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Old 09-07-2006, 03:05 AM   #1
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Default A Nice read on Gameday ....

By Gary Mihoces, USA TODAY
PITTSBURGH ? Seven months after taking the hard road to a Super Bowl title, the question is whether the Pittsburgh Steelers can handle all that's happened since.
Last season's sixth-seeded wild card got hot when it counted most and caught some breaks. The Steelers are on no such roll going into Thursday night's NFL season opener against the visiting Miami Dolphins.

The highlight of their 0-4 preseason: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looked sharp despite injuries received in a near-fatal motorcycle crash in mid-June. But he's out for at least the opener because of an appendectomy Sunday.

Running back Jerome Bettis has retired and multipurpose receiver Antwaan Randle El and two other starters are gone via free agency. Coach Bill Cowher, in his 15th year as the sideline face of the Steelers, isn't saying if he'll be back next season to finish his contract. In the past he has received an extension with two years remaining. This season is different.

Yet the Steelers also return the bulk of their lineup, they have been built for continuity by the Rooney family and linebacker Joey Porter still says what he thinks.

"It still feels like we're a championship team," Porter says. "We've got a chance to go out there and prove it."

Thursday, a funeral will be held for Pittsburgh mayor Bob O'Connor, who died Friday from brain cancer. Thursday night, O'Connor's son, Corey, 22, will lead Steelers fans in the "Terrible Towels" wave before kickoff.

"Adversity is not what knocks you down. It is how you handle it," Cowher says.

Last season the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals went 11-5 in the AFC North. Cincinnati won the division with a better division record (5-1 to 4-2). But Cowher guided the Steelers to AFC road playoff wins in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver. Then they won the big one against the Seattle Seahawks in Detroit.

Wide receiver Hines Ward, Super Bowl MVP, sat out the preseason games with a hamstring injury but is expected to play vs. the Dolphins as Charlie Batch takes over at quarterback.

"I can go out there and help this team win ballgames," Ward says.

Center Jeff Hartings says the big test will be from the neck up: "It's going to be our attitude. ... Every team is going to be gunning for you. It probably is more mental than physical."

Bettis, now an NBC football analyst, says he is of a split mind when it comes to Pittsburgh repeating.

"The player in me, I know these guys, and I want these guys to repeat. So I believe they can repeat," he said Wednesday in Pittsburgh at a Heinz Field ceremony to unveil his recreated locker in the stadium's Great Hall.

"But the analyst side of me says, 'It's going to be difficult.' It took (26) years to win the first (since the '70s) and that's a hard thing to do. Everybody is gunning for you."

The Rooney way of business

After the mayor's death, Cowher noted O'Connor grew up in town and had the "chance to experience a dream job."

Cowher, another hometown guy, has taken Pittsburgh to the playoffs 10 times in 14 seasons as the NFL's longest-tenured coach.

At the start of camp, he declined to elaborate on why he and his wife, Kaye, had bought a home in Raleigh, N.C. Both are graduates of North Carolina State.

"I'm up here and I'm coaching," he said. "For me to talk about my personal life ... would be inappropriate."

Hartings says Cowher is the "same guy" and his status has not been a distraction: "I don't think anybody is saying a word about it. ... When he finally decides to hang it up, that will probably be the time that guys are going to have to adjust."

Club President Art Rooney II issued a statement saying the club hopes to keep Cowher for "many more years" but talks won't resume until after the season.

Meanwhile, the Steelers go about their business. They build through the draft, sign selective free agents and sometimes let productive players go.

Randle El got a big contract with the Washington Redskins, starting defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen left for the New York Jets and starting free safety Chris Hope signed with the Tennessee Titans. More quietly, the Steelers recently gave contract extensions to two young talents: running back Willie Parker and cornerback Ike Taylor.

"We try to upgrade in a responsible way financially," Rooney says. "We don't try to mortgage the future. We try and put a team on the field each and every year that has a chance to win ... and for the most part it's worked."

The Steelers were founded by Hall of Famer Art Rooney. He passed direction of the team to his son Dan, another Hall of Famer, who presided over the four Super Bowl titles of the '70s.

Now, Arthur J. Rooney II, Dan's son, is club president. Forty summers ago, he was a ball boy at the Steelers' first camp in Latrobe, Pa. This summer, his son Dan, 16, was a ball boy. "All the Rooneys are ball boys," Rooney says.

Running the club has changed.

"We have free agency and the salary cap. Salaries are a lot bigger than they used to be, and the organization is bigger," Rooney says.

"Things are changing, but the thing I learned from both my father and my grandfather is that the important thing about the organization is what happens on the field and everything else is kind of a sideshow."

Roethlisberger absence felt

Fan Kevin Walro, 51, who grew up in nearby Jeannette, Pa., but now lives in Louisville, salutes the Steelers for operating as an "efficient business." But he says their fandom goes beyond that.

"It's like a religion," says Walro, who visited camp this summer. "In the '70s, when the steel mills were closing ... winning Super Bowls was more than winning Super Bowls. It was keeping a city together."

The recent title rekindled that. So it's no surprise Steelers fans remember where they were when they heard the news flashes about Roethlisberger's motorcycle collision with an auto.

Among them are students Allison Tomei, 20, and Ashleigh Orthen, 19, of nearby Irwin, Pa. They visited camp wearing No. 7 Roethlisberger jerseys.

The day of the accident, Orthen was at work at a pool and spa store. "Everyone just stopped," she says.

Tomei was babysitting. "The little boy was 10 years old, and he was in tears. ... I was like, 'He'll be fine. He'll be fine.' "

Despite a broken jaw, broken nose, facial fractures and a mild concussion, Roethlisberger was ready for the start of camp. Then came Sunday's appendectomy. He was released from the hospital Monday and returned to the training complex Tuesday to watch practice and chat with teammates.

The Steelers aren't saying when Roethlisberger might be back. Ward had the same appendectomy (no major incisions) in 2002, missed two preseason games and started the opener. He hopes Roethlisberger can return for the second game, Monday night, Sept. 18, in Jacksonville. The following game is at home against rival Cincinnati.

"Knowing Ben ... he's going to do whatever it takes to play," Ward says.

Cowher says he won't update Roethlisberger's status until next week. "Ben's a very resilient young man. ... He has proven that," Cowher says. "He is a guy that has thrived on all of the circumstances ... thrown his way."

Responding to the 'challenge'

Batch, in his ninth season, started twice last year after Roethlisberger had knee surgery and led the Steelers to wins against Green Bay and Cleveland.

With Batch sidelined the following week with an injured hand, the Steelers lost in Baltimore with Tommy Maddox at quarterback. Roethlisberger returned and Pittsburgh lost to Indianapolis and Cincinnati to drop to 7-5.

They won them all after that.

The Steelers got big plays out of Porter and safety Troy Polamalu, among others, on defense. Parker blossomed in his first season as a starter, running for 1,202 yards, 4.7 a carry. Roethlisberger took his game up a notch in the playoffs, at least until the Super Bowl, when he threw two interceptions.

Thursday, Pittsburgh will be without a quarterback who is 27-4 as a starter in the NFL. "It's another big challenge," Porter says. "Each week presents a different obstacle, and this is just kind of weird because it's fresh out of the gate."

Thursday-night openers come with Super Bowl titles. "It won't hinder us at all. ... If you just forget about the days, it's just like a normal schedule," Cowher says.

But linebacker James Farrior says the season seems accelerated: "It seems like we didn't even take a break. We're back into it. In a way, I feel like that's how it should be ... right back into it and try to pick up where we left off."
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Old 09-07-2006, 05:58 AM   #2
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Default Re: A Nice read on Gameday ....

very good read...thanks for posting it....
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