Post-Game Controversy Begins

PITTSBURGH - Tommy Maddox will apparently remain the most popular player on the Steelers roster for another week. He's still the backup quarterback.

Despite yanking quarterback Kordell Stewart in favor of Tommy Maddox in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 16-13 overtime victory over Cleveland, despite the fact that Maddox rallied the team to 10 points, and despite the fact that nearly every person in Western Pennsylvania wants to see Maddox start for the Steelers next week at New Orleans, head coach Bill Cowher will likely go with Stewart.

"I'm in no position to make a decision, but I'll tell you right now that I'm leaning toward starting Kordell," said Cowher. "And if we need a lift, I'll bring in Tommy. That's where I'm leaning."

And so it begins. For the remainder of this season, every time he throws an interception or even an incompletion, fans will be calling for Maddox. And Stewart will spend his time looking over his shoulder.

"It can be frustrating at times," admitted Stewart, who completed 15-of-25 passes for 143 yards and a fourth quarter interception in the end zone that ended his day. "I can't be concerned with what's going on around me. I have to be concerned about doing my job and doing the best I can."

Had Phil Dawson not booted his field goal attempt into Kimo von Oelhoffen's face moments after Maddox was intercepted by linebacker Andra Davis on the first play of overtime, Maddox could have just as easily been the goat of Sunday's game.

"I know how hard the position is. I know that if (the game) ends after the interception, I'm sitting here getting bombarded," said Maddox, who completed 11-of-13 passes for 122 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. "That's the nature of the position."

Cowher said he will continue to use Stewart as his starter and Maddox much like a relief pitcher in baseball. If the starter is playing well, stick with him. If's he's struggling, bring in the backup. If he sticks with that plan, it could make things difficult in the locker room, where Stewart has a good number of backers.

"That hurt me," said cornerback Dewayne Washington of seeing Stewart benched. "I understand that coach has got to do what he's got to do, but it was tough to see. I know how much (Stewart) wanted to play well. But I guess that's how it is. You hope it (doesn't become a problem). But I can't predict the future. I'm just a cornerback. I'm not the head coach."

No, the head coach is the guy who's walking one of the fine lines he so often talks about.

Perhaps, more now than ever before, Cowher is going to have to play locker room psychologist, massaging egos and listening to the troubles of his players. And maybe that is something the head coach has learned from his previous walks on this line.

"(Kordell) was fantastic," said Cowher of Stewart's reaction to being pulled. "He was on the sideline with the receivers. He was talking to Tommy. And as I told him because of the conversations I have had with him, he should just understand that this is not something that is going to deem him as someone that is never going to play here again. Don't look at it that way."

That is what Cowher has learned. When he benched Stewart in 1999, he made him a receiver and did not allow him to go to the quarterback meetings any longer. That hurt Stewart deeply and caused a great deal of animosity between the two. Cowher knows he can't afford to go down that street again. He still needs Stewart, at least for the remainder of this season.

"Kordell is our quarterback," said guard Alan Faneca. "So much of our offense is built around him running the ball as well as throwing it. He deserves to still be out there."

Stewart does deserve to be out there unless the Steelers are willing to junk their entire offense three games into the season and start over with Maddox throwing the ball 40 to 50 times per game out of a spread offense, something Cowher is highly unlikely to do.

Unless, of course, he reaches utter desperation.

--Dale Lolley


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