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Passionate player

| Friday, Dec. 16, 2005

A great philosopher and visionary once uttered this profound and powerful phrase: "Keep on, keepin' on."

"Joe Dirt," Steelers linebacker Clark Haggans said.

That's right, it was mullet-headed title character from the movie "Joe Dirt," played by comedian David Spade, who gave Haggans such words to live by.

Or, more accurately, words to say in jest in his neverending quest to watch -- and quote -- any and every DVD movie. Haggans isn't merely the NFL leader in sacks among linebackers (he has eight), but he might also be the league leader in movies viewed in his living room.

"I'm in Best Buy all the time, just to see what's out there," Haggans said. "I buy them and watch them. I watch 'Braveheart,' 'Gladiator,' 'Joe Dirt,' 'Starsky and Hutch,' 'Old School' ... Kung Fu flicks, Star Wars, cowboy movies, animated movies ..."

Considering his fascination with the big screen, it's a wonder Haggans has time to prepare for opposing teams.

It also isn't the least bit surprising. The same passion he has for movies, he has for the game of football.

On Sunday, at the Metrodome, he'll attempt to put that passion on display when the Steelers (8-5) try to slow down quarterback Brad Johnson and the Minnesota Vikings (8-5), who are riding a six-game winning streak.

Haggans will be lined up against rookie left tackle Marcus Johnson.

"Clark never stops -- ever," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "It seems like, during the course of a game, when guys are starting to wear out and their energy levels are starting to drop, that's when Clark really feasts on the opponent."

Haggans, 6-foot-4, 243 pounds, owns the top sack total among linebackers despite missing three games (Weeks 3-5 because of groin surgery) and fighting through the pain and limitations associated with post-surgery.

He's had a sack in all but two of the games he's played in this season, and he has 50 tackles, three forced fumbles and five quarterback pressures. His sack total is the most by a Steelers player since fellow linebacker and former Colorado State teammate Joey Porter had nine in 2002.

"It all goes back to his work ethic," said Porter, who not only is fourth among NFL linebackers with seven sacks, but also got to Johnson four times when the latter played quarterback with Tampa Bay in 2001. "He's in here in the morning at 7 every day. He doesn't cheat himself or any of us."

Haggans might want to add "Superman" to his DVD favorites, because he's played like the Man of Steel on a number of occasions this season.

How else to explain his faster-than-a-speeding-bullet style or his ability to leap tall blockers in a single bound• He displayed both on one masterful play in a 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots in Week 3 at Heinz Field.

Standing in his typical left outside linebacker spot, Haggans saw the Patriots execute a perfectly designed screen from quarterback Tom Brady to running back Kevin Faulk. The play appeared to be headed for a touchdown when Faulk gathered the ball at the Steelers 10 and had a cavalry of blockers in place.

But Haggans had other ideas.

He was engaged with 6-4, 305-pound Patriots guard Stephen Neal when Faulk suddenly appeared. With little hope of getting a clean shot at the New England back, Haggans left his feet, extended his body and went airborne in Superman fashion. He then used his powerful right arm to rip the ball from Faulk's grasp and send it toward the left sideline.

Fellow linebacker Larry Foote scooped up the fumble and took it 27 yards the other way.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said Haggans was the most athletic of the Steelers linebackers he's coached, including Jason Gildon, Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd.

"He could play safety, if we needed him to," LeBeau said.

Former Steelers tight end Mark Bruener, who signed with the Houston Texans in 2004, is not surprised by the success of his former teammate, who made his name on special teams after being drafted in the fifth round in 2000.

"I would say he's one of the more underrated outside linebackers in a long time," Bruener said of Haggans, who has 21 1/2 career sacks in 27 starts. "He's extremely quick, and he has great instincts. He's really mature, and he has great strength at the point of attack.

"I can remember him as a rookie and how impressive he was then. I just really think he's one of the underrated players in this league. Don't be surprised if he's one of the best around -- soon. He's that good."

Haggans is also a stickler for details. Butler gives his linebacking corps a test the day before each game to determine how well they know the opposition. He draws up offensive plays, then asks his linebackers to detail where every Steelers defender should be on that given play.

Haggans almost always aces the exams.

"He never stops wanting to learn, wanting to get better," Butler said.

No, Haggans just keeps on keepin' on.

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