1 Pittsburgh Steelers Tuned up and rarin' to roll, the Bus wants to complete the trip to the Super Bowl this year

Sept. 02, 2002
Sept. 02, 2002

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Sept. 2, 2002

NFL Preview 2002

1 Pittsburgh Steelers Tuned up and rarin' to roll, the Bus wants to complete the trip to the Super Bowl this year

Of all the impressive moves running back Jerome Bettis has
made--contorting his 255-pound body to fit through tight holes,
dancing around would-be tacklers diving at his thick thighs,
bouncing off linebackers before galloping into the secondary--none
has impressed his teammates as much as when he strode into
training camp this summer in peak condition. His bearded face was
lean, and his normally tight T-shirt hung loosely on his stout
frame. Safety Lee Flowers even joked that for the first time in
seven seasons with Pittsburgh, Bettis seemed to be proud of his
biceps and triceps.

This is an article from the Sept. 2, 2002 issue

Only a month earlier Bettis's girth (he was easily 20 pounds
heavier) made it appear that he had been making round-the-clock
visits to Pizza Hut. "In June, Jerome wouldn't even tell us what
he weighed," Flowers says. "Now he's changing his shirt in
meetings to show off his muscle definition. We thought that if he
has that kind of work ethic, so should we."

Coming off a 13-3 season and expected to be a Super Bowl
contender this year, the Steelers are reassured by the sight of
a healthy Bettis. A severely pulled groin parked the Bus for the
final five regular-season games last year and limited him to
nine carries in a 24-17 loss to New England in the AFC title
game. Before the injury Bettis had put together his best season
in three years, running for a league-best 1,072 yards in 11

Healthy and determined to regain that form, Bettis was miffed by
the looks he got from teammates at the start of training camp.
"The guys kept saying how good I looked, and I started to get a
little upset," Bettis says. "I thought to myself, What did they
expect? I'm one of the most committed guys on this team. We have
a special group of guys. I'm not going to be the one to let them

The road to recovery took Bettis to St. Louis, where he trained
for four weeks with renowned track and field coach Bob Kersee.
Though Bettis normally trains twice daily in the summer, he spent
his mornings in St. Louis on the track doing distance and speed
work, his afternoons in the weight room and his evenings on a
stationary bike or treadmill. He was driven as much by reality as
by necessity. At 30 Bettis has banged for 10,876 career rushing
yards (12th in the NFL alltime), leaving his body as battered as
those of his tacklers. In fact, before last season critics
pointed to his declining production and gimpy left knee,
wondering if he was finished. He isn't, not by a long shot, but
he realizes that his chances of reaching the Super Bowl are
dwindling fast.

Even though this season's Pittsburgh squad returns a supremely
confident Kordell Stewart at quarterback and a highly rated
defense that lost only inside linebacker Earl Holmes in the
off-season, Bettis isn't about to let his teammates think another
postseason is guaranteed. "I've seen us go from the AFC
Championship Game to 7-9 the next year," he says. "That's why I'm
more scared than excited about this season. I don't want to see
that happen again, not on my watch. Besides, four years passed
[between playoff appearances], and if we have to wait four more
years for another shot at the Super Bowl, I might not be around
for it."

To help keep Bettis fresh this season, the Steelers will spell
him with fifth-year backup Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala and shifty
scatback Amos Zereoue, both of whom helped Pittsburgh lead the
NFL in rushing (173.4 yards a game) last season. "I've already
told Fu and Amos to get ready," says coach Bill Cowher. "Jerome
still needs his touches to wear down a defense, but we're going
to need all three of those guys."

The Steelers also are going to need the intangibles that Bettis
offers. His emotion. His pride. His passion. "He's our rock,"
says guard Alan Faneca.

Adds Flowers, "There's a reason why he has a $36 million
contract. He's a great player, and every time he breaks a long
run and does his little dance, it hypes us up. It's big to have
him back at 100 percent. We have all our bullets now." --J.C.



On passing downs the powerful and fast Kendrell Bell will shift
from inside linebacker to right defensive end. A gifted pass
rusher, he had nine sacks last season and was the NFL Defensive
Rookie of the Year. Pittsburgh also likes the idea of using Joey
Porter as the lone linebacker in the dime package. Porter is
better than Bell at pass coverage.

ENEMY LINES an opposing team's scout sizes up the Steelers

"One big question is whether Kordell Stewart will play as well as
he did last season. He threw three interceptions in the AFC
Championship Game loss in 1997 and spent the next three years in
a funk. After seeing him throw three picks in last year's AFC
Championship Game loss, I have to wonder if the same thing will
happen.... Plaxico Burress needs to take another step. He grew up
some last year, but he has the talent to be special.... The
offensive line is impressive, with three former first-round picks
and a second-rounder.... The defense should be strong again.
Replacing inside linebacker Earl Holmes with James Farrior was an
upgrade in talent, but they'll miss Holmes. He was a thumper, and
in that defense you need a thumper. The other inside linebacker,
Kendrell Bell, is good, but he makes a lot of plays by running
around instead of sticking his nose in there.... Aaron Smith is a
great 3-4 end because he has strength and athleticism and, like
all their defensive linemen, a high motor. In the secondary,
cornerbacks Chad Scott and Dewayne Washington aren't spectacular,
but they know the system and don't put themselves in bad
positions.... The Steelers are the team to beat in the division
and probably in the AFC. They have a bitter taste in their mouths
from last year, because they thought they deserved to be in the
Super Bowl."


Sept. 9 at New England (Mon.)
22 Open date

Oct. 6 at New Orleans
13 at Cincinnati
27 at Baltimore

Nov. 3 at Cleveland
17 at Tennessee

Dec. 1 at Jacksonville
23 at Tampa Bay (Mon.)


NFL rank: 31
Opponents' 2001 winning percentage: .458
Games against playoff teams: 5

PROJECTED LINEUP with 2001 statistics

COACH: Bill Cowher; 11th season with Pittsburgh (99-61 in NFL)
2001 RECORD: 13-3 (first in AFC Central)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 1/21/3; defense 1/4/1


QB Kordell Stewart 96
442 att. 266 comp. 60.2% 3,109 yds. 14 TDs 11 int. 81.7 rtg.

RB Jerome Bettis 50
225 att. 1,072 yds. 4.8 avg. 8 rec. 48 yds. 6.0 avg. 4 TDs

RB Amos Zereoue 216
85 att. 441 yds. 5.2 avg. 13 rec. 154 yds. 11.8 avg. 2 TDs

FB Dan Kreider 366
7 att. 29 yds. 4.1 avg. 2 rec. 5 yds. 2.5 avg. 1 TD



WR Hines Ward 70 94 rec. 1,003 yds. 4 TDs
WR Plaxico Burress 68 66 rec. 1,008 yds. 6 TDs
WR Antwaan Randle El(R)[N] 215 4 rec. 30 yds. 0 TDs
TE Mark Bruener 264 12 rec. 98 yds. 0 TDs
K Todd Peterson[N] 191 27/28 XPs 27/35 FGs 108 pts.
PR Antwaan Randle El(R)[N] 215 0 ret. no avg. 0 TDs
KR Antwaan Randle El(R)[N] 215 0 ret. no avg. 0 TDs

LT Wayne Gandy 6'5" 308 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
LG Alan Faneca 6'5" 310 lbs. 15 games 15 starts
C Jeff Hartings 6'3" 295 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Oliver Ross 6'5" 314 lbs. 16 games 7 starts
RT Marvel Smith 6'5" 310 lbs. 16 games 16 starts


LE Aaron Smith 22 tackles 8 sacks
NT Casey Hampton 9 tackles 1 sack
RE Kimo von Oelhoffen 20 tackles 4 sacks
OLB Jason Gildon 42 tackles 12 sacks
ILB James Farrior[N] 106 tackles 1 sack
ILB Kendrell Bell 70 tackles 9 sacks
OLB Joey Porter 45 tackles 9 sacks
CB Chad Scott 71 tackles 5 int.
SS Lee Flowers 48 tackles 1 sack
FS Brent Alexander 53 tackles 4 int.
CB Dewayne Washington 66 tackles 1 int.
P Josh Miller 59 punts 42.5 avg.

[N] New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 98)

"The Steelers have a bitter taste in their mouths; they thought
they deserved to be in the Super Bowl."