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Savran: Now hear this: It's Stewart's show

Saturday, August 31, 2002

I am guessing it's a by-product of their 13-3 record last season and being 60 minutes from the Super Bowl. I gather it's because the Steelers return virtually every vital component of that team, and I'm guessing it comes from not having a whole lot to complain about.

Those have to be the reason so many fans are focusing on the immediate and intermediate future of Kordell Stewart.

I'm only guessing those are the reasons for people calling various talk shows with the question, "How short is the leash wrapped around Kordell's neck?"

In other words, how badly will he have to play, and for how long, for Coach Bill Cowher to yank him in favor of Tommy Maddox or Charlie Batch?

Although I've fielded a talk show call or two in my time, I must admit I didn't anticipate this line of questioning. Where is it coming from?

I imagine it's based partially on the belief that Maddox's surprising and excellent preseason makes him first-team ready. Primarily, this manufactured non-controversy finds its roots in a lack of confidence in Stewart's ability to excel in two successive seasons.

That's fair, given that he has not yet done it.

Clearly, his outstanding 2001 season hasn't been enough to eradicate the very sour taste of 1998-99. The memories -- and the scars -- are too vivid for people to forget. Probably true for Stewart as well.

Fans continue to vilify the quarterback for the loss to the Patriots, homing in on the two fourth-quarter interceptions. This, of course, is akin to blaming a flat tire on your seat belt.

Do you want to pick out the two plays which most cost the Steelers? You know full well which two plays to choose.

You play solid special teams, and you're not in a position to have to come back in the fourth quarter.

Which is not to say that you'll never have to. And when faced with that obstacle, a repeat performance will neither be tolerated nor understood.

There are those who remain unconvinced that Kordell can lead his team from behind.

And you know what? They're right to question.

That's something that he, just like every quarterback, will have to do, engineer that late fourth quarter drive to win a big ball game.

That isn't to suggest he can't, just that it's a question yet to be answered.

By the same token, he did bring the team back from 21-3 to 21-17, back to within striking distance.

But striking distance isn't the ultimate payoff. Twelve teams begin the playoffs within striking distance of the Super Bowl.

As a caller brilliantly phrased it on my Wednesday afternoon show, "Kordell was in position to be a hero. It didn't work out, but that doesn't make him the goat!"

Bingo!

That is not to say fans' concerns are unjustified.

Stewart was a part of the problem in '98 and '99. His poor play -- and it was poor for a variety of reasons -- was a big reason for the team's sub-.500 record those two seasons, something Kordell and his apologists failed to acknowledge.

But he was only a part of the problem.

Now the doubters wonder whether his "breakthrough" season last year was an aberration.

That's fair.

And they aren't convinced he can lead them to a championship.

Also fair.

We won't know until he does it. That's true of any quarterback.

You may recall the same things were said of John Elway.

It was also said around here that Terry Bradshaw couldn't lead a team from behind. That he couldn't successfully run the two-minute drill.

If you don't remember, trust me. It was a recurring topic.

But here's what makes this present theme so ridiculous: If these fans aren't convinced by Stewart's track record, what in the combined track records of Maddox and Batch is more convincing?

This line of reasoning is absurd. The Steelers are well-stocked and blessed to have such excellent backups; really, rather astounding when you consider that two years ago it was Kent Graham and Tee Martin.

But what do people see in the resumes of Batch and/or Maddox that would lead them to believe they are more capable of winning a championship than Stewart is? Other than they haven't failed as a Steeler -- yet.

Now, I'll answer the talk-show question du jour. Stewart is not on a short leash. He is not on a leash of any kind.

And it's highly unlikely that anything other than one of those motorized injury carts will get him off the field this season. He's earned the right.

Get used to it.


Stan Savran is the host of a sports talk show from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays on WBGG-AM (970).

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