Notebook: McNair tough on Steelers

<b> PITTSBURGH - </b> Steve McNair just might be the toughest player in the NFL, and he's been particularly tough on the Steelers. <br><br> Of the 14 games in which McNair has rallied his team to tying or go-ahead points in the final two minutes over the last six-plus seasons, he's done so four times against the Steelers. That might explain why the Titans have beaten the Steelers nine of the last 11 times they've met.

But McNair wasn't always so tough on the Steelers. In his first start against them, in 1997, McNair was sacked a career-high seven times. Since then, the Steelers have sacked the freakishly strong 229-pounder 14 more times in 11 games. However, since the start of the 1999 season, the Steelers have sacked McNair only seven times in eight games.

"You gotta keep coming at him," said Steelers linebacker Jason Gildon. "He's a tough guy to sack and when you get your hands on him you definitely have to hold on because he's not going down easy. It's a matter of not giving up, just keeping after him."

Gildon has sacked McNair six times. No other Steelers player has more than one.

"Steve's not your typical quarterback, Gildon said. "You're going to have to tackle him. You can't just hit him and he'll go down. You definitely have to tackle him."

Last week, McNair, 30, became the youngest NFL quarterback to eclipse 20,000 passing yards and 3,000 rushing yards in a career. The others are Fran Tarkenton, John Elway, Randall Cunningham and Steve Young.

CUSHING PRODUCT OF NFL FACTORY
Ely High School of Pompano Beach, Fla., has six former players currently in the NFL. It's the largest group from any high school. Matt Cushing's alma mater, Mt. Carmel in Chicago, has five.

Cushing played on the same teams with NFL stars Donovan McNabb (Eagles) and Simeon Rice (Bucs). Before those three, NFL players Steve Edwards (Bears) and Darrell Hill (Titans) played at Mt. Carmel, a Catholic school in the South Side of the city.

"It's a great program. We've won nine or 10 state championships in the last 15 years," said Cushing, a tight end with the Steelers. "Simeon was a year older than me and Donovan was a year younger. We won three state championships in my four years there."

Which year didn't he win it?

"My senior year, when Donovan was the quarterback," Cushing said with a laugh.

Any nuggets about the two players?

"Simeon used to be a running back, same frame he has now. He wanted to be a running back until his senior year. Coach finally convinced him to be a defensive lineman and he made all-state. As a running back he was 6-5, 6-6 so he was a pretty inviting target.

"Donovan's always been an incredible athlete. I saw him make so many plays, breaking tackles. But the thing I always remember about him is he was always Mr. Laid Back. It'd be a tough situation in the game and he'd come in the huddle and crack a joke. That's always been his personality and you hear a lot of guys talk, even now, that he still does that. He's been doing that his whole life."

RETIRED NUMBERS
The Steelers only have one retired number, the 70 worn by defensive lineman Ernie Stautner from 1950 to 1963. But there are numbers that are semi-retired, depending on the circumstances.

"I talk to Mr. (Dan) Rooney about it a little bit," said equipment manager Rodgers Freyvogel. "We just try not to use the other ones like 12, 32, 52, 58, 59, 75. We've got to use the 80s, like 82 and 88, because they want all the receivers and tight ends in the 80s. It's a league rule.

"I guess Mr. Rooney doesn't want to retire numbers, but there are ones we don't use. If we have to use them we will. Like I think someone wore Jack Ham's number in the '80s, and those guys get ridiculed. I think the guy only lasted one year in it. Mel Blount's number's been used in the past, too."

For high draft picks, Freyvogel tries to give them what they wore in college, "or something close to it." Otherwise, players have to wait for other numbers to open up on cutdown day.

HOMECOMING
Gary Anderson, 44, the NFL's all-time leading scorer with 2,233 points, isn't the only member of the Titans making a return trip home to Pittsburgh.

Second-year pro Jake Schifino visited with family and friends Saturday night. The former Penn Hills H.S. running back and University of Akron wide receiver is the Titans' primary kickoff returner. He's averaging 23.1 yards for his nine returns. The Steelers are last in the NFL in kickoff coverage, allowing an average of 29.3 yards per return.

QUOTABLE STEELERS
  • Safety Mike Logan on the Steelers allowing an uncharacteristically high 4.1 yards per carry: "Didn't you guys want us to stop the pass this year?"

  • Linebacker Joey Porter on his injured buttock: "I'm ready to go. My injury is no longer a focus."

  • Guard Alan Faneca on whether linemen desire publicity: "Keydrick (Vincent) over there would probably like to be recognized a little more. Myself? I'm fine with whatever I get."

  • Receiver Hines Ward on the changing offense: "I look around the huddle and Mark Bruener's not in there, Jerome Bettis is not in there. You look around and me and Faneca are the only guys who were here when we were pounding the ball the whole time. Faneca's used to just pounding. Back then, that's all we did was run the ball. So Faneca and I like to set the tempo for the team. We're known as the more physical guys on the offense, and to see him crushing guys, that excites me and makes me want to go out there and do the same."



Jim Wexell
SteelCitySports.com


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