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Cowher picks Maddox, for now

| Thursday, Oct. 3, 2002

The Steelers will brandish their new starting quarterback and presumably a new emphasis on offense — call it the Tommy Gun — Sunday in New Orleans.

Tommy Maddox got the word Tuesday. Bill Cowher shared it with his players and the world Wednesday. Maddox will start against the Saints, with the presumption he will add on to the startling success he enjoyed in the latter stages of an overtime win against Cleveland on Sunday.

That was in relief of Kordell Stewart. After the game, Cowher had said he was leaning toward Stewart as the starter this week. The coach's leanings changed, with Stewart offering the possibility that "He came up with, in a little crystal ball, that he wanted to go ahead and start Tommy."

Switching starting quarterbacks is a winner, at least initially, with the fans, just like running a play on fourth-and-short. If it works, great. If not, well, what a boneheaded call that was.

Jerome Bettis was asked for the ups and downs of quarterback swapping and he had a ready response.

"Positively, the guy goes in there and does a bang-up job. It can kind of lift a football team," Bettis said.

Then there was the negative possibility.

"The guy goes in there and doesn't do well, then you start second-guessing and question marks come in and guys start wondering 'Was that the best decision to make?'

"But I don't think that's the case. Tommy's going to come in and he's going to do a great job."

There you have it. It is ordained. Maddox will succeed. Perhaps he will.

And the Steelers will be a focal point of league-wide attention. They will be the team quarterbacked by the former XFL MVP. Until last season, Maddox hadn't taken a snap in a regular NFL game for six years. Maddox hasn't started an NFL game since 1992 when he got all four of his career starts.

Maddox was excited yesterday. His ready smile seemed that much wider. He also is mature at 31 years of age. He made it a point to talk at length with Stewart to assure that their relationship remains intact.

He promised nothing beyond his best efforts. And he vowed not to tiptoe into this opportunity worried about losing it.

"I really don't feel that much pressure," he said. "There's a lot of pressure in life, but playing football's not really pressure. I'm excited about it."

But, in the past, Cowher has been known to change his mind quickly regarding quarterbacks. Some might call him hair-triggered.

Ask Jim Miller. Ask Mike Tomczak. Ask Kent Graham. Ask Kordell — three times.

"I think every quarterback always has that pressure (on) him," Maddox said. "I won't be in there looking over my shoulder, whether it's the case or not. I don't think you can go in there and play with that mentality."

Kordell proved he couldn't, having been given a perform-or-else ultimatum prior to the Cleveland game.

Maddox is right in a way. The pressure here is not on him, but rather on the highly paid coach of a team identified as a Super Bowl participant that is off to a 1-2 start. Ownership paid up to keep together this team, as evidenced by the Steelers' spot as the second-highest NFL payroll to start the season.

Big production was expected. In a year of lower expectations, Stewart might still be the starting quarterback. He noted yesterday that the offense and team had started slowly last season, although the record then had been 2-1 after three games.

Now, Cowher has not only changed his starting quarterback, he also is expected to change the emphasis of the attack he runs. While not forsaking their running game, the Steelers are expected to do more throwing with Maddox pulling the trigger on offense.

It is quite a responsibility to be put on a player, who before the season many had expected would not beat out free agent Charlie Batch for the spot of backup quarterback.

Picking Maddox is a dramatic move for Cowher. Based on what Stewart calls the coach's "track record," Cowher is not above making a similarly dramatic move in another direction if this doesn't pay dividends quickly.

"I'm not looking to make this a circus," Cowher said yesterday.

But he has proudly worn the ringmaster's hat in the past.

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