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‘Duck’ season

For hunter and football fan, contest win was like ‘small lottery’ for Swartz

Photos submitted to Times Observer Scott Swartz with Steelers’ quarterback Devlin “Duck” Hodges.

It’s duck season.

In this particular case, it’s a hunt with “Duck” season.

But when Warren’s Scott Swartz walked into a Northwest Bank branch one random day, he had no idea what he’d be aiming for.

Staring at him was a cardboard cutout of former Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive end Brett Keisel — you know, the bearded one… or, rather, “Da Beard.”

It was a promotion for Keisel’s and the Steelers’ Hunt with the Black and Gold — sending nine lucky winners on a private bird hunt with members of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Billed as the ultimate fan experience, Northwest customers and non-customers could enter at any of Northwest Bank’s nearly 200 branches.

Photos submitted to Times Observer Steelers at Hunt with the Black & Gold included, from left, in front, Jordan Berry, Vance McDonald, Brett Keisel, Devlin “Duck” Hodges, and James Washington and, in back, B.J. Finney, Cam Heyward, Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, and Chris Boswell. Heyward is clapping for James Harrison, who was arriving late as the picture was being taken.

Keisel, well “he’s the lead man, it’s his baby,” Swartz said of the hunt. “But there’s a lot of people involved.”

“I’m in (Northwest Bank) twice a week, so I filled out a couple (entry forms),” said Swartz. “I didn’t know what it was about really, and I get a voicemail. I didn’t recognize the name, so I didn’t answer… I didn’t listen to it until I got home and it was this guy from the radio station. The first thing you think of is it’s a scam, but he was spot on.”

“Then he said, ‘you’re one of the nine contestants who were drawn.'”

“It was Tuesday (Nov. 19), and he said I’d get to take a guest, but the guest can’t hunt. I took a lifelong friend…”

Ironically, Greg Hull, and assistant J.V. coach for the Jamestown (N.Y.) High School football team… “He’s a Bills fan.” said Swartz, “but this is the NFL, and he’s been a football nut since he was 8 years old.”

Photos submitted to Times Observer Swartz’s guest, Greg Hull, with Steelers’ David DeCastro. .

So, after receiving the itinerary in an email, Swartz and Hull headed down to the Alpine Hunting Lodge near Bridgeville, south of Pittsburgh. They went the night before the event as Swartz admits to having fallen into a bad habit in retirement.

“Scotty don’t get up at 5 a.m. for anything,” he said.

“They said the only thing you need to bring is your shotgun,” said Swartz. “A vest, or if you didn’t have an orange hat, they supplied that, a box of shells.”

After a meet-and-greet, with some of the Steelers signing autographs, the hunt began.

Swartz was riding on the back of a Kubota up the hill and introduced himself to the 23-year-old hunting partner from Kimberly, Alabama… who happens to be nicknamed “Duck.” Devlin Hodges is the current starting quarterback for the Steelers — due to an injury and a benching, but also an avid hunter already in his young life.

Photos submitted to Times Observer Scott Swartz with Steelers’ receiver James Washington.

He’s apparently nicknamed “Duck” for his duck-calling, so let’s just say he probably enjoyed this particular Steelers’ public relations venture on his off day.

In Swartz’s group hunting pheasants and chukars were two dog handlers, two dogs, another lucky winner from Coudersport, “Duck,” and Steelers’ wide receiver James Washington.

On the back of the Kubota, the driver called out, asking if Swartz was okay dangling off the back. “No,” Swartz quickly responded. So, despite the front cabin being made for two, Swartz nestled up next to the driver and a 23-year-old James Washington from Abilene, Texas, who has also been hunting since he was a child.

This had to be a surreal experience.

Swartz was told when he was notified he was a winner that he was among nine out of about 80,000 entries.

An avid hunter, but Swartz had to look into this. “It just says ‘hunt,'” he said. “Was I going to Colorado for a week, or what was this?”

“But, I’ll tell you, I had so much fun there that I almost didn’t even care if we were going hunting,” he reflected. “I was just in awe. Like I said, it would be like going to Hollywood and meeting DeNiro and Pacino for some. Same thing.”

There was a point in which Swartz said he got comfortable and thought, “I’m 62 years old. I could be these guys’ grandfather. I guess my favorite part was just hanging out with them, talking about everything, you know, football, where they went to school, and hunting.”

“When (the radio employee) called me, and I knew it was for real, to me it was like winning a small lottery,” said Swartz. “It was just hard to believe it was really happening.”

Former and current Steelers Keisel, James Harrison, Shaun Suisham, Chris Boswell, Alejandro Villanueva, Cam Heyward, David DeCastro, “Duck,” Washington, and others went hunting. Swartz was in the same group as “Duck” and Washington, and shot three birds. He did miss one, he admitted.

But, of course, everyone knows lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place.

That won’t stop Swartz from entering for the Hunt with the Black and Gold Contest next year.

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