Gorman: New Steelers cornerback Joe Haden hyped for home debut
Cornerbacks are taught to keep their head on a swivel, but forgive Joe Haden if his is still spinning.
Haden went from spending seven seasons with the Cleveland Browns to opening the season against them Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, just 12 days after being released.
Now, Haden is preparing to play in his first home opener for the Steelers on Sunday when the Minnesota Vikings visit Heinz Field, where he has been unwelcome.
“That's going to be exciting,” Haden said. “In Pittsburgh, the atmosphere and the fans, every time we come here it's been amazing. Being able to have them cheering for me is going to be sweet.”
Where Haden admits he “didn't really like” seeing Steelers fans waving their Terrible Towels, he's looking forward to hearing “Renegade” for the first time while wearing black and gold.
“That's my favorite part of the games,” Haden said.
Haden already has his first memorable moment as a Steeler, with the 21-18 victory over the Browns marking his first-ever win in a season opener. Afterward, he was awarded the game ball.
“I thought it was sweet, man,” Haden said. “This is a very, very first-class organization, with Coach (Mike) Tomlin and Big Ben. They just knew that I was on the other side of it for so long that they just felt that was something they could look out for me.”
Haden started at left cornerback, opposite Artie Burns, and defensive Cameron Heyward credited Haden's coverage with buying an extra second that helped contribute to the Steelers' seven sacks.
“We just appreciate what he gave us,” Heyward said. “He's always been on the other side, and to finally have him over here is just awesome. I appreciate him as a D-lineman a little bit more than other guys. ... It's going to be huge for us, and we're going to get better from it.”
Tomlin wasn't willing to go that far, given Haden only joined the team Aug. 30, but said Haden “did a nice job” and “fit in quickly.”
Despite finishing tied for second with six tackles (four solo), a 3-yard sack and a pass defensed, Haden was a harsh critic of his performance against the Browns.
“I could do better,” Haden said. “I tried to make sure with Cleveland to keep the ball in front of me, not let any of those double moves get over top of my head.
“I definitely wish I could have had some more plays. I give myself a ‘C.' It was an average game.”
It was a whirlwind weekend for Haden, as he had to cancel the first birthday party for his son, Joe, and celebrate instead with a family dinner Saturday night in Downtown Cleveland. Haden faced his former teammates Sunday and then moved his wife, Sarah, and son to Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
“I'm just glad it's over, honestly,” Haden said. “It was different, how quick it was to leave Cleveland and then go back there and play against them.
“I'm excited to be here. It was tough, just the relationships after being there so long and being cool with so many people there. It is what it is. It's a business. I've seen so many of my teammates have to go to new teams. It was only a matter of time.”
Where Cleveland is enduring another rebuilding phase — the Browns went 34-94 and never made the playoffs in Haden's tenure — he is embracing playing for the Steelers, who reached the AFC championship game last season.
“That's just what it is, just being able to embrace that environment,” Haden said. “This is the norm here. It feels good. ... Here, it's just a standard. They expect to win every game we go into, so the approach is different.”
Burns believes adding Haden has changed the perception of the Steelers secondary and “shook up” how teams will attack them.
But the Vikings aren't the Browns. Sam Bradford set an NFL record for completion percentage (71.6) last season, and he completed 27 of 32 passes for 346 yards in the opener against New Orleans.
“I expect it to be the opposite of how it was in Cleveland,” Haden said. “It should be cool, though. I'm just excited to be here. We've got some talent here. I know what we can do with this team. It's special.”
Haden's head will be on a swivel Sunday in soaking up the Steelers atmosphere in the home opener, knowing he's playing for a team with a Super Bowl in its sights.