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Savran: Flowers, Stewart take different paths

Saturday, August 16, 2003

A tale of two Steelers. Ex-Steelers, actually. For the first time in their respective careers, they've been "fired" by their team. Having been "released" a time or two in my career, I know how that feels. The test is how you handle it.

Lee Flowers was a guest on my radio show this week, and his forced departure from Pittsburgh and his subsequent move to Denver lessened neither his willingness to speak candidly, nor his knack for evaluation...especially when it comes to evaluating himself.

Without prompting, he readily admitted that he could no longer function as effectively, given what the Steelers now ask of their strong safeties. Coverage never was his forte, and eight years of head-busting isn't conducive to improving those skills. He didn't expect a contract offer from the Steelers, so there was a mutual understanding, which made the parting as amicable as can be expected after divorcing from an eight-year marriage. Flowers singled out the organization in general and the Rooneys in particular as being the best ownership in the league.

But he had one complaint.

He believes that defensive coordinator Tim Lewis has bad-rapped him since he left the team and contended that Lewis has told a number of Steelers and others around the league that Flowers was the primary reason the Steelers' secondary was a sieve last year.

Flowers further alleged that Lewis is claiming that he was disruptive during team meetings. Flowers obviously denies the latter, and while having already admitted his play was the primary reason he was discarded, believes Lewis is trying to cover his behind by blaming Flowers for the team's porous pass defense in 2002.

Clearly, the charges have hurt Flowers, and, after eight years of truly being a team leader, who could blame him? Who knows what the truth is? It's between the two of them. But aside from that, Flowers' respect for Bill Cowher and the organization is refreshing, as was his admitting that he was a worn part who no longer fit in the Steelers' scheme.

Then there's Kordell Stewart. I heard him being interviewed on a national radio show this week, and, to hear him tell it, his wide-ranging problems in Pittsburgh were the product of a wide range of people: Cowher, the offensive coordinator (pick any one), his teammates, the fans, the media, Mayor Murphy, and Gray Davis. And you know, with the exceptions of the two politicians, there's truth in what he says. But unlike former teammate Flowers, lacking in Stewart's self-analysis is any reference to his own performance. At no time did he admit there was even a remote possibility that maybe, just once in his seven-odd years as the starting quarterback, his performance might have been marginally substandard. But that shouldn't surprise you, because that amazing and annoying state of denial is consistent with his conduct while he was here.

Did Cowher mishandle him?

Perhaps, but he didn't mistreat him. The changing coordinators and changing offenses would have been difficult for any quarterback. It was a long time from Yancey Thigpen to Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress, no question.

The fans and the media? Some criticisms and innuendo were clearly out of bounds. But many were not.

But nowhere is there an acknowledgment by Stewart that he played a part in his own misadventures. Was he all to blame? No. But how about a part of the blame? A small part, any part? Throw us a bone. Is a football game solely decided by fate ... do the participants have no control over the outcome? Or should only 10 of the 11 players be held accountable?

Perhaps Stewart was so hyper-sensitive to criticism that, as a defense mechanism, he ducked into a protective shell at the mere scent of it. But either you're a part of the team or you're not, and there were teammates who didn't appreciate his unwillingness to stand up and take at least one sling or arrow. The quarterback always gets too much blame. But that's part of being a quarterback in the NFL. If Stewart had been willing to stand up at least once in a while, he might still be here.

But life goes on. Neither of the two men necessarily appreciates the method of departure from Pittsburgh, but at least one understands the reasons for it. That, it seems to me, is the healthier approach. You can't see what's ahead if you're focused on that which is behind.

Stan Savran is the host of a sports talk show, weekdays 3-6 PM on WBGG-AM (970).

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