AKRON, Ohio – Jim Furyk is one of the classiest guys you'll ever meet. But the man has one terrible character flaw.
He is a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The superstar golfer isn't merely a casual fan, but a devoted follower who counts among his friends a number of former players.
One of them, running back Jerome Bettis, will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton this weekend, and Furyk wouldn't miss it for the world.
Well, he might miss part of it for the World Golf Championship tourney at Firestone Country Club. A late tee-time coupled with slow play or a weather delay could make the timing a bit dicey.
But if all goes well, Furyk will arrive with his wife and two kids in plenty of time to sit in Bettis' "friends and family" section at the induction ceremony Saturday at 7:00 p.m. They also plan to attend the Steelers-Vikings game Sunday at 8:00 p.m.
Furyk's twisted outlook is a product of his environment.
Although he lived near the Steel City only from age 2 through 7, his family has deep Pittsburgh roots. His father's father worked in an aluminum mill and his mother's father worked in a glass mill.
Jim spent much of his youth at the other end of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia Eagles territory. But he was already locked into Pittsburgh teams. By age 6, he could name every Steeler starter on offense and defense and recite their uniform numbers.
That was the year No. 88, Lynn Swann, made one of the most famous catches in Super Bowl history. Little did Jim know that four decades later Swann would be a close friend.
Furyk says he and Bettis aren't extremely close, and he was somewhat surprised when he was invited to the HOF bash.
The two first met when filming a TV advertisement together. Bettis has participated in Furyk's charity golf tournament for the past couple of years, and they stay in touch.
But Furyk and Swann go way back. Furyk has invited Swann to play in the AT&T pro-am four times. They hook up in Akron every summer when the Bridgestone tourney coincides with HOF weekend, which Swann attends as a past inductee.
Although the Browns-Steelers rivalry has lost some steam in recent years because of Cleveland's ongoing ineptitude, the bad blood continues to flow – which Furyk finds amusing.
"It makes me laugh," he says. "The cities are so similar, but they dislike each other so much, and they don't want to claim that part of it.
"But now we can both hate the Ravens."
Furyk grew up fantasizing about throwing passes to guys like Swann. He loved football and hoped to be a quarterback in high school.
The summer before his freshman year, though, he entered eight golf tournaments and won six of them. He called the football coach and said he was going out for the golf team.
A hall for him?
Furyk is quite likely headed toward his own sport's pantheon, the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla., only a half-hour drive from his home near Jacksonville.
He has won 17 times on the tour, including a major (2003 U.S. Open), and in 2010 won the coveted FedExCup.
Sitting with his favorite columnist in a deserted grillroom in the Firestone clubhouse, Furyk squirms a bit when asked about his chances, mainly because he is the antithesis of a self-promoter.
"I'm a little embarrassed or shy about addressing it at times," he admits, "but it would be a dream come true."
Furyk has visited the hall only once – he wanted to be present when longtime pal Phil Mickelson was inducted – but he didn't have a chance to tour it.
During the early stages of his career, Furyk never even considered the possibility of joining golf's all-time elite.
"When I turned pro, I was not one of those guys who they said, 'This is a can't-miss kid' or 'This guy's gonna win 10-20 events on the PGA Tour.' I just wasn't that person."
That's undoubtedly because of his unorthodox swing. Actually, calling it unorthodox doesn't do it justice. Commentator David Feherty probably put it best when he described Furyk's swing as "an octopus falling out of a tree."
Well, the octopus has certainly landed on his feet.
Furyk's unexpected journey through the golf galaxy has not only led to fame and fortune but also enabled him to meet stars in other fields – and not just Steelers.
"I've met so many interesting people," he says. "That's one reason I really enjoy going to the AT&T event, because you meet entertainers, singers, actors, successful businessmen, hall of famers from football, baseball, basketball ... .
"They all want to play golf. We can do that with them. We can't go play basketball or football with other athletes, but golf is just an amazing sport that brings all walks of life together."
Furyk's spectacular career has also given him the ability to help others, something he seems to relish.
In 2010, he and his wife, Tabitha, formed a charitable foundation whose major fundraiser is an annual celebrity golf tournament. In five years, the foundation has raised close to $3 million.
The money goes to carefully selected causes, many of which involve children.
Jim says starting a charity involved a learning curve and they suffered a few bumps. But that wasn't his biggest surprise.
"I'm stunned at how many people are looking for their next meal, how many people are not getting health care," he says. "It's staggering, and it's right in front of us.
"I realize that as Americans we're more fortunate than others and need to take care of other countries, but you don't have to go past your hometown – anyone's hometown, even as affluent as it sometimes looks – to find people who are really struggling."
Jim Furyk isn't struggling. He has earned nearly $65 million in prize money, and probably at least that much in endorsement deals.
Maybe he can buy the Browns a quarterback.
This article was written by Bob Dyer from The Akron Beacon Journal and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.