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Steelers, Jets Bring Foes Together as Friends Before Sad End

Jan 21, 2011 – 6:28 PM
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David Whitley

David Whitley %BloggerTitle%

T.J. Jenkins and Scott Wedell never actually met, but they disliked each other from the start.

One loved the Steelers, the other loved the Jets. That sparked a blogging battle so intense it would make Rex Ryan blush.

"We were at each other's throats about everything," Jenkins said.

Tensions eventually cooled, then the rivals grew to respect each other. And finally this week, when the teams they love most were preparing to battle for the Super Bowl, Jenkins crumpled to the floor.

His blogging rival was dead. Wedell was only 19.

In his honor, Jenkins will lay down his arms this Sunday. There will be no typing during the game. Jenkins may not even be able to cheer.

"Usually if the Steelers lost the AFC Championship Game, the loss would devastate me," he said. "It's not going to hurt as much this year if they lose."

It's trite to say sports aren't life or death, and how people take them too seriously. But this story is a reminder how sports can help break down serious walls. From great ones like apartheid to small ones like the one these two super-fans overcame.

"He didn't have any enemies," Ray Wedell said of his son.

Of course, Scott never really let his father in on his computerized passion. The Internet has unleashed millions of passionate voices. Wedell went by "NYSR," short for New York Sports Rule.

Those are fighting words where people believe New York sports don't rule. Like in Canton, Ohio, where Jenkins was raised to love the Steelers. His website, Steel Hurtin', is dedicated to covering all things Yellow and Black.

Wedell was raised in Fairfax, Va. He loved sports and could rattle off stats and facts like Rain Man. He played basketball in high school and finished his sophomore year by scoring 24 points in a game.

Not long afterward, he noticed a lump in his leg. It turned out to be a tumor. Wedell had rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that infects muscles and other connective tissue.

Thus began the battle. Chemotherapy, radiation, blood counts, vomiting, wheelchairs. The cancer went into remission, only to cruelly reappear. Through it all, Wedell never stopped loving life, loving the Jets and loving to electronically chat about them.

That's a strange thing about the Internet. People talk more to strangers across the world than they do their neighbors. The conversations can get nasty and personal. Just check out the exchanges on SEC football or English Premier League sites.

Wedell and Jenkins had progressed from being at each other's throats to actually speaking on the phone. They'd call before games, insult each other's teams and generally give each other a hard time.

Wedell eventually let on about his illness. Whatever animosity remained between NYSR and Canton's leading Steelers fan vanished. Jenkins asked Wedell to explain his condition and posted it on his website. Through all the harrowing details, there was hardly a hint of self pity.

"I was reallyyyy looking forward to my junior and senior seasons playing," Wedell wrote. "That's one thing I think about a lot and it kind of gets at me that I didn't get a chance to play again."

That's as close to feeling victimized as he allowed for himself.

"He was selfless. He took the stance that whatever was going to happen to him was going to happen, and to live each day to the fullest," Jenkins said. "You could tell he was nervous and scared at times, but he would never tell anybody."

By last week, he couldn't tell anybody. Wedell went to the hospital in grave condition. He was barely conscious most of the weekend. But at about 4:30 p.m. ET Sunday, his father nudged his shoulder.

The Jets and Patriots were coming on TV.

"He didn't hate many things in life," Ray Wedell said, "but he hated Bill Belichick and Tom Brady."

What self-respecting Jets fan wouldn't? Scott's eyes widened as New York dominated the first half.

"I can't believe we're only ahead 7-3," he told his father near halftime. "We're so much better than them."

He laughed like a carefree 19-year-old when Shonn Greene scored a touchdown and pretended to lie down and fall asleep in the end zone.


Scott with Don La Greca and Greg Buttle of 1050 ESPN Radio NY during a Jets game in 2008.

"I can't wait to play the Steelers," he said.

Then he went back to sleep.

"He never really regained consciousness," Ray Wedell said.

Scott died Tuesday. His form of cancer hasn't had the treatment advances many other types have. He'd hoped to hang on long enough for a promising new drug that the FDA hasn't approved yet.

"He didn't lose the game," Ray said. "Time just ran out."

Scott wanted to raise awareness and raise money for research. His father hopes the NFL will seize this opportunity, and maybe have Ryan and Mike Tomlin tape a commercial asking for donations.

There are a lot of sports fans who could use the dose of perspective. But in the Internet battlefields, the unlikeliest friendships can flourish.

The Wedell family didn't even know of Scott's ties with Jenkins until a couple of days ago, when somebody sent a link to Steel Hurtin'. Jenkins had found out about Scott's death when he checked his Facebook page.

"I saw 'Rest in peace,'" he said.

That's when he collapsed to the floor. So instead of blogging throughout Sunday's game, Jenkins plans to simply watch and remember.

"He'll have the best seat in the house," Jenkins said.

If the Jets win, he'll be happy for the friend he never met.

If the Steelers win, Scott Wedell will probably feel the same way.
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