Steel Notes

Last year, the Steelers had the runner-up in the Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year voting.<p> That player, Kordell Stewart, was replaced by Tommy Maddox in the third game this season and the AP took notice. It named Maddox the 2002 Comeback Player of the Year yesterday by a wide margin over Miami running back Robert Edwards. Maddox earned 24 votes from a panel of 48 sportswriters and broadcasters who cover the NFL. <p>

"I'm very excited about the opportunity Pittsburgh's given me, not only to be a part of their organization but to go out there and play," Maddox told AP. "It's been a good year, but we still have a lot of work to do."

Maddox was a first-round draft pick by the Denver Broncos in 1992 and started four games in relief for an injured John Elway that year. Ten years, five teams, and two leagues later Maddox made his next NFL start for the Steelers.

The 31 year-old quarterback completed 234 of 377 passes for 2,836 yards, 20 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, and a passer rating of 85.2 in 11 starts that were interrupted by a spinal concussion which left him temporarily paralyzed against the Tennessee Titans. He came back three weeks later to finish a season in which he set a franchise record by completing 62.1 percent of his passes. He guided the Steelers into the playoffs with seven wins and a tie in his 11 starts.

Robert Edwards was second in the voting with 14 votes, followed by Buffalo quarterback Drew Bledsoe (5), Baltimore running back Jamal Lewis (2), Carolina quarterback Rodney Peete (1), Indianapolis running back Edgerrin James (1) and Jacksonville running back Fred Taylor (1)

Not to be outdone by Maddox, the Cleveland Browns reeled in some hardware yesterday when linebacker Earl Holmes was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his play against the Atlanta falcons. Holmes stopped Falcons running back Warrick Dunn at the Cleveland 1-yard line on fourth down with 23 seconds remaining in a 24-16 win.

"If Earl didn't make that stop on the goal line against Atlanta, Cleveland would be packing for Cancun right now," said Steelers safety Lee Flowers. "He's done a good job and their defense is playing hard and keeping them in the game. I'm sure it's not going to be any different on Sunday."

Holmes, a former member of the Steelers, has made his presence felt this week with his old teammates.

"We have not talked to Earl in about five weeks," Flowers said. "But it came Monday and Earl called everybody in this locker room and asked for tickets."

Flowers laughed and said he'd sell Holmes a ticket for $1,000 if he wants it badly enough.

"But you know, he's a good guy," Flowers said. "You guys know him. He was good for this locker room and I'm sure he's doing the same thing for them over there. They're going to be pumped up on Sunday."

How effective is Holmes? Is he more than just a trash-talker?

"The talking that Earl does is just an aftereffect of how he plays," said Steelers guard Alan Faneca. "He gets to the ball and, boom, he's going to say something and he's going to jaw. There are lots of guys like that in the league. I don't think one has a correlation with the other. I don't think that's part of his game. It's just an aftereffect of the game."

"There is an increase in spirit. Look at what Earl did here, what Ray Lewis does in Baltimore. It's a rallying point lots of teams need. They have the one guy who rallies the troops."

Lee Flowers, when asked by a Cleveland reporter about comments he'd made after the second game between the teams:

"I don't know why y'all ask me that. You know I'm not going to retract my statements. I feel the same way. I think we both talk a lot. That's why you guys are all sitting here. Y'all think I'm going to say something. I'm not, man. But it's two teams that don't like each other. These are the only teams that play each other two times a year that are an hour away from each other. There's a lot of bad blood. A lot of guys in this locker room live near those guys. It's a good team and we're glad we're playing them."

"This game's good for the NFL because it brings rivalry and good football back to this league. I think this league is trying to get too political and too finesse-ful and these are two teams who know what each other are going to do. It's stop me if you can."

--Jim Wexell

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