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Savran: Graham's start a sign that Steelers don't believe in Stewart

Sunday, October 15, 2000

This week's sign that the apocalypse is upon us will come if at some point this afternoon we begin hearing a rumbling from the back benches of Three Rivers. You can almost hear it now. "We want Kordell. WE WANT KORDELL!" Have we all been transported to Boulder by magic artificial carpet?


Stan Savran is the co-host of "SportsBeat" on Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh.


Even if no such chant emanates from the Steelers' chorus in boo flat today, know that people have been warbling the same tune on the talk shows this week. This from a loutish citizenry that didn't just vocally disapprove of Stewart's efforts, but unfairly vilified him. A boo may be just a boo, but if you listen carefully enough, you can hear the meanness.

Now, with movement in the polls in Kordell's direction, why didn't Bill Cowher anoint him the starter? There will never be a better set of circumstances to do so. The team has won two in a row, he's played very well in each, and one of the worst teams in football provides the opposition.

If it's a matter of protecting Stewart from the leather-lungs, he's going to have to play in the unfriendly confines at some point, isn't he?

Unless the new football stadium isn't ready on time, and someone gets an itchy trigger finger and pushes the plunger on Three Rivers prematurely, forcing the Steelers to play all 16 on the road next season, you're going to have to trot him out there before the besotted fans sometime ... that is, if he's to be your quarterback of the future. Unless, of course, the organization has already determined that's never going to happen.

How else to interpret Cowher's decision?

There are too many good reasons to play him today. He has played well, displayed the kind of calm and judgment too often missing in his game.

Maybe it's because he feels less pressure, although if you can't handle the pressure, you can't be a quarterback.

Maybe it's because the tumblers have finally clicked into place for Kordell, and he's beginning to understand the complexities of not only opposing defenses, but his offense as well. Maybe he's maturing, exerting leadership and regaining the confidence of his teammates which he lost along the way. Those are the short-term reasons to start him today.

This is not to be construed as an indictment of Kent Graham. More than likely, the Steelers would have lost the first three games with Kordell at quarterback, and won the past two with Graham.

While you can never take the quarterback out of the equation, look at the running game, and more importantly, the defense, which hasn't allowed a meaningful touchdown or many big plays the past two weeks.

But there is a benefit in starting Stewart today, one which transcends the present. It's time to find out, once and for all, if Kordell is going to be your quarterback of the future.

The Steelers absolutely cannot afford to go into next season wondering, "is this the year Kordell blossoms?" They must know now, so they can plan accordingly. If he's the guy, great. If not, they must draft, trade, or sign a free agent who will be.

Graham has done a good job, and is a terrific backup, a better fit than Mike Tomczak. But to ascend to the heights they aspire to, they need to find the guy. And you can't make a decision on Stewart if you don't play him. Unless, of course, that decision has already been made.

It would appear that the coaching staff has lost confidence in him, even though he has run the offense efficiently the past two weeks. It's obvious the coaches believe Graham is the one more capable of stretching a defense through the air. Stewart can do the same with his legs. But legs on a quarterback are a great dimension only if you can first move the team with your arm. The spate of mobile quarterbacks in the league may be a growing trend, but to be successful, you must first prove you can pass. You don't win championships with broken plays.

It would seem Stewart is the logical choice for the short term, which would provide insight for the long term. But by deciding to return to Graham before the Jets' game, it appears the long term will not include Kordell Stewart.

And if I'm reading this correctly, unless Graham's re-injured, Kordell's last start in a Steelers uniform may have come last Sunday.

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