Big Lead Sports Bar


Can We Get Off Willie Parker's Back Now?

A percentage of Steeler fans and "experts" (such as John Clayton) keep trying to tell us that the team needs a power back to win more games. What this is, in actuality, is a huge slap in the face to the superstar already in their backfield, one "Fast" Willie Parker.
I was talking to my Dad before the game and told him my plans to write a very pro-Parker article very soon. Little did I know that the article I was thinking of would happen just hours later, for obvious reasons.
After Thursday night's franchise-record 223 yards rushing against the Browns, Parker now holds two of the top three single-game rushing marks in the storied history of the Pittsburgh Steeler franchise. He is the only Steeler to ever run for (2) 200-yard games in the same season. He holds the Super Bowl record for the longest touchdown run in the game's 40-year history. Yet we continue to hear predictions of how the Steelers will use their first-round pick to draft a running back coming off of a broken leg, or sign another running back in free agency that had his best year four seasons ago. But all these brainiacs seem to forget one thing. So let's all say it together. You're only as good as your line. You're only as good as your line. You're only as good as your line. The fact that Parker has accumulated 1,199 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns behind this particular line is even more impressive.
Please, someone show me where it is written that the Steelers have to have a big, bruising running back as the focal point of their running game in order to win a Super Bowl. You'd think these Parker Haters would back off after, oh, I don't know...the team won the Super Bowl with Parker as the feature back. But no, that was because Bettis still lingered on the Steelers' roster.

Bettis was a fantastic running back. One of the all-time greats, a first-ballot HOFer. But I ask, how many Super Bowls did the Steelers win with Bettis in his prime? That's right, zero.

Courtesy of, here are the career lifetime playoff stats for The Bus:

Year Opp Result | RSH YD TD | REC YD TD
1996 ind W,42-14 | 25 102 2 | 1 4 0
1996 nwe L,3-28 | 13 43 0 | 2 -1 0
1997 nwe W,7-6 | 25 67 0 | 1 7 0
1997 den L,21-24 | 23 105 1 | 1 3 0
2001 nwe L,17-24 | 9 8 1 | 0 0 0
2002 cle W,36-33 | 1 -2 0 | 0 0 0
2002 ten L,31-34 | 3 6 0 | 0 0 0
2004 nyj W,20-17 | 27 101 1 | 1 21 0
2004 nwe L,27-41 | 17 64 1 | 0 0 0
2005 cin W,31-17 | 10 52 1 | 0 0 0
2005 ind W,21-18 | 17 46 1 | 0 0 0
2005 den W,34-17 | 15 39 1 | 0 0 0
*2005 sea W,21-10 | 14 43 0 | 0 0 0
TOTAL | 199 674 9 | 6 34 0

That's right...out of 13 career playoff games, a grand total of 3 100-yarders, with an average of less than 3 1/2 yards per carry. I wonder why Bettis fared so poorly in playoff games...could it be the fact that his style contributed considerable wear on his frame by the time the postseason came around?

But this is not meant to be a Bettis-bashing piece. I wouldn't have traded Jerome for the world, and I enjoyed watching him run opponents over all those years. This is meant to be a bashing of the "Steeler Way", at least the way it is portrayed in the media.

The "Steeler Way" should be having a good line and a quality running back. He doesn't have to weigh 250 pounds, he doesn't have to be a human bowling ball, he just needs to make plays. The Bus has retired. He plays for NBC now, not the Steelers. He's not coming back. Get over it. Michael Bush is not Jerome Bettis, nor is T.J. Duckett. Neither Bush nor Duckett will finish 5th all-time in rushing when their careers are over. Their mere presence will not ensure a return to glory for this franchise.

The absurdity of hearing "The Steeler Way" in reference to this team is like saying "the Atlanta Falcons must always have a mobile quarterback" or "the Green Bay Packers must always have a gunslinger at QB". Bettis, Michael Vick, and Brett Favre are (or were) all special players. They were who you thought of when a person mentioned the Steelers, the Falcons, and Packers...true faces of their franchises. But the team must adapt at the time those players move on.

I just think there are certain members of the media who always feel the need to ride Parker, for whatever reason. First we had the people who didn't want him to play because of his college career. "He wasn't even good enough to start at North Carolina, and they stink! How did he even make the team?"

So Parker makes the team in 2004 and carries the rock 32 times for an average of almost six yards a pop. He becomes the opening day starter in 2005 and goes for 161 in his first start. He finishes with 1,202 yards and 4 TDs for the season. And his Super Bowl touchdown was an early dagger in the heart of Seattle's second half chances.

You would think Parker's 2005 season would dull some of the anti-Parker roar. but sure enough, in 2006 the critics were back. "He still has something to prove to me", they said. So behind an underperforming offensive line, he goes over 100 three times in the first five weeks. Still, the calls for a big back persist. He runs for 213 against New Orleans. We still need Michael Bush. You get the point. There's always an asterisk next to everything this guy does. It's never enough for certain people.

As it stands right now, Parker is fourth in the league in rushing, behind Ladainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson and Frank Gore. Do you hear fans saying the Chargers, Chiefs, or 49ers should waste a first-round draft pick on a running back? I think not. You see, those teams' fans and media do not insult their featured back like certain fans and media of the Steelers.

My most hated Parker line starts out like this..."You throw out his biggest run, and..." .

Well, that's convenient. Just take away the play he makes that impacts the game the most as if it didn't happen. But as John Steigerwald (a fellow Parker fan) said earlier tonight on the postgame show, if you still have Bettis as your feature back, he gets caught on some of those long runs. Instead of taking it for 75 and a score, he gets caught after 25 yards. We are all aware that Parker has his broken plays. But he also has a pretty regular amount of huge ones as well.

My point is that more fans should be happy with Parker as the running back. You don't think there are teams in the league that would kill to have a back of his ability? Ask Cleveland, the Jets, the Texans, the Raiders...

Bash the players that deserving bashing. But get off Willie Parker's back.

Other than my Willie Parker valentine, there was a game played tonight. Here are some random thoughts on the game and the broadcast:

--Yes, that was former Pitt QB Pete Gonzalez on the KDKA pregame. It's an upgrade from the weatherman who usually works Steeler games on KDKA.

--Nice work by Bryant Gumbel calling Santonio Holmes "San Antonio". Only the 3,218th time we've heard that one this year.

--Cris Collinsworth did a nice job in the NFLN booth tonight. I enjoy how he calls out players, which many of the jockocracy do not.

--The NFLN made not one, but two references to Tony Romo in the Pro Bowl. No, he's not overhyped at all. Did I mention the Cowboys are on NBC Sunday night?

--Cowher Statue actually had a smile tonight and some signs of life.

--Congratulations to Big Ben for his first rushing TD of the year on that nude bootleg.

--I thought Ted Washington had a 92% chance of dropping dead on the field by the end of the game.

--Impressive win considering the absence of Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu, and Ryan Clark. Notice I did not mention Cedrick Wilson.

--Santonio continued to perform well in the passing game. I'm telling you, if he didn't tarnish his name with all those punt return gaffes, we'd be saying he's having a great rookie season. And the misdemeanor charges were dropped. Everything's rosy for #10.

--Cleveland's leading rusher was Ruben Droughns, with 6 yards on 5 carries. Maybe they'll sign T.J. Duckett.

--All these years later, Dennis Northcutt is still dropping passes. Imagine how frustrated Browns fans must be. Then imagine how pathetic it would be to be a Browns fan and admit to it.

--You can tell there are injuries to the WRs when names like "Young", "Morey", and "Kreider" show up in the receptions column.

--Anthony Smith is going to be an impact player next season.

--The Solider had a classy unsportsmanlike conduct, blindsiding James Farrior after the whistle. And what was that pregame nonsense with Porter all about?

--Derek Anderson maintained his composure better than I expected and managed to not get sacked. But the Browns still got smoked. I don't know if that team will ever be any good. They're like the Pirates in football form.

--Carolina next week, and they'll either be starting backup Chris Weinke or an injured (and lately, ineffective) Jake Delhomme. Do you hear the playoff talk? It's starting again.


tbart213 said...

I stand by my theory that Santonio wouldn't have dropped the punts if he simply wore #9.

tbart213 said...

ps-at least the Pirates have decent looking uni's.

Anonymous said...

re: playoff talk.

you should link to Prisuta's article from yesterday, where he spelled out to the letter what it would take. If that doesn't shut people up, nothing will.

Anonymous said...

I'll suggest that part of the reason Bettis didn't perform well in the playoffs was, well, they were by definition playing much better teams than they usually did. Think about it: For many of those seasons you list, much of their division competition consisted of pansyasses like the Bungles and the Browns and whatever expansion team got tossed their way by the football gods. Every time someone rose to challenge them (Jacksonville, Tennessee) the team got moved to another division so the Steelers could continue to steamroll through the regular season.

They were default division winners for about 10 straight years. So they get into the playoffs and whattaya know, suddenly their best back can't run anywhere?

Sorry to be a spoilsport, but the Steelers were overrated for many years by their fans and followers because they beat the crap out of a crappy division. Then they'd hit the playoffs and reality would hit back.

Anonymous said...

I think another thing is when Bettis would have a classic 2 or 3 yard run it's considered '3 yards and cloud of dust smashmouth football'.

Parker on the same runs would be criticized for not finding a hole and spurting free.

It's totally unfair, as if Parker isn't doing his job unless he's breaking 50+ yard runs on every play. And God forbid if a DB uses an angle to catch him from behind when he does get past the second level.

Like you said, it really is all about the line, and the line (particularly Faneca, Hartings and Simmons) had easily their best and most dominant game. Pracitcally any NFL running back could be a 1000 yard rusher behind a dominant line (see Broncos, Denver), but Parker's explosiveness surely makes him more than just 'any' tailback.

I don't see what the problem would be going through a season with Parker, Dump Davenport and Haynes. To me that's more than a servicable trio that could fill every role from blocking schemes to kick returns to feature back.

IMO the Steelers don't really have any pressing needs. Maybe a cornerback, though I'm still a believer in Ike. Terrible year, but if he bounces back next year, along with the ever-improving McFadden the Steelers could have a decent starting pair right there.

mai wen said...

I'm definitely a Fast Willie fan. Did you see when he jumped through that tiny hole between the backs of two of our linemen? Bettis definitely would not have fit through that same hole! Anyways, I think Najeh (or Nah-jee) is making a bid for the big back tough yardage guy. He had a mixture of some good runs and some no-gainers last night, but he definitely is a decent back-up, as long as he can stay healthy.

I would love to snag a shut down cornerback in the draft...

and I had to think really hard to remember that we drafted Young, my first reaction was, who the fuck is that?

Of course I bench Big Ben in my fantasy league because of the cold weather and he had a good week. That's what I get for doubting, Bad Steelers fan!

Anonymous said...

Get off his back? I think the entire team should get on it and let him and the O-line carry them through the rest of the season

Anonymous said...

Watch your language mai wen...or you'll be dealt with by the Mondesi posse.

Dr Obvious said...

The reason people feel the need for a big back is because it's old, reliable, and proven.

It's also really, really hard to pull off.

The power running game needs a franchise RB to build around. When he gets older and has to leave the game, some of the franchise that was build around him has to change too.

That's not a bad thing!

We've got a new, different franchise running back, and a still new, franchise QB who actually complements the RB pretty well. Don't try to cram those square pegs into the old round holes we have.

Russell Lucas said...

I think the biggest problem is what you identify-- that the fanbase and media don't tar the line when Willie has a bad stat day.

There's also another thing, too, that people will sometimes get attached to a more mediocre consistency than a really spectacular Barry Sandersesque game-breaking ability. Here are Willie's lines for the first thirteen games of 2006: 115, 20, 133, 57, 109, 47, 83, 70, 213, 46, 22, 61, 223. Third-leading rusher in the AFC, but only five 100+ games out of 13. If he just turned in 95-100 yards even every week (and never 200+, or 133), you'd likely not have people scapegoat the running game, even on a team with a record this average.

Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls said...

"IMO the Steelers don't really have any pressing needs."

Whoa. Gotta disagree. O-line, pass rush, a cornerback, wide receiver, punter: all pressing needs.

I'm cool with Mai-Wen's language, but I think Walter Young was an undrafted free agent, not a draft pick.

And I gotta agree with Dr. Obviousso: There's a reason Jerome Bettis is a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer. Those guys don't come around every day. Like it or not, this Steelers corps is a speed offense, not a power offense. I'm not sure the schemes were adjusted to suit the personnel.

Anonymous said...

"Whoa. Gotta disagree. O-line, pass rush, a cornerback, wide receiver, punter: all pressing needs."

Maybe my choice of words wasn't the best.

What I meant was that team is a few muff punts and timely INTs returned for TDs away from the playoff hunt.

Obviously there's room for improvement, holes to fill, and necessary upgrades but when I think pressing need, I look to non-playoff teams like the Lions, Cardinals, Browns or Texans that really do have desperate needs up and down the roster.

Anonymous said...

OK, so people want an awesome, gigantic power back. How many of those in the Bettis mold even exist? Brandon Jacobs, Duckett, and Bush have the size, but they are nowhere near the back that Bettis was. I don't think you acquire a back strictly for his size.

Dirty Sanchez said...

Bettis had a productive run for the Steelers, but people need to quit embellishing his performance. His last 3 years were spent as back up to Amos Zeroue, Duce Staley, and Willie. Bettis was great inside the 5 and for short yardage situations, but seriously... There are many teams that would take Willie Parker. Enough of the "Well, he's not Jerome Bettis" complaints.

Anonymous said...

Right on to the real. I'm sick of hearing how Willie Parker isn't getting it done and then a reference to his stat lines. The main difference I see this year, other than the poor performance of the O-line, is simply game situations. The Steelers have been losing more than they have been winning, not letting Willie pile up yards in garbage time. Seriously, how many of Bettis yards came against demoralized opponents in the 4th quarter while Cowher took the air out of the ball? Maybe if the Steelers had hung onto the ball, he would have had a more consistent stat line. Willie only has 3 fumbles lost over 264 carries, so don't blame him.Put him in a situation where he can play "Steelers football", and I'm sure he'll have more consistent stats.

Anonymous said...

You neglected to mention the broadcasting highlight of the evening: Bryant Gumbel's use of the word "attitudanally." He asked the sideline reporter something to the effect of, "How are the Steelers feeling, attitudanally?"

Anonymous said...

i agree with most of what Mondesi said, but I must point out that his "only three 100 yard efforts in 13 playoff games" complaint is a bit misguided -- if I'm not mistaken, he only started about 7 of those 13 games

mondesishouse said...

Actually Sam, that was part of my point. He was consistently beat up by the time the playoffs rolled around. That manifested itself in two ways: an ineffective Bettis or a Bettis who couldn't handle the usual workload.

Anonymous said...

Bettis not starting the four playoff games last year had nothing to do with late season wear-and-tear or physical condition. Parker was the starter right from the first play of the regular season opener.

As for the two 2002 playoff games... I can't quite remember the situation, but considering Bettis only had 187 carries that year, I'm not sure you could chalk those non-starts up to late-season wear and tear. And regardless of who started those two games and how healthy he was or wasn't, 100 yard efforts weren't likely with Cowher in the middle of his brief Air Maddox phase.

Marcus T said...


I would like to add in the 2003 season whenever we went 6-10. They said it was because we weren't playing "Steeler Football". We attempted to have an amazing passing game with Hines, Plax, and Randle El. Right, we can only win running the ball all the time. Sure, ok, whatever.

We lost that season because our O-line was atrocious, and Maddox (in my humble opinion) was never the same after laying motionless on the field for 5 minutes in '02. Against Tennessee I believe?

Anonymous said...

First... bravo on the Willie props. I've loved this guy from the first time I saw him play. He's much more like a Barry Sanders that doesn't run backwards than a Bettis and people around these parts just aren't used to it. If he played in Denver, he'd probably be the #1 fantasy pick in the draft with the way they run block. Perhaps the Steelers will begin to change their run schemes a bit to adjust to his style rather than the other way around. Add the fact that he's only in his second year as a starter and barely played in college, and I'd say he's well on his way to being even more of a threat.

Chris Collinsworth - I still hate him. He does add some above the average info to the broadcast, such as the little Cowher tidbit he dropped last night. However, I still can't stand him.

I love how every time he'd bring something up last night to try and belittle the Steelers "they haven't had a drive of over 90 yards in 12 years" or "they miss Bettis and can't get the production out of Parker", the Steelers would as if on cue shut him up. Such as having two scoring drives of 90+ yards and Parker having a 200 yard game.

Finally... I agree that Cowher hasn't seemed like his old self this season and has really blown a few decisions, but I think the Cowher statue thing is overrated. Did anybody notice John "Chucky" Gruden last week? He made more faces than a 3 year old eating brussel sprouts. He yelled and gave evil eyes and barked at officials... and his team still sucks. Dad always said, you can't polish a turd. No amount of sideline antics will make a bad team better.

Anonymous said...

The Steelers got a steal in running back Willie Parker, lets not ruin it and waste a draft pick on Michael Bush. Over the years there have been few very large backs 240+ that have had success in the NFL. Names like Natrone Means and Chistian Okoye are the only recent ones that come to mind and they were flash in the pans. If they incorporate Najeh Davenport into the offense more to spell Willie Parker and maybe draft a third or fourth round running back then they will be fine. Willie has not been hurt yet and seems to be quite durable. The draft should focus on a linebacker and then defensive or offensive line.

Anonymous said...

In all fairness, Bus wasn't really a starter in his playoff starts from 2002 on except for 2004, and against New England we got behind so early that running was out of the question. Plus, the 2001 playoff game was Bus coming off an injury.

I agree Parker is a superstar. Willie Parker IS what Reggie Bush is supposed to be.

And I don't think we need a big bruising back to run the ball everydown.

We need what we had last year when we wont he Super Bowl, a 1-2 punch.

Anonymous said...

On the subject of playoff talk....just think back to 1989 and Christmas night at Dwayne Woodruff's house.

mai wen said...

My bad, you're right JPPB, Young was an undrafted free agent. For some reason I thought we drafted him two years ago.

I'll try to mind my P's and Q's, Anonymous, but just for you. Plus, I don't want to get a fine, that'd just be stealing Joey Porter's thunder.

Megatron said...

I appreciated Collinsworth calling out "the soldier" on that bullshit hit. I loved the retribution from Farrior taking out Winslow. Porter's locker room feedback is priceless. Yeah, the Cowher statue moved, smiled, and I think he even cared which goes to show technology, special effects, and and modern science can bring life back to the great Bill Cowher. Now for the Panthers, Ravens, and Bingles. Keep faith alive fellas, there is still hope.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention the playoff game in 01 when bettis was 0 carries for 0 yards aganist the ravens when is got a bad cortisone shot before the game and his leg went numb