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Steelers Steelers Report: 12/25/00

Monday, December 25, 2000

By Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac, Post-Gazette Sports Writers

NEWS & NOTES

LB Jason Gildon had two sacks to finish with 131/2, the fourth-best total in Steelers history. Mike Merriweather set the record with 15 in 1987, and Kevin Greene and Keith Willis each had 14. It's the most since Chad Brown had 13 in 1996. LB Joey Porter added 11/2 to bring his total to 101/2. It was only the second time in Steelers history that two players each had at least 10 sacks. The only other time occurred in 1994, when Greene had 14 and Greg Lloyd had 10. CB Deshea Townsend, who plays only in the dime passing defense, had 11/2 sacks to give him 31/2 for the season. Nakia Codie had the Steelers' only interception.

The Steelers' 2001 home and away opponents have been determined, based on the completed NFL standings. At their new stadium next season, the Steelers will play Minnesota, Detroit, the New York Jets and their five AFC Central division opponents -- Tennessee, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Baltimore. Their eight road games will be played at Tampa Bay, at Buffalo, at Kansas City and at their five division foes.

Steelers Coach Bill Cowher, Dan Rooney, his son Art, a dozen players and other club employees toured the USS Stethem, a destroyer in San Diego Naval base on Saturday. Commander Craig Faller, a native of Oil City, extended the invitation to the Steelers. Cowher made a speech to the ship's crew, who call themselves the Steelworkers.

Although a Reebok spokesman has said all 31 NFL teams will have some sort of new uniforms by the 2002 season, Rooney said yesterday the Steelers won't be one of them. "I've already told them we won't have new uniforms," he said. Reebok last week acquired the uniform rights to all 32 NFL teams, including the Houston Texans when they begin play in 2002. The Steelers' current uniforms are made by Nike and were slightly altered in 1997, most notably changing their numbers from block style to rounded. Rooney said not even minor changes are planned for the Steelers' uniforms.

On the field before yesterday's game, San Diego QB Ryan Leaf walked up to Kevin Gilbride and hugged him. Gilbride, the Steelers' offensive coordinator, was San Diego's head coach during Leaf's tumultuous rookie season in 1998. Gilbride was fired that season after six games and just 22 as the Chargers' coach.

Rookie Hank Poteat, who had the team's longest punt return for a touchdown in Three Rivers Stadium history last week, had a quick answer for two big punts from San Diego's Darren Bennett, a Pro Bowl selection. Bennett had a 55-yard punt near the end of the first quarter, and a booming 62-yarder early in the second quarter, but Poteat made nice runs to keep the Steelers from poor field position each time. On the first, Poteat broke several tackles and went 21 yards to the Steelers' 29. Then, after running backward to field the other, Poteat went 35 yards up the right sideline, giving the Steelers possession at their 45. That led to a 5-yard touchdown pass from Kordell Stewart to WR Courtney Hawkins.

It was nearly 90 minutes before kickoff, but a loud cheer erupted from the fans -- mostly Steelers fans -- who had already come into Qualcomm Stadium. The reason? The Jets-Ravens game was being shown on the giant video screens in each end zone and the fans began roaring when Ravens CB Chris McAlister returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown. That gave the Ravens a lead, 20-14, they never relinquished.

Former Steelers C Dan Turk has died of cancer at 38. Turk played for the Steelers in 1985 and '86. He played last season with the Redskins, who chose not to re-sign him, ending his NFL career after 15 years. Obituary, Page C-4.

NUMBERS

The touchdown by Steelers WR Courtney Hawkins was his first since Nov. 1, 1998, when he had 14 catches in a game against Tennessee. Hawkins led the team with five receptions for 71 yards, but the Steelers finished the season without a 100-yard receiver. Hines Ward had four catches for 36 yards to give him a team-high 48 receptions. He tied for the team lead last season with 61.

RB Jerome Bettis finished with 1,341 yards rushing on 355 carries.

WR Jeff Graham had his fourth 100-yard game for the Chargers by catching five passes for 113 yards. Graham, a second-round draft choice by the Steelers in 1991, was traded by them to Chicago in 1994. He joined the Chargers last year as an unrestricted free agent.

Ryan Leaf's 71-yard touchdown pass to former Graham on the Chargers' first offensive play should not have been a surprise. Of Leaf's 11 touchdown throws this season, four have gone for 45 or more yards -- 45, 68, 71 and 83.

FOURTH-AND-SHORT

Bill Cowher and Joe Bugel, the Chargers' offensive line coach, looked like two guys in a back alley in McKees Rocks challenging each other late in yesterday's game.

While the officials reviewed on instant replay whether Kordell Stewart had successfully plunged into the end zone from the 1, Cowher and Bugel were making gestures toward each other across the field. Cowher, a Crafton native, looked at Bugel and signaled "touchdown." Bugel, a Munhall native, looked back at Cowher, flipped him the bird and made another obscene hand gesture.

Both later laughed it off.

"That's how we say hello to each other in Pittsburgh," Bugel joked.

Said Cowher, "I thought Joe was kidding at first, and then all of a sudden I saw he was mad.

"I thought it was a touchdown and they didn't think it was. I knew he was getting mad near the end because some of his gestures were not indicative of a guy kidding around.

"I was kind of laughing about it, but I have a lot of respect for Joe and lot of respect for [Chargers head coach] Mike Riley. That's why we did what we did at end of the game."

The Steelers purposely ran the clock out with the ball on the Chargers' 3 by downing the ball three consecutive times.

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