Staley the face of the Steelers

Willie Parker's popping off about a Super Bowl hangover and Najeh Davenport's pooh-poohing the 2-6 record because "there's a difference losing here and losing where I was." Not to open with easy toilet humor, but little else comes to mind after Sunday's game.

Anyway, Parker admits Pittsburgh's a place for fat cats this season and Davenport says it's really not a bad place to make losing your living. The other running back, the one not saying anything, he understands both of them.

He is Duce Staley. It's probably not any fault of his own, but he has become the face of these Pittsburgh Steelers; these 2-6 first-to-worse Pittsburgh Steelers.

Another running back, the one who retired, he was the face of last year's champions.

Obviously, under Bill Cowher, the Steelers' running backs lead the way, and that's exactly why they kept Staley around, at $1.5 million, to hang out until this team, that identifies itself with running backs, needs him in a pinch.

Staley was the guy who was supposed to have stepped aside and allowed Jerome and Willie to carry the mail last year. Yeah, it was all up to Duce we were told … and we were told a line. Anyway, St. Duce didn't get a carry in the Super Bowl and then the team asked him in the spring to strip one million off that big salary.

The selling point was that Staley would not get cut, so Duce smacked his lips and said thanks, because he figured this would be a good place to lie down.

The Steelers, ever true to their word, even if unspoken, could not cut him this year. They would not cut him. Someone close to the scene (and smart enough to not get in the way of Cowher and his warrior RB) said Duce was an embarrassment at camp. But, Cowher figured no one else would notice. The Guys on the Sports Showdown panel think it's a good idea, so why not? And so the guy who beat Duce like a Division II drum was cut.

Do you think nobody noticed? Do you think that the rest of the team didn't see what the aforementioned source saw? Of course they did. They saw someone flat out lose a camp competition -- by a mile -- and they saw the coach keep him because he'd agreed to the lower contract of $1.5 million.

That's sorry reasoning. It stood as such through the trade for since-cut Patrick Cobbs, and then the acquisition of Davenport, and then the re-signing and activation of John Kuhn, the young guy who'd already wasted the old and tired back in training camp.

And so Duce Staley stands on the sideline in sweats. He doesn't talk to the media, and why should he? His coach doesn't answer the questions; why should he?

"I'll catch you after practice," he says to the few who actually care.

But the fans want answers, and they've lobbied their local journalist to get on this matter. But Duce does not answer. He does not have to. Not in Pittsburgh in 2006. Nobody has to answer anything these days. That is, until Parker stepped up after Sunday's game.

"This year," Parker said, "it seems like we already got what we want, what's the use? What's the use of going out there and selling out?"

Parker was not looking for an answer. It was a rhetorical question. He saw the Staley experiment up close, so Parker's known that it did not matter who worked hardest and deserved a spot in training camp.

Don't question for a minute Parker's desire. He's been bugging about the losses most of all. He takes them personally, because, after all, the Bus is gone and this team with the RB on its flag is now Willie's team. He's learned that much about the culture here. And he's learned much about becoming one of the coach's boys. Parker's still not old enough yet, or veteran enough, to be counted as part of Peezy's gang under Cowher. And Parker won't become so considered if he continues to wonder what the hell is going on around here. But someone had to say it.

We saw the same dynamic in 2002. The 2001 camp was a rock. It was all about rookie linebacker Kendrell Bell lighting up the Bus and the re-emergence of the physical Pittsburgh Steelers. The 2005 camp was the same. The team that came close in 2004 took it a step further than that virgin 2001 Final Four team had. The 2005 camp was a physical camp, and "Physical" became the rallying cry.

It's just an echo now. They've tried it, but, really, when you've become a rest home for convalescing quarterbacks and "embarrassing" running backs, it's just the rallying cry of a team trying to recapture past magic.

The players saw. They watched Duce become the face of this football team. They know he'll be swept out the door at the end, and that perhaps Cowher will go with him. A couple others will go; maybe more. Next year will be the year of renewed vigor. Next year. This year it's too easy to just pull up a spot in the corner and lie down for awhile.


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