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Madden: Nonfactor Stewart still focus of media

Saturday, October 27, 2001

I don't like it when the media evaluate the media. I also think that way too much gets written and said about Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart.

So, naturally, here's a column evaluating how the media cover Stewart. You get a double dose of hypocrisy to start your Saturday.

Linebacker Joey Porter just got named AFC defensive player of the week. Jerome Bettis is a reasonable choice for NFL MVP at this point in the year. Offensive line coach Russ Grimm is turning his charges into a unit where the whole is greater than the sum of its very talented parts. Chad Scott is becoming a cornerback of rare quality. Rookies Kendrell Bell and Casey Hampton are making a big difference. Coordinators Mike Mularkey and Tim Lewis innovate every time the ball gets snapped.

But if you turn on your TV, or listen to your radio, or open up your newspaper, the usual topic of black-and-gold consideration is Stewart. Why?

Part of it is obsession with the quarterback position. Part of it is the allure of failure, which is often much more interesting than success. But much of it just doesn't make any sense.

The most accurate way to describe Stewart this season is benign. He has made the quarterback position as insignificant as anyone who has ever played it. He doesn't make many mistakes, nor does he make much positive impact. He shows up, takes the snaps, chucks a short, nondescript pass now and again, hands off a lot and -- once in a while -- comes up with a big run. His recklessness allows him to lead by example in a small way.

The Steelers' passing offense ranks 30th in the NFL. That statistic speaks for itself. Yet, Stewart hasn't killed the Steelers. That's not praise. It's merely a fact.

Yet, the media feel obliged to make sure Stewart gets a share of the credit for the Steelers' terrific start. He's 4-1 as a starter, they point out, and 11-5 as a starter over the past two seasons. What's his record as a closer? How about as a middle reliever? Stewart is the quarterback for the Steelers, not a pitcher for the Pirates. (If he were the latter, he'd need elbow surgery.)

Anyway, I've never heard anything so ridiculous as keeping a won-lost record for quarterbacks. Bettis is an infinitely more significant contributor than Stewart, but no one cites the Steelers' won-lost record when Bettis plays. That's because Bettis has legit stats. No one has to invent any to make him look good. Stewart might be the Steelers' sixth or seventh most important player on offense. The wins and losses aren't his. Well, OK, maybe some of the losses the past few years are his property.

I see where Stewart's 61.3 completion percentage will be a team record if it holds up. What's the team record for 3-yard passes that don't have any impact?

I've read that running yardage should be figured into the quarterback rating so Stewart's value can be more accurately computed. Rubbish. No matter how well Stewart runs the ball, it doesn't make up for the fact that he can't throw it. Throwing is a quarterback's main job. The Steelers wasted two first-round draft picks by picking receivers for an offense where the importance of the passing game has been minimized because the quarterback can't throw. Clamoring for a change in a rating system that has stood the test of time is, again, just trying to invent a way to make Stewart look good.

Why? Why are the local media so determined to make sure Stewart gets credit, deserved or not? To make sure he gets his piece of the 4-1 pie?

Maybe it's because, as with the Steelers' organization, certain local media members fear losing credibility when Stewart stiffs. A lot of ink and air time has been invested into predicting greatness for Stewart. When he plays badly, a lot of smart people don't look so smart anymore. Heck, I once described Stewart him as "the best athlete in the NFL." Dumb, huh? At least I admit it.

I come not to bury Stewart. I'm merely suggesting that right now, Stewart is not deserving of praise, or even much attention. Stewart is not one of the Steelers' focal points.

One of these days, Stewart is going to break loose -- or luck out -- and the Steelers will win a game on the strength of his arm. Or maybe Stewart will self-destruct and blow a game for the Steelers. When either happens, put his name in the headlines. Talk about him all the time. But until then, concentrate on the Steelers' impact players. Guys such as Bettis, Gandy, Faneca, Scott, Washington, Bell, Porter ... for heaven's sake, the Steelers are 4-1. A lot of players have meant a lot to that start.

Stewart isn't one of them.

By the way, this advice goes for the fans, too. On the few occasions where I come up with an original interesting topic for my talk show, don't call in and say, "Y' know, I really think Kordell doesn't get enough credit/criticism." And on those occasions where I'm mailing it in and I say, "Y' know, this team isn't going to go anywhere with Kordell at quarterback," call the show and rip me. Intelligent give-and-take is the lifeblood of a good talk show. If you can't manage that, idiotic gibberish fills time, too.

Mark Madden's talk show is heard 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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