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Mark's Madness: Windy City woof

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

This conversation actually took place between the Chicago media and the Bears' new quarterback.

New quarterback: "When I left the hotel today, I saw a dog, and that dog looked at me and said, 'woof.' He was telling me that I made the right decision and was coming to a great situation."

Media (under their collective breath): "Woof?"

Kordell Stewart, ex of this parish, is now officially a Chicago Bears player. It's worth noting that the last man to listen to and heed advice from a dog was mass murderer David Berkowitz, a k a "Son of Sam."

I went to Chicago this past weekend to get the lowdown on Stewart's arrival. I didn't go to Stewart's news conference, preferring instead to watch television and peruse the papers just like a fan. We media slugs have a warped, jaded perspective fueled by free lunches, good seats in the press box and pseudo-friendships with subjects we're supposed to cover objectively.

I wanted no part of that. I wanted to get back to basics. I wanted to be straight down the middle. I wanted to be a guiding light of old-school journalism.

But mostly, I wanted to get my research done in about 30 seconds so I could give myself enough time to get saloon-faced before going to a concert featuring Pete Way and Paul Chapman of UFO. It's worth noting that mentioning those two in this column pretty much guarantees me a backstage pass and free drinks whenever they come to Pittsburgh. Lester Bangs would be proud.

"Their trash is our QB." That's how one headline in a Chicago paper trumpeted Stewart's arrival. As an old headline writer myself, I might have waited until Stewart's first incompletion with the Bears before lambasting him thusly, but how can you fault someone for beating the rush?

Most of the Chi-town hacks, however, took an evenhanded approach to Stewart's signing, correctly appraising the situation as a bad team getting an inconsistent quarterback, so hello 7-9 (at best).

The most amusing position adopted by the Chicago media -- a position readily fueled by Stewart's agent, Leigh Steinberg -- is that Stewart was somehow betrayed by the Steelers. That he was somehow betrayed by Bill Cowher.

Steinberg said he wanted a coach for Stewart that is "protective and supportive of the players." That brings to mind three questions: What, Cowher wasn't protective and supportive of Stewart? Are you nuts? Are you looking for a coach, or a baby sitter?

If anything, Cowher betrayed the Steelers by sticking with Stewart long after logic dictated he be replaced (although Stewart did get a quick hook this past season). If anything, Cowher spent several years being overly protective and supportive of Stewart. If anyone let down Stewart, it's Steinberg. Stewart got just $5 million over two years from the Bears despite being just one season removed from the Pro Bowl. Maybe he should call Jerry Maguire.

Chicago, however, is the perfect situation for Stewart. He's playing for a new team that has very few weapons and which will try to dramatically revamp its offense in order to make optimum use of Stewart. The man in charge of said undertaking is Bears offensive coordinator John Shoop, who seems to be regarded by the Chicago scribes as an unimaginative half-wit.

Like I said, it's the perfect situation. Stewart has all his excuses lined up, and he hasn't even taken a snap. Whatever happens, it won't be his fault. As usual.

The Chicago media tap-danced around the sexuality rumors, but definitely mentioned them. Stewart issued a pre-emptive strike before putting pen to paper with the Bears, comparing his excitement about joining a new team to getting "a new girlfriend. She really gets you going, doesn't she?"

One of the Chicago sports columnists said that racist Pittsburgh wasn't ready to accept a black quarterback standing where Terry Bradshaw once stood. I'd be insulted if it weren't so darn true.

Anyway, the Bears are going to stink and will drag Stewart down with them. Or vice versa.

The Steelers, meanwhile, may be giving legitimate consideration to upgrading the quarterback position, a shocking development in light of their approach the past couple of decades.

While the rest of the NFL stockpiles quarterbacks, cornerbacks and left tackles, the Steelers have an insurance salesman at quarterback, the Terror Twins at the corners, and not really anyone at left tackle after allowing Wayne Gandy to stroll out of town. With Gandy gone, maybe Tommy Maddox needs to take out a life insurance policy on himself.

The Steelers, however, do have quite the cache of standout linebackers -- at a time when excellence at the position has never meant less.

Rumor has it, however, that the Steelers may address their long-term quarterback situation in the first round of this year's draft. If no immediate help is available at defensive back (and it won't be), don't be surprised if the Steelers use their top pick to take a quarterback, maybe Rex Grossman of Florida.

Grossman wouldn't replace Maddox right away. Maddox would start for a few more years while Grossman learned the system. Grossman wouldn't be anointed top dog until the Steelers felt comfortable with his development or until Maddox got killed by the pass rush, whichever came first.

I would like to see the Steelers draft California quarterback Kyle Boller, but he probably won't be there when they pick 27th overall. Boller wowed the NFL scouting combine by firing a ball 60 yards through a set of goal posts while kneeling. It would be great if some team took him in the first 10 picks, then found out that was really all he could do. That's a tremendous athletic feat, but relatively easy to defend.

I just want to see the Steelers pay the quarterback spot a bit more heed. Their recent draft history shows they don't take the position seriously. The Steelers selected Tee Martin in the fifth round in 2000, Jim Miller in the sixth round in 1994 and Alex Van Pelt in the eighth round in 1993. Taking Stewart in the second round in 1995 was an anomaly.

When Dermontti Dawson retired, the Steelers went out and got a top-notch center. But the quarterback job has sometimes been given to whoever shows up. Witness recent starting stints by Mike Tomczak and Kent Graham. The Steelers should take Grossman in the first round. Barring that, they should choose Chris Simms of Texas in the second round.

In conclusion, woof.

Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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