Bulger, gulp, coming back to Pittsburgh

<b>PITTSBURGH -</b> The Steelers are 2-4 and reeling from a 3-game losing streak, but have hope in a different set of numbers. <br><br> The St. Louis Rams come to Heinz Field today with a road record of 1-9 the last two seasons. And wunderkind quarterback Marc Bulger, who's 10-2 as the Rams' starter, lost both games on the road, where the Rams have been outscored by 11 points on average since the start of the 2002 season.

But today's game isn't so much a road game for the Rams as it is a homecoming for Bulger, and the Squirrel Hill native and Pittsburgh Central Catholic graduate knows what'll happen if he leads the Rams to a "homecoming" win.

"I know how passionate the fans are, and how much (football) means to them," Bulger told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "So I just know if we win, how big of a win it'll be, and how sick it'll make the city."

He's already made football fans in this city sick - twice. After the University of Pitt failed to recruit Bulger, he went to West Virginia University and came back to bury the Panthers at Three Rivers Stadium. As a junior, Bulger passed for 409 yards and six touchdowns in a 52-14 win. As a senior, at the end of an injury-plagued season, Bulger passed for 331 yards and four touchdowns in a 52-21 West Virginia win.

Bulger had indeed made the fans of Pittsburgh sick with his 740 yards, 10 touchdowns, 104 points and two wins in his last two games against the school which had shunned him, and shunned is the proper verb. Bulger's high school coaches had pestered Pitt a full recruiting year with game film, but Pitt passed.

"They didn't want me," Bulger told the St. Louis P-D. "They didn't even offer me a scholarship."

Steelers fans hope the curse of the hometown kid ran its course once Bulger left college. Then again, the Steelers passed on Bulger, too.

Needing a quarterback in the 2000 draft, the Steelers selected the since-released Tee Martin in the fifth round with passers such as Bulger and New England Super Bowl hero Tom Brady still on the board. Both quarterbacks were taken in the sixth round, with Bulger going to the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints cut Bulger that summer and he was signed to the Atlanta Falcons' practice squad. He was released two weeks later and didn't land with another team until the Rams signed him to their practice squad the final week of the 2000 season.

Bulger made the Rams' roster as their third quarterback in 2001, and then replaced injured starter Kurt Warner in 2002 and led the Rams to wins in his first six starts. Bulger has since moved past Warner and is now the entrenched starter for an offense that's billed as "The Greatest Show on Turf."

Of course, this game will be played outdoors on grass, and we've seen the numbers. "I don't buy all of that," said Steelers safety Mike Logan. "I think their receivers do run their routes a little different on turf than they do on grass, but once you get caught up in the game I don't think it matters."

Logan, of course, was a teammate of Bulger's at WVU. Bulger was the scout-team quarterback during Logan's senior year, and at the time Logan said of Bulger: "He sometimes gets frustrated because we get the best of him, but I think that's only going to make him better."

Logan's words proved prophetic. Another former WVU teammate knows why.

"He had ice for veins," said Steelers running back Amos Zereoue. "I mean nothing could rattle him. He had the same expression no matter what. He just didn't get rattled. There were a lot of crucial moments, a lot of games we had to come back in. His whole demeanor was just 'We're going to get it done.' Even if he didn't have a good game, or things weren't going right, you weren't able to tell. He was just that type of guy. He was calm and collected. The quiet assassin, that's what I used to call him."

Shun him and he doesn't say a word. Bulger just comes back and buries you. Pitt learned that. Will the Steelers?

"He gotten a lot better," warned Zereoue. "There's a lot more zip on his ball and he's putting them in there. Anytime you can unseat the Super Bowl MVP, you must be doing something right. I take my hat off to him. Hopefully he'll have a bad game this week."

The Steelers passed on Bulger because at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds he was a little light and didn't have great arm strength. Scouts still knock his deep ball, but with receivers such as Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, arm strength isn't quite so important. His pro passer rating of 96.4 is evidence. "We watched tape of Seattle playing up a little bit and he threw one right over their head," said Logan. "Actually, the one safety dropped back 20 yards and he still threw it over his head. So you have to be aware of the deep ball.

"I think he's playing with a lot of confidence right now because he's putting some balls up in the air and the receivers are coming down with it. It's pretty impressive right now."

Steel City Insider Top Stories