year-old Akeem Havens said he hoped to meet Ben Roethlisberger, the Pro Bowl quarterback walked into the media room at the Steelers' South Side facility on Thursday.
With a black playbook in his hand and a perturbed look on his face, Roethlisberger said to his newest teammate, "Hey, what's going on here• We don't have time for this. We have practice. Are you ready to practice?"
"Let's go," Havens said with a smile.
It was one of the highlights in a day filled with them for Havens, who since a car wreck at age 7 has been a quadriplegic and has experienced kidney failure.
The Steelers teamed up with the Make-A-Wish-Foundation to fulfill Havens' dream of being a member of the Black and Gold. His activities included a videogame session with Roethlisberger, lunch with the players and a touchdown he will never forget.
Havens' day with the team will air in late June or early July as part of ESPN's "My Wish" series.
"The smile on (Havens') face is so amazing," Roethlisberger said.
"To think his one wish is to come hang out with us is touching, because so many days we don't want to be here, and he wants to be here. It puts things in perspective. It's just awesome to be able to help him out."
Havens lives in the Atlanta suburb of Flowery Branch, but he is originally from Wheeling, W.Va., and is a lifelong Steelers fan.
The Steelers introduced Havens as the newest member of the team yesterday morning. Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert opened a news conference by saying negotiations with Havens' agent, his 7-year-old brother James, had been tough, but that the two sides had agreed to a deal.
Team chairman Dan Rooney presented Havens with an authentic Steelers jersey with No. 1 and his name on the back.
Havens, who will be a freshman in high school in the fall, proved to be quotable during a question-and-answer session. When asked what he would tell his new teammates, Havens, who gets around in a wheelchair and labored to speak at times, said, "I've got one little piece of advice: Let's try and make it an even number of Super Bowl wins."
A couple of hours later, he probably felt like he had won the Steelers' sixth Super Bowl.
At the end of the Steelers' final OTA (organized team activity) practice of the week, the coaches called Havens' number during an 11-on-11 drill.
Given the ball at the 10-yard line, he wheeled his way to the end zone behind the blocking of fullback Carey Davis, scoring a touchdown that meant nothing yet everything.
"We see how fortunate we are," cornerback Deshea Townsend said, "and how people look up to what we do. It's just great that he wants to be around us. For us just to offer a little bit of our time to say hello to him ..."
The smile Havens wore as proudly as his Steelers jersey showed just how much it meant to him.