There wasn't an official declaration, but former Tar Heels Willie Parker, Jeff Reed and Greg Warren showed up as the fans chanted up the Steelers at every opportunity.
The three players posed with fans, players and coaches before the game, which meant a few moments of nervous anticipation for Parker, who has been critical of UNC coach John Bunting for leaving him on the bench throughout most of his college career.
Parker's nervousness, though, was for naught as Bunting snuggled up to Parker for several photos.
"I guess he wasn't reading a lot of stuff that was said," Parker said. "He just told me how proud he was of me."
Parker actually had some kind words for Bunting and his staff after rushing for 161 yards in the Steelers' opening-day win over the Tennessee Titans. It was apparent then that Parker's bitterness had subsided.
"There really wasn't any bad blood," Parker said. "And I respect him for that because he could've taken it another way and not come to me, not spoken to me, not done any of that stuff. So I took it another way and have a great deal of respect for him. Even though things didn't work out the way I wanted them to work out, he really turned my head around when he did all that."
Parker had just completed an interview with a local TV station during the pre-game stretch when Bunting approached him and shook his hand. The two exchanged pleasantries and Parker came away impressed.
"You can't have people hating you and talking bad about you," he said. "It's nice to get that out of the way."
Parker's next challenge could be with Bill Cowher, who might opt for a new running back rotation with the return to health of Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis. Parker leads the Steelers with 327 yards rushing in three games.
"They're going to put us in position to make plays, all of us," Parker said. "It'll be a good situation for all the backs."
Verron Haynes has been quietly effective as the Steelers' third-down back. Against the New England Patriots, Haynes's took a short pass 18 yards on a critical third-down-and-16.
He's proven he can still catch, block and run after coming off knee surgery this off-season. He's also the best special-teams player of the four running backs, which assures him of being active next Monday night.
"I'm hungry this year, very hungry," Haynes said. "Knock on wood, my knee's held up, my ankles, everything's just been fine. I've really been taking care of myself. I've spent extra time on Mondays, Tuesdays, going in the cold tub, the ice tub. I see what it is to be a professional athlete. I look at the older guys and understand what they've been saying now. My first couple years I was just getting out of here, but now I see you've got to take care of yourself with the little stuff. You learn real quick."
With only 64 rushing yards, does Haynes feel he's become the forgotten man of the four mainstays?
"No, I really don't," he said. "I'm still playing third down, so I'm feeling good and ready to contribute any way they ask me to. The good thing about this is we have a good problem: We've got four good backs who can get the job done. That's a good problem to have in my eyes."
Hines Ward missed practice with a slight hamstring injury, but ran sprints afterwards. Cornerback Ricardo Colclough left practice with an injured ankle. … Pencil in Sept. 10 and Sept. 24 for Steelers home games next year. Those are the open dates on the just-released Pittsburgh Pirates schedule.
Notebook: Parker makes peace at UNC
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