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Steelers' Aaron Smith a long shot to play in AFC Championship Game

It looks like Aaron Smith will have to wait until the Super Bowl, assuming the Steelers get there, to return to the playing field.

The defensive end practiced on a limited basis this week and is listed as doubtful for today's AFC Championship Game.

Smith has been sidelined since partially tearing his triceps in late October. The Steelers were hopeful he would dress against the New York Jets. Instead, it looks like Smith will miss his 12th consecutive game.

"He didn't progress that much this week," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

Smith is so valuable to the Steelers that they kept the 6-5, 298-pounder on their 53-man roster after he got hurt because there was a chance he could return this season.

His comeback bid is running out of time, although if the Steelers beat the Jets, they would get a week off before playing in Super Bowl XLV.

Smith hasn't ruled out playing, even though it looks like a long shot.

"I'm always optimistic," Smith said. "It's getting to the point where (the arm) is mature enough it can withstand playing football."

Cromartie calls out Ward

Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie is riled up about Hines Ward.

During an interview Friday on SportsNet New York, Cromartie said Ward is not "man enough to hit you when you're looking at him."

Cromartie said he doesn't consider Ward dirty, but "I know for a fact that he will hit you while you're not looking."

Win one for Myron?

Fans can point to a number of reasons the Steelers might win today.

More than a few are probably convinced there is no way they lose on Myron Cope's birthday.

Cope, the legendary sports broadcaster and Pittsburgh icon, would have been 81 today. He died Feb. 27, 2008.

The ubiquitous Terrible Towels that will be twirled at Heinz Field are a big part of Cope's legacy.

The tradition started before a 1975 playoff game at Three Rivers Stadium when Cope urged fans to wave yellow dish towels in support of the Steelers.

"The whole story behind the Terrible Towel and what it's grown into, it's amazing," Steelers inside linebacker James Farrior said. "He was a heck of a guy."

Facial hair popular with fans

The beard that defensive end Brett Keisel has been growing since June has become its own entity.

It has its own Facebook page — "Brett Keisel's Beard" — and has almost 12,000 followers.

"That's not me. I think there's a Twitter page, too," Keisel said with a laugh. "That's not me either. Someone's having some fun with it, which I don't really mind."

Keisel started growing the beard as a way of exorcising any lingering demons after the Steelers went 9-7 in 2009 and did not get a chance to defend their Super Bowl title.

"It's just something I tried to do to convince myself we were getting back to the playoffs," Keisel said.

Sacking Sanchez

One of the keys for the Steelers today will be putting more pressure on Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez.

They sacked him just once in a 22-17 loss Dec. 19, and Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison said Sanchez is hard to get on the ground.

Of Sanchez's ability to escape pressure, Harrison said, "I think it's up there with Ben (Roethlisberger). He's not as big, but he's definitely agile. He gets away. He's slippery."

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