There are all types of jibber-jabber about Willie “the quick” Parker having worn out the welcome sign over at Heinz Field. You know the guy I’m talking about. The same guy who helped rescue the Steelers in Super Bowl XL as they were staring down the gun barrel of defeat when they faced the Seattle Seahawks. Parker put away the toenail clippers as the Black and Gold fidgeted, fussed and played around with Seattle. Just after the second half began in Super Bowl XL, Mr. Parker unveiled the Steelers version of a guillotine. He proceeded to scamper 75 yards untouched (the longest running play from scrimmage for a running back in Super Bowl history) and thus sent the “hawks” with their wings clipped packing, back to the West Coast, headless and still in search of their first Lombardi.
After a few injury-plagued seasons running around the backfield as if he were a chicken with his head cut off, ungrateful cold winds began to blow over the football yard. The powers-that-be and the scouting gods decided that Parker had seen his best days so they looked high and low, up and down and from side to side at the combines, pro workout days and shazam! low and behold they snatched a running back from the jaws of obscurity and the clutches of the Cowboys and Bears, two teams that were looking for a running back but politely passed on choosing Pittsburgh’s first pick “Sir” Rashard Mendenhall. For Mendenhall to have been chosen in the first round by the Steelers with a “fast” Willie on the sidelines was more than lucky for the young running back. To put it mildly, God must have made him a special bling-bling chain with a horseshoe, rabbit’s foot, a four leaf clover, a “mudbone” (mojo) and all of the other good luck charms that the football gods answer the requests of the petitioner when their omnipotent power is needed. But “Sir” Rashard had better beware of the “Ides of March.” The same welcome mat that you clean your feet off on your way to a romantic dinner will be the same mat that trips you as you fall down the stairs as your date’s father tosses you out the door. And, if Mendenhall sustains one too many injuries or fumbles one too many times, he will be speed skating on the fast track outta the Steel City—faster than Dale Earnhart Jr. can complete a practice lap at the Indy 500.
Willie Parker is a victim of the Kordell Stewart syndrome. Let’s look closely at reality. When Stewart was “slashing” and dashing around Three Rivers Stadium and Heinz Field he was basically on his own. In less than four years Mr. Stewart lost his two starting wide receivers in Yancey Thigpen and Charles Johnson. He also was forced to forego the services of his best O-lineman, Leon Searcy. All were forced to follow the yellow brick road to St. Elsewhere and ply their trade (at least temporarily) where they were welcomed and wanted. Compound that with the sizzling hot, here we go round the mulberry bush-like revolving door that put three offensive coordinators in Stewart’s ear. But unlike the moves they made for Tommy Maddox and Big Ben Roethlisberger, Stewart was often seen running for his life, attempting to avoid decapitation because the players around him were forced to adjust to new O-coordinators and different systems year after year. On top of that, finger-pointing at Stewart developed into an art form in Pittsburgh and the perverted form of yellow sports journalism that comes with it along with a misinformed and misled fan base that continues to this day. More nasty, sword-tongued rumors about Stewart came from the Steelers nation fan base than the ‘National Enquirer could ever dream up.
Parker was forced to line up behind a discombobulated offensive line where acceptable run and pass blocking was the exception rather than the rule. If you don’t believe me, ask Big Ben who at times was on his back so frequently that he had to be thinking that sacks were a macabre part of the Black and Gold’s playbook.
According to ESPN.com’s Matt Mosley, Parker has been banged up the past couple seasons, but he was a prolific runner earlier in his career. He and Redskins starter Clinton Portis are at about the same stages in their careers, but Parker has more speed and quickness.
It appears as if the Redskins are getting their O-line ready for “fast” Willie or another running back because Washington agreed to a three-year contract with Vikings guard Artis Hicks on Saturday and really don’t have any “in-house” running backs at this point. Signing Parker wouldn’t preclude the Redskins from selecting a running back in next month’s draft, but it may allow them to wait until the later rounds.
Willie Parker deserved more than he got from his former head coach who preaches unity in public but when he takes the pulpit inside the locker room, clearly does not utilize the entire football bible as a basis for his sermons but only preaches from his favorite books.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also talk and listen to Aubrey Bruce on PressPass on: www.blogtalkradio.com on Thursdays from 6-7PM along with John Harris from the Pittsburgh-Tribune Review.)