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Cook: Bills taunts inspire Steelers

Monday, October 01, 2001

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Maybe it was New York Gov. George Pataki's stirring pregame speech about America being free for our children, their children and for generations to come. "I had tears in my eyes," Bill Cowher said.

Or maybe it was the Buffalo Bills' decision to continue their kicking drills on the Steelers' side of the field even as they started their pregame stretch, a serious breech of NFL protocol. "Total disrespect," Lee Flowers said, fuming.

Or maybe it was the stuff the Bills talked early in the game. "They were cocky, man," Hines Ward said. "They thought they had this game. They came in 0-2 and figured, 'That's just the Pittsburgh Steelers. We've got this one.' "

Does it really matter?

"The Pittsburgh Steelers showed up to play," Ward said.

That was the best part of the 20-3 win yesterday. The offense -- especially Kordell Stewart -- was miserable again. The defense played a strong game, but it was against a team that came in without its two starting tackles and then lost a third. Even Cowher acknowledged, "That's a tough chore to overcome."

But there was no questioning the Steelers' effort.

Remember the opener against Jacksonville? In some ways, it seems like a lifetime ago. But it wasn't so long ago that you forget the Steelers were no-shows, that they didn't just lose the game but were whipped physically to the point of being embarrassed.

"We had to sit with that Jacksonville game for a long time," Cowher said. "I really don't think that was us. We came out today and we wanted to make a point."

They did it from start to finish. Cowher led the way. Tell the truth. Wasn't it great to see him get that unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when he charged on the field late in the first quarter to argue a penalty call against Flowers? Don't the Steelers always play with more passion when the fire burns in him? On another day, his penalty might have cost them the game. So might have the other five personal foul penalties on the Steelers in the first half. But on this day? After that performance in Jacksonville? Hey, it was nice to see the fellas not back down.

Cowher probably wished he could have played after the pregame tribute to America. It was especially powerful because it honored western New York's civil servants, many of whom helped in the rescue work at ground zero at the World Trade Center.

"Deep ... real deep," said Flowers, who, like Cowher, was clearly moved and later held out his hands and prayed during the national anthem.

"So many emotions were building up. To be honest, we were about to break. The governor's speech really got us going. After he was done, it just felt like it was time to play football."

The Bills provided a little extra incentive with their pregame "crap," to quote Flowers.

"Some of their kicks were almost hitting our guys. There's no place for that kind of stuff in this league. If you want to do that to us, you had better know we're going to lay the wood on you."

That's a pretty good description of what Kendrell Bell did all day. He had nine tackles. Brent Alexander. Aaron Smith. Earl Holmes ...

They all put the wood on the Bills.

"We were flying," Flowers said.

Jerome Bettis bruised a few Bills bodies by rushing for 114 yards. Ward, who might play with more heart than anyone on the team, willing gave up his body to gain 11 yards on a key third-and-9 screen pass deep in Steelers' territory early in the fourth quarter. He ended up with a bruised back and lost most of the skin on his left arm from a turf burn, but it was well worth the first down.

Anyway, Ward's pain was nothing compared to what the Bills were feeling. They were carted off the field -- one after another -- the way the Steelers had been in Jacksonville. No fewer than six were knocked out of the game. Tackle Kris Farris had a fractured leg, safety Tony Driver a dislocated shoulder, defensive linemen Phil Hansen and Leif Larsen dislocated elbows, quarterback Rob Johnson a bruised hip ...

"I hope they learned their lesson," Flowers said.

"You don't have to like the Steelers. That's fine with me. But you had better respect us."

On this day, they deserved that respect.

Every bit of it.

Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com.

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