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Steelers get OT Pourdanesh in trade with Redskins

Saturday, August 14, 1999

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Shar Pourdanesh, acquired by the Steelers yesterday in a trade, fled Iran with his family 20 years ago when the Shah was overthrown. He learned to speak English watching "Gilligan's Island."

Tomorrow, he will begin a cram course in Kevin Gilbride's new offense, and if he proves again to be a quick learner he could make it here as a backup offensive tackle.

The Steelers acquired Pourdanesh from Washington for a conditional seventh-round draft choice. If they cut him before the season begins, they owe the Redskins nothing. They have little depth at tackle and needed someone to take snaps there during the exhibition season.

"It's too early to say if I'll start," said Pourdanesh, who has played both tackles, "but I'll go in fighting for the job."

Pourdanesh, 29, started 15 games at right tackle last season for the Washington Redskins and started 36 games for them at either right or left tackle over the past three seasons. The Redskins drafted tackle Jon Jansen in the second round and have made him their starting right tackle.

Tom Donahoe, the Steelers' director of football operations, said he acquired Pourdanesh for depth at tackle and was as curious as anyone why Washington gave up on him. Pourdanesh, listed by the Redskins as 6-6 and 312, played last season despite a double hernia, which was surgically repaired after the season.

"He seems to have fallen into disfavor there for some reason," Donahoe said. "He started 15 games last year and played hurt and he couldn't get a rep in practice. Maybe they've had a change in philosophy."

Pourdanesh, signed through 2000, is the third veteran tackle and the fourth overall the Steelers have acquired this year to rebuild the position, which has been hit with a defection, retirement, injuries, suspension and sloth over the past year.

They signed Wayne Gandy as a free agent from the Rams to a four-year, $14 million contract to play left tackle. They signed Anthony Brown, a backup in Cincinnati, to a two-year, $840,000 contract packed with incentives in free agency. And they drafted Outland Trophy winner Kris Farris in the third round.

Gandy has been in and out of practices in training camp with a slightly separated left shoulder and did not play last night. Farris hasn't practiced because of a stress fracture in his foot, and an MRI scheduled this week has been put off until nex week. Jamain Stephens, their first-round pick in 1996, was released when he could not finish their running drills on the first day of camp.

Brown and Chris Conrad, a second-year player, have been competing for the starting job at right tackle. Brown replaced Gandy at left tackle last night and Conrad started at right tackle.

"We're very pleased with those three," Donahoe said. "But we were concerned about the depth there. The situation with Kris Farris is taking longer than we thought and it will be difficult for him to do much.

"This was just a chance to get a quality veteran offensive lineman. He's played left tackle and right tackle. We like his size and toughness and it's hard to find good offensive linemen."

Donahoe said the Steelers are not concerned long-term about Gandy's shoulder, but would like to give him more time for it to heal.

Pourdanesh (pronounced PORE-donish) certainly has a background different from other Steelers linemen. His father worked in the administration of the Shah of Iran and he fled with his family to Germany during his country's revolution in 1979.

The family made their way to Irvine, Calif., and Shahriar Pourdanesh became an outstanding football player and heavyweight wrestler. He played football at Nevada and signed as a free agent with the Cleveland Browns in 1993. After he was cut, he played two seasons for the old Baltimore Stallions of the CFL and was named the league's lineman of the year and two-time all-star.

The Redskins signed him as a free agent in 1996. He started eight games that season, 13 games in 1997 and 15 games last season.

The Steelers also have Todd Kollar and T.J. Washington, first-year players, at tackle and veteran Jim Sweeney has filled in at the position. Emerson Martin signed with them last week and has been used at tackle, but he's really a guard.

They lost John Jackson to free agency in 1998, Will Wolford to retirement this year and Justin Strzelczyk to injury. Paul Wiggins, a backup tackle, was released last season after he served a four-game NFL suspension for using banned muscle-building products.

Pourdanesh, who did not suit up last night, will report to training camp in Latrobe tomorrow night with the rest of the Steelers.

"I'm glad to go with the Steelers because they are a perennially good team," Pourdanesh told a Washington writer.

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