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lamberts-lost-tooth
06-10-2007, 07:42 AM
By Scott Brown
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, June 10, 2007


Atop the rather nondescript rectangular building on the corner of Carson and 26th streets hangs a banner that reads "Home of Ike Taylor's Mafia."
Inside the South Side bar and restaurant, not far from where autographed pictures of "The Sopranos" stars adorn a wall, manager Alisa Cafaro, the unofficial boss of what has became Taylor's other family, talks about the unlikely circumstance that led to the adoption of the Steelers' cornerback -- so to speak.

Taylor, to be sure, is a regular at Excuses Bar & Grill (note to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin: fear not, because plenty of sparkling water is kept on hand for him). And it is easy to see why the fourth-year pro feels comfortable in what he refers to as another home.

"Ike Taylor's PO' Boy sandwich," a nod to his Cajun roots that can best be described as a spicy hoagie, is on the menu, and at Excuses, the No. 24 signifies more than just his jersey number. It is also the selection on the jukebox that plays "Ike Ike Baby," an ode to Taylor by two brothers that is a take on the 1990 hit "Ice Ice Baby" by rapper Vanilla Ice.

The name of what Taylor calls his "spot" proved to be quite ironic last season because it was one of the few places where he didn't have to offer any excuses as he endured one of the more difficult periods in his life.
The glow of the Steelers' fifth Super Bowl win and Taylor's own emergence as a premier cornerback faded in the midst of the team's 2-6 start. A couple of games later, Taylor became the face, and some might say scapegoat, of an underachieving defense when he lost his starting job.

Reduced to a reserve role for five consecutive games, Taylor started at left cornerback in the season finale at Cincinnati. But the demotion proved to be quite a fall for the player who had intercepted passes in both the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl the previous season and later signed a four-year contract extension worth $22.5 million.

And in some strange way, the 6-foot-1, 191-pound Taylor saw the struggles that defined his 2006 season coming.

"I couldn't do no wrong," he said of the 2005 season. "I pretty much held my own against all the receivers, so I knew in my head it was just a matter of time. Something was going to happen."

That didn't make what happened any easier to accept.

"I was just so frustrated. So frustrated," Taylor said. "I've never been that frustrated in my life. When nothing's going your way you can easily pick out somebody or point out somebody. That's easy to do.

"What I went through last year, I wouldn't wish that on nobody and that situation just made me stronger as a person."

Cornerback may be the loneliest position in football, something Taylor found out when he got beat on two jump balls by wide receiver Javon Walker that went for touchdowns in the Steelers' 31-20 loss to the Denver Broncos. He also missed a tackle on a Walker's 72-yard touchdown run off a reverse.

But the low point of the season came three weeks later when he found himself out of the starting lineup when the Steelers played the Ravens.

Cafaro says what Taylor won't -- that he was unfairly singled out on the defense -- and she was so angry that she felt like walking to Baltimore to confront coach Bill Cowher herself.

"It was ridiculous," she said, "absolutely ridiculous."

If Cafaro and others at Excuses are fiercely protective of Taylor, that is because they cheered him before he broke into the starting lineup in 2005.

A group of them had attended the NFL Draft in 2003 when the Steelers selected Taylor in the fourth round out of a little-known school named Louisiana-Lafayette.

They decided, she said, they would root for the "underdog" and their ties to him became even stronger when Taylor wandered into the place right before the start of his rookie season (he lives nearby).

As Cafaro and Taylor talked about the unique relationship that has developed between him and the people at Excuses, they seemed confident that they'll be able to celebrate again like they did when Taylor returned to Pittsburgh as a Super Bowl hero. In addition to his interception, he led the Steelers with seven tackles in that game.

Taylor has already built a strong rapport with his new coach, and the two talked for 30 to 40 minutes on the phone shortly after the Steelers hired Tomlin.

"Just having a head coach and being able to talk to him like that on a one-on-one basis, that's hard to come by," Taylor said.

Given Tomlin's background coaching defensive backs, the reclamation of Taylor surely has to be one of his top priorities.

"He has great physical talent. He has the desire to be great," Tomlin said recently. "Based on my experiences, with him thus far his actions match his words in terms of being what he wants to be. All he has to do is cross the threshold of that door on a daily basis with that attitude."

Taylor, who turned 27 last month, certainly appears to have reclaimed the kind of attitude that a cornerback must have.

His confidence is such that Taylor doesn't refer to it as a swagger but calls it "swagging."

"It's so high right now," he said. "I'm not going to let (what happened last season) happen again. Ever."

Ike Ike Baby, indeed.

fansince'76
06-10-2007, 07:49 AM
Closing this thread as it is a duplicate of this one: http://forums.steelersfever.com/showthread.php?t=17272