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It's Fast Willie's job to lose

| Monday, Sept. 12, 2005

As he drifted off to sleep at the Steelers' hotel Saturday night, Willie Parker was watching the hilarious Tom Green movie "Road Trip" with roommate Ricardo Colclough.

In the film, Breckin Meyer plays the role of Josh Parker, one of four college kids who embark on an 1,800-mile road trip to retrieve an illicit tape mistakenly mailed to a girlfriend.

It's a good thing Josh Parker wasn't Willie Parker, because "Fast Willie" would have covered those 1,800 miles in about 18 minutes and ruined the plot -- kind of the way he ruined the Tennessee Titans' defensive game plan Sunday.

Anyone out there still think Fast Willie's a myth?

If so, you better retrieve the game tape, because it shows the 5-foot-10, 209-pound Parker running every which way including loose en route to the best opening-day rushing performance in Steelers history.

"A lot of you guys got your questions answered," Parker said.

The numbers show 22 carries for 161 yards and one screen pass that became a scintillating, 48-yard jaunt down the sidelines, but the numbers don't begin to convey what the second-year phenom from North Carolina did to those poor Titans.

"I mean, it was like the guy had Vaseline on or something," Tennessee defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth said. "It was kind of like a high school game, you know?"

Not only did Fast Willie outrun people, he battled them for the bumpy yards. He didn't pull any Amos Zereoues and turn potential two-yard gains into six-yard losses. His toughness was every bit as impressive as his breakaway speed.

OK, maybe that's a stretch.

When was the last time you saw a Steelers' back (besides Fast Willie) sprint the way he did on that screen pass and later on a 45-yard scamper that was longer than any Jerome Bettis run since 2001?

"I don't know if there's another back in this league that's that fast down the sideline," center Jeff Hartings said.

Please don't call Fast Willie a one-game wonder. He ran for 102 yards against a good Buffalo defense in the season finale last year and had an excellent preseason.

No matter how anyone tries to spin it, the Steelers have a new starting tailback, even after Bettis and Duce Staley return to health.

Bill Cowher didn't bother to attempt a spin when he was asked who'll start next week, saying, "I see no reason to make a change at this point."

How about later on?

"We'll take this week to week."

Fast Willie danced around the question as if it were a Titans linebacker, saying, "I'm just a role player."

Yup, and his role better be to carry the ball 20-plus times every game so long as he can walk.

One of the Steelers' best traits is that their veterans -- Bettis, Staley, Tommy Maddox -- play the team game even when you know they're biting their lips.

But you had to wonder what Bettis and Staley were thinking after the game.

"You can tell Bussie and I rubbed off on him," Staley said of Parker. "One thing about the kid, he listens -- and he's got more speed than we can ever dream of having."

With that, Staley turned to Bettis and said, "If we had that speed with our weight• Whoooo!"

Some of Fast Willie's runs were ridiculous. On one, he spun out of linebacker Keith Bulluck's grasp, outran Haynesworth through the hole and plowed over safety Lamont Thompson. On his 11-yard TD run, he bounced around like a pinball, using two hard hits for additional momentum that shot him over the goal line.

No wonder Bulluck turned to a reporter after the game and said, "Does your job ever go like this?"

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