Shhhh. Don't say this too loud, especially in and around downtown
Pittsburgh, but the Steelers are happy to be out of Three Rivers
Stadium. And not just because it had crummy artificial turf and
pipes that occasionally burst.
It's fitting that Lynn Swann, the 10th and quite possibly last
player, coach or executive from the Steelers' Super Bowl champs
of the '70s to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was
inducted just weeks before the 2001 team was to christen Heinz
Field. Swann's enshrinement ended the Three Rivers era. The new
stadium has refreshed the Pittsburgh franchise. Heinz Field
offers a stunning view of the city at one end as well as a museum
that celebrates the football heritage of western Pennsylvania.
The best thing about the new place, though, is that it's not the
"The history here has been a double-edged sword for us," says
running back Jerome Bettis. "Lynn Swann, Franco Harris, Terry
Bradshaw, Jack Lambert, Mel Blount--those names always resonated
around the old stadium, and they should, because that team won
four Super Bowls. It was always clear to us what was expected of
this team every season: a championship. Not that we expect less
now, but moving [to Heinz Field] gives us a chance to set the
tone for future generations of Steelers, rather than having it
set for us. I think a lot of guys are looking forward to that."
"Now," echoes quarterback Kordell Stewart, "I won't be walking in
anyone's shadow but my own."
No matter whose shadow he's in, the 28-year-old Stewart--a
perennial disappointment--remains the key to Pittsburgh's success.
The Steelers always have enough defense to compete in the
rock-'em, sock-'em AFC Central; last season they allowed a mere
15.9 points per game. They always have a physical, ball-control
running game: They've rushed for 4.0 yards per carry or better in
10 of the past 11 years, and the oft-banged-up Bettis says he's
as healthy as he has been in any preseason since joining the team
in 1996. Now it's up to Stewart and the new offense installed by
first-year offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, a scheme that has
the players, as Stewart says, "thinking less and playing more."
In last year's offense, orchestrated by deposed coordinator Kevin
Gilbride, a receiver would have two or three options on most
routes and would decide which option to take as he ran downfield
and saw who was covering him and how he was being covered. The
quarterback would have to wait to see which route the receiver
would run before cutting the ball loose. Mularkey, Pittsburgh's
former tight ends coach, wants to simplify the game for Stewart
and underachieving receivers Troy Edwards and Plaxico Burress--the
Steelers' first-round draft choices in 1999 and 2000,
respectively--by using more single-option routes. If Stewart can't
find the open man, Mularkey wants Stewart to be the man and run.
It's hard to muster up faith in Stewart, who's been falling off
and climbing back onto coach Bill Cowher's quarterback tightrope
for the past four seasons. In his six-year career he has thrown
more interceptions (55) than TD passes (50), and his putrid 68.4
career passer rating is lower even than Tony Banks's. There's no
reason to think this year will be much different--until you see
the change in Stewart.
"I have never been this happy entering a season, this confident
in my ability to do well in a system," he says. Sullen after most
recent fall Sundays because of the hometown booing he endured,
Stewart enters the season buoyant. "I have been through hell in
this city, frickin' hell," he says. "Do you realize what an icon
I was early in my career? I blew up! Came out of nowhere! I had
$2 million in endorsements after just my third year. Then I fell
off the face of the earth."
And now? "Now Mike Mularkey has basically said to me, 'Play
football. Make plays. Be the great athlete that you are.' In the
past couple of years I've entered games worrying too much and
trying to please coaches. This offense caters more to my skills.
You can't take Drew Bledsoe and make him run play-action and roll
out. He's a drop-back guy. In the old offense there were too many
ifs, too much thinking. Now I look at one or two things and make
the play. That's the way I've always played [my best] football."
Stewart is not the only Steeler with a newfound confidence.
Mindful that his team plays in the same division as the last two
AFC Super Bowl representatives, tight end Mark Bruener is quick
to point out that Pittsburgh was "the last team to beat
Baltimore, and we had two down-to-the-wire games with Tennessee
[23-20 and 9-7 losses]. I'm not trying to make bulletin-board
material here, but I believe we can be as competitive as both of
those teams this year."
For that to happen, the new Kordell will have to be as good as
the new stadium.
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER With Earl Holmes as a mainstay, defense should again be the Steelers' strong suit.
COLOR PHOTO: LYNN JOHNSON WASHINGTON
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Steelers
"I can't see Kordell Stewart being the leader of a dominant team.
How can this team trust him after all the down times he's had?
Athleticism saves him a lot, but he's too streaky a passer to win
consistently.... I love Jerome Bettis. He's been counted out
three or four times in his career, but he's always there in
December, gaining big yards. He'll need to be great this season
because I don't like the receivers at all, except for Hines Ward.
He has sure hands. Plaxico Burress doesn't know how hard you have
to work to be a big-time player, and Troy Edwards is way too
inconsistent.... Mark Bruener's a hidden gem; he's in the top 10
in the league in catching the ball and as a blocker.... The
offensive line will struggle. I can't figure out why they made
Jeff Hartings one of the highest-paid centers in history when he
hasn't played the position [since high school]. Marvel Smith is a
fighter who could develop into a good one.... The defense is
down. Casey Hampton always gave his best effort in college, but I
worry about his getting overpowered with his short arms.... Earl
Holmes is one of the league's best linebackers, a brute force at
the point of attack. People should talk about him in Ray Lewis's
class.... Joey Porter and Jason Gildon can be blocked, which
means the Steelers don't have a good pass rush.... I like the
corners, Chad Scott and Dewayne Washington. As a pair, they're in
the top half of the league, easy."
Sept. 9 at Jacksonville
23 Open date
30 at Buffalo
Oct. 7 CINCINNATI
14 at Kansas City
21 at Tampa Bay
29 TENNESSEE (Mon.)
Nov. 4 BALTIMORE
11 at Cleveland
25 at Tennessee
Dec. 2 MINNESOTA
9 N.Y. JETS
16 at Baltimore
30 at Cincinnati
2001 SCHEDULE STRENGTH
NFL rank: 7 (tie)
Opponents' 2000 winning percentage: .516
Games against playoff teams: 6
with 2000 statistics
COACH: Bill Cowher; 10th season with Pittsburgh (86-58 in NFL)
2000 RECORD: 9-7 (third in AFC Central)
NFL rank (rush/pass/total): offense 4/29/18; defense 12/9/7
OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*
QB Kordell Stewart 149 289 att. 151 comp. 52.2% 1,860 yds.
11 TDs 8 int. 73.6 rtg.
RB Jerome Bettis 43 355 att. 1,341 yds. 3.8 avg. 13 rec.
97 yds. 7.5 avg. 8 TDs
RB Chris 271 21 att. 149 yds. 7.1 avg. 11 rec.
Fuamatu-Ma'afala 107 yds. 9.7 avg. 1 TD
FB Dan Kreider 352 2 att. 24 yds. 12.0 avg. 5 rec.
42 yds. 8.4 avg. 0 TDs
RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
WR Hines Ward 139 48 rec. 672 yds. 4 TDs
WR Plaxico Burress 205 22 rec. 273 yds. 0 TDs
WR Bobby Shaw 188 40 rec. 672 yds. 4 TDs
TE Mark Bruener 267 17 rec. 192 yds. 3 TDs
K Kris Brown 198 32/33 XPs 25/30 FGs 107 pts.
PR Hank Poteat 378 36 ret. 13.0 avg. 1 TD
KR Hank Poteat 378 24 ret. 19.4 avg. 0 TDs
LT Wayne Gandy 6'5" 310 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Alan Faneca 6'4" 300 Lbs. 16 Games 16 Starts
C Jeff Hartings[N] 6'3" 295 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Rich Tylski 6'5" 308 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Marvel Smith 6'5" 320 lbs. 12 games 9 starts
LE Aaron Smith 42 tackles 4 sacks
NT Casey Hampton (R)[N]78 tackles 3 1/2 sacks
RE Kimo von Oelhoffen 43 tackles 1 sack
OLB Jason Gildon 75 tackles 13 1/2 sacks
ILB Earl Holmes 127 tackles 1 sack
ILB Kendrell Bell(R)[N] 87 tackles 2 sacks
OLB Joey Porter 60 tackles 10 1/2 sacks
CB Chad Scott 70 tackles 5 int.
SS Lee Flowers 82 tackles 1 int.
FS Brent Alexander 75 tackles 3 int.
CB Dewayne Washington 79 tackles 5 int.
P Josh Miller 90 punts 43.8 avg.
[N]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 119)
"Burress doesn't know how hard you have to work to be a big-time