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12-10-2006, 08:25 AM
Parker rushing past Hall of Famers on Steelers' list

By The Associated Press
Sunday, December 10, 2006


Franco Harris. Jerome Bettis. John Henry Johnson.

They are among the top rushers in NFL history ? two are Hall of Famers, and Bettis may join them some day ? and each is high up on the Pittsburgh Steelers' single-game yardage list.

Remarkably, none ever had a game like Willie Parker did.

Make that two games.

In less than a month, Parker has the No. 1 and No. 3 single-game rushing performances in Steelers history. He ran for a club-record 223 yards Thursday night against the Browns in little more than three quarters, a big night that followed up a 213-yard game against the Saints on Nov. 12.

"It means a lot, I'm not going to sit here and say it don't," Parker said of a performance that also gave him a second straight 1,000-yard season. "I came a long way."

Until this season, the Steelers had only a pair of 200-yard games in their 74-season history, John "Frenchy" Fuqua's 218 yards against the Eagles in 1970 and Johnson's 200-yard game against the Browns in 1964. Now, Parker has doubled that list by himself.

Which raises this question: Considering how easily the yards came to Parker during the Steelers' 27-7 victory Thursday, could he have threatened the NFL record of 295 yards by Baltimore's Jamal Lewis against ? you guessed it, the Browns ? in 2003?

Parker ran only three times in the fourth quarter for 11 yards, enough to get the team record before sitting down. The 223 yards are the most by an NFL running back this season.

"Coach (Bill) Cowher didn't come to me and say to set the NFL record, he said the Steelers record, so I guess the NFL record is out of the books," Parker said.

Steelers linebacker Joey Porter badmouthed the Browns during a lengthy postgame rant in which he suggested Parker could have gotten as many yards as he wanted.

"He ran the ball well and they couldn't stop him," Porter said. "At some points in time, they had nine, 10 people in the box and he was breaking it."

That he is breaking records in his third NFL season seems a bit preposterous to Parker, one of the few NFL players who can say he was signed on the recommendation of the owner's son.

Parker got considerable playing time as a freshman running back at North Carolina in 2000, but found himself getting the ball less and less as his career under coach John Bunting wore on. He had only 181 yards as a senior, a number he reached Thursday by the third quarter.

As a result, Parker didn't get much attention from NFL scouts. But North Carolina-based Steelers scout Dan Rooney Jr. ? the son of the Hall of Fame owner ? remembered the speed Parker first displayed as a high school running back. So the Steelers signed Parker as a non-drafted rookie in the hours immediately after the 2004 draft.

That speed so intrigued Cowher that he kept Parker on the 53-man roster, even though the Steelers had just signed Duce Staley to be their starting running back and also had Bettis, the No. 5 rusher in NFL history.

Parker's signing, little noticed at the time, might have won a Super Bowl for the Steelers.

After Bettis and Staley were hurt in training camp a year ago, Parker won the starting job, rushed for 1,202 yards during the season, then had a Super Bowl record 75-yard TD run in the 21-10 championship game victory over Seattle.

"I always say I came a long way and it means a lot," said Parker, who signed a $13.4 million, four-year contract extension in August.

When Parker broke the record, he and Cowher hugged along the sideline. Coincidentally, Parker's record game came during the same week the Steelers released Staley, who was hurt halfway through the 2004 season and, partly because of Parker, never was a starter again.

"He (Cowher) told me how proud he was of me and of how far I came," Parker said. "It was like a father-son relationship. He embraced me. It got emotional."

Another name on the Steelers' list of single-game rushing leaders also had a hand in Parker's success.

Dick Hoak, who had a 169-yard game against the Saints in 1969, has been a Steelers player or assistant coach every year but one since 1961, working the last 35 years as their running backs coach. He was a teammate, coach, or both, of every player on the top-10 rushing list.

So when Parker was asked about Fuqua ? best known as the intended receiver on Harris' Immaculate Reception against the Raiders in 1972 ? the name wasn't unfamiliar to him.

"Coach Hoak talks about him all of the time," Parker said.

No doubt Hoak will be talking about Parker for a long time, too.

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_483520.html