View Full Version : Undrafted players will play important roles in Super Bowl XLIII

01-28-2009, 08:02 PM
Undrafted players will play important roles in Super Bowl XLIII

07:51 PM CST on Wednesday, January 28, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. Good NFL scouts find good players sometimes even when they aren't looking for them.

Willie Parker is one of those players. He's a two-time Pro Bowl running back. Fellow Steeler James Harrison is another. He was NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. So are Pro Bowl quarterback Kurt Warner of the NFC champion Arizona Cardinals and his center, Lyle Sendlein.

None were drafted into the NFL but all are starting Sunday in the Super Bowl.

Dan Rooney Jr., the son of Steelers' Hall of Fame owner Dan Rooney, became the club's Southeast scout in the late 1990s. His wife is a doctor and, after finishing her residency, she took a job in the small North Carolina town of Clinton, where the family would re-locate.

"There are 9,000 people there and not much to do," Rooney said. "So a guy tells me there's a real good high school football player in town named Willie Parker, and he's going to North Carolina."

Rooney watched Parker play a few times in high school and kept tabs on his college career from afar. There wasn't much to it five starts in four seasons. He didn't start any games as a senior in 2003, carried the ball only 48 times and never reached the end zone.

"I figured if we're in the market for a running back after the draft, you try to target a guy who might be able to help that we can afford," Rooney said. "We weren't going to pay a ton of money.

"So I was calling Willie once a week in February, March and April, checking in with him. I told him, `Look, if we draft a running back, go somewhere else.' "

Parker threw Rooney a curve at his campus workout in March. It was lights out. He had the measurables of an NFL prospect but not the statistics. Fortunately, there was only one other team there to witness the Willie Parker show on the North Carolina campus the Indianapolis Colts.

"I was a little worried about them," Rooney said. "The Colts do a great job (scouting), very thorough. And I knew they'd throw some money around after the draft.

"So I called Willie's agent after the draft and asked if he got anything. When he said no, I told him our situation. I recruited the kid all spring. I was hoping he'd be there."

So Parker signed with the Steelers as an undrafted, unwanted college free agent to fill out the 80-man training camp roster, cashing a modest $4,000 signing bonus.

"I thought he was a camp guy, maybe more," Rooney said. "But Coach (Bill) Cowher gives everyone a fair shot. The guy comes in, shows a little speed and Bill says let him carry the ball some in the pre-season. Then Bill decided to keep him."

Parker led the Steelers in rushing that pre-season but didn't suit up for a game until November. Then he won the starting position in 2005, split time with Jerome Bettis and scored a 75-yard touchdown in the final game of that season the Super Bowl.

Parker rushed for 1,494 yards in 2006 and 1,316 in 2007 to earn a pair of Pro Bowl invitations. Injuries cost him a third consecutive Pro Bowl berth in 2008, sidelining him for five games. But he's healthy now with two 100-yard rushing games in his last three outings.

"I liked Willie," Rooney said. "But I never thought he'd be starting a Super Bowl for us."

Harrison signed with the Steelers out of Kent State in 2002 and was cut three times before finally sticking in 2004. He became a starter and Pro Bowler in 2007 and the best defensive player in the NFL in 2008.

Warner was undrafted out of Northern Iowa in 1994 and played in both NFL Europe and the Arena League before hooking on with the St. Louis Rams in 1998. He became a starter, NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP in 1999. This will be his third Super Bowl.

Sendlein closed his career at the University of Texas with 26 consecutive starts at center but went undrafted in 2007. A native of Scottsdale, Ariz., Sendlein signed with his hometown Cardinals and started two games as a rookie. He started all 19 games for the NFL's fourth-ranked offense in 2008.