Lawrenceville grandmother unwittingly plays pickleball with Steelers TJ Watt, Alex Highsmith, Minkah Fitzpatrick

She has become a viral sensation on Twitter. She has been interviewed by newspapers and TV stations, and she has done the morning radio show circuit.

Meg Burkardt’s time in the spotlight has exceeded her allotted 15 minutes, but she is not done soaking in the attention.

“I’m going to be in my rocking chair talking about this when I’m 90,” Burkardt said with a laugh. “I’ll never get tired of talking about this.”

Burkardt will relish telling her five children and grandkids — she has one now — about the time she rounded out a foursome on the pickleball court and played with three members of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense.

Not just any three members, either. The NFL Defensive Player of the Year, a two-time All-Pro safety and an up-and-coming starting outside linebacker were Burkardt’s partners and opponents Saturday afternoon at the North Park courts.

To Burkardt, an attorney from Lawrenceville, the best part of the story is she initially didn’t know she was playing with TJ Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Alex Highsmith until late in their round-robin pickup games.

“I had no clue,” said Burkardt, who admitted Tuesday she doesn’t watch a lot of sports on TV. “I noticed they were fit, and I was going to ask them how they all knew each other.”

It wasn’t until a crowd formed that Burkardt learned she was in some impressive company.

“A woman came up with a child and asked if she could get a picture,” Burkardt said. “Then, I realized she didn’t want a picture of me. But I said, wait a minute, I’m the one winning here. Don’t you want my picture, too?”

That is how Burkardt came to be photographed with Fitzpatrick on her left and Watt and Highsmith flanked on her right — a picture that went viral less than 24 hours after her daughter, Natalie, posted it on Twitter.

It didn’t hurt that in the caption, Natalie wrote: “My mom whooped some Steelers in pickleball today lol.” Watt even got into the fun, retweeting the post and adding, “Meg was serving the HEAT. We had trouble every day.”

It turns out that Watt wasn’t kidding. Burkardt has played recreationally for only two years, but she was the most experienced pickleball player on the court. She said the three Steelers players had just purchased rackets and a ball and that Watt was the only one with minimal playing experience. They caught on quickly, though.


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“These guys are so fast and so athletic and have really quick hands,” Burkardt said. “Each game they were getting exponentially better.”

It was coincidence that led to Burkardt playing with the three Steelers players, who had just wrapped up minicamp — the final phase of offseason workouts — two days earlier. She had gone hiking with friends earlier Saturday, but while driving home she decided to head to the North Park courts for a game.

“What was I going to do at home?” Burkardt said. “I figured I’d try to jump into a pickup game. I have a fun group of friends who play up there.”

When she arrived at the courts, she didn’t see her friends. Instead, she spied two Steelers (Watt and Fitzpatrick) on a court, with Highsmith sitting on a bench. Guessing that Highsmith didn’t have a paddle — he did — she grabbed a spare from her bag, approached the Steelers trio and asked if they wanted to play doubles.

“I was trying to connive any way of getting a game together,” she admitted.

Burkardt rotated partners for several games before the group decided that the most competitive match would pit Watt and Highsmith against Fitzpatrick and Burkardt. By this point, a crowd had formed, and Burkardt became aware she was playing with three Steelers.

“I can’t remember feeling nervous,” she said. “I remember I wanted to win.”

Win, she did. Burkardt said the final match was tied 9-9 before her side got two more points for an 11-9 victory.

“I’m just an average player, nothing special,” Burkardt said. “I left there thinking nothing more than I can’t wait to tell my kids. I didn’t even remember their names. I just knew they were some Steelers. That it has turned into this is hilarious.”

She said the Steelers players couldn’t have been nicer.

“I’m not big on watching sports on TV, but I’ll certainly be watching these guys,” she said. “They were fun to play with. It just felt good that they were representing Pittsburgh wherever they go, and they are doing a fabulous job of it.”

Three days after her brush with fame, Burkardt continues to get calls and texts. Daughter Natalie has become her public relations agent of sorts, setting up interviews for her mother.

“My phone has been going off nonstop,” Meg Burkardt said. “I’ve heard from friends I haven’t talked to in a long time because people have seen this from all over the country. It’s been really nice. It’s been fun.”

Joe Rutter is a Tribune Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at jrutter@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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