Cowher was also in position to make ties, and that's what he did in naming wide receiver Hines Ward and linebacker Joey Porter the Pittsburgh Steelers' co-MVPs for the 2002 season.

"> Cowher was also in position to make ties, and that's what he did in naming wide receiver Hines Ward and linebacker Joey Porter the Pittsburgh Steelers' co-MVPs for the 2002 season.

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Counting Team MVP votes

<p>As head coach, Bill Cowher took charge of counting team MVP votes yesterday. He therefore was in position to break ties.<o:p> </o:p> </p> <p style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none; text-autospace:none">Cowher was also in position to make ties, and that's what he did in naming wide receiver Hines Ward and linebacker Joey Porter the Pittsburgh Steelers' co-MVPs for the 2002 season.<o:p> </o:p> </p>

"It was a case of those two guys being clearly above everyone else," Cowher said. "It was within one vote to be honest with you, so it was appropriate, I thought. Both of those players were very, very deserving, as their teammates recognized."

Porter was the players' choice by the one vote, but Ward came through Cowher's electoral system to grab a share of the award.

In his fourth pro season, Porter is the only NFL player since the league began tracking sacks in 1982 to record 9 sacks and 4 interceptions. He's a team co-leader in both categories.

Ward, in his fifth pro season, broke the team receptions record this season with 107 catches for 1,283 yards. He's 115 yards away from breaking Yancey Thigpen's team receiving yardage record with one regular-season game to play.

As for the honor, Ward was "shocked" and thought the shared billing was a good idea.

"I think so," he said. "Just having one doesn't represent the whole team. Having two guys with one being on offense and one on defense winning the co-MVP, that just goes to show what Joey and I have done to try and help our team get better. Our defense is number three in the league and I know Joey has been a big part of that. Our offense is up there and I feel like I have helped contribute to that, too."

The Steelers are actually fifth in the NFL in both total defense and total offense. Ward is second in the NFL in receptions and fourth in receiving yards. His 11 touchdowns rank second. He also has 142 yards rushing on 12 carries (11.8 average) and his three 2-point conversions this season also leads the league.

"The year I am having really is attributed to our whole offense," Ward said. "I wouldn't have had the year I had if it wasn't for Tommy Maddox and Kordell Stewart and having a guy like Plaxico Burress on the other side of me. It helps me out because I think we complement each other very well. Without him on the other side, I knew it wouldn't be possible for me to have the year I am having."

"This goes to show that we came a long way. I remember when we were both on special teams and everybody was calling us special-teams beasts. Now, getting an opportunity to be named co-MVP is a great honor."

As a rookie in 1998, Ward was second on the team in special-teams tackles by one. Porter joined the team the following year and was also a special-teams standout as a rookie before moving into the starting lineup at the start of the 2000 season.

"The honor of being picked an MVP, I'm happy with that," Porter said. "You have to think about the guys you beat out. You have some Hall of Famers in there, like Jerome Bettis. And Jason Gildon is three sacks away from breaking the sack record in Steelers history."

Once he gets it, Gildon may not hold the record for long. In Porter's four seasons with the Steelers, he's recorded 30.5 sacks. Gildon had only 17.5 sacks in his first four seasons. He's now three away from tying L.C. Greenwood's career record of 73.5. Porter is only half a sack away from tying Mike Merriweather for 11th place on the team's all-time sacks list. He has one more sack than Gildon this season and also leads the Steelers with 71 unassisted tackles and 87 total tackles.

"When coach said co-MVP, I was thinking Hines and Tommy Maddox, two offensive guys," Porter said. "The success I have been having has snuck up on me. I did pretty well last year, so the Pro Bowl thing this year was big. I was just happy for the whole defense helping me get that goal. MVP is really unexpected."

Like Porter, Ward is quickly and quietly climbing the franchise charts. His 107 receptions this season give him 325 for his career, which ranks fifth on the Steelers' all-time list. He's only 33 receptions behind Louis Lipps, who's second to John Stallworth (537). With 3,842 receiving yards, Ward ranks seventh behind Stallworth's 8,723 yards.

"All the hard work is starting to pay off," Ward said. "I'm not a vocal guy. I just try to lead by example. Joey is more of the huh-rah guy. He gets everybody hyped. I am more of the guy that wants you to follow how I play. I bust my tail and hopefully other guys will do the same."

"It's a great deal to get voted MVP by our own teammates. It just goes to show that they see and respect us for the effort that we have given this year."

--Jim Wexell


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