PITTSBURGH – Hines Ward not only set the tone for the charged-up Steelers on Monday night, he set a theme. So here are some of the other Steelers who stepped out from behind the shadows to either start, save, or rekindle their careers:
He couldn’t get a Division One scholarship offer because of his lack of size, and also because his high school – Scott High in Toledo – ran the wishbone.
So Washington went to Tiffin University, where he once played in front of 8,000 fans. That was his sophomore season. Three years later, Washington walked into a stadium of more than 50,000 people and performed as if he was born for it.
“My adrenaline was pumping more than it ever has been pumping before,” he said. “It was exciting. I was just ready to make plays.”
Washington (6-1, 185) led all Steelers receivers with 4 catches for 76 yards, an average of 19 per catch.
He entered the game in the second quarter and caught a 10-yard pass from Tommy Maddox. On the next series, he caught passes of 12 and 33 yards to set up Willie Parker’s 3-yard touchdown run. In the third quarter he caught a 21-yard pass from Charlie Batch.
Washington made most of his yardage after the catch, and was surprised at how easy it all seemed.
“I was a lot surprised,” he said. “We’ve got a nice offense here. This is the best offense I’ve ever played in. A lot of times they design plays specifically to get one person open, and a lot of times tonight I was that one person. It worked out for me.”
He was being pegged as another second-round bust after coach Bill Cowher earlier in the week criticized Colclough’s play at a press conference.
The Steelers traded up into the early part of the second round to draft him in 2004, but here was the cornerback from Tusculum with a hip injury being pushed by rookie Bryant McFadden pushing for his second-team spot. The weight of Cowher’s words hung around his neck.
But Colclough silenced all doubters by returning a punt 66 yards for a touchdown early in the first quarter to put the Steelers ahead by 14 points.
“It was a short kick,” Colclough said. “I started giving the peter call to get everybody away. It bounced high; I waited on the bounce and took it. Once I made the cutback it was open for me.”
Colclough also came close to breaking a kickoff – “just one guy; a shoestring tackle,” he said – for a touchdown.
In the fourth quarter, Colclough intercepted a pass at the Eagles’ 20, but the call was reversed by replay.
“I didn’t catch it,” he said with a laugh. “I wish they didn’t challenge it.”
Colclough admitted to having been motivated by Cowher’s remarks.
“But that’s coach Cowher,” he said. “When a guy’s not doing what he’s supposed to do, and he expects more from that guy, he does that. I guess you could say that sort of motivated me to come out here and play the way I played tonight.”
Spencer is used to taking heat from Cowher, and he accepts it. But Spencer doesn’t particularly care to take heat from reporters. The Steelers’ special teams coach laughed at one – this one – as he left the locker room.
“You’re always busting my horns about the return game,” Spencer said with a satisfied smile.
He should be satisfied. Spencer may finally have two bona fide kickoff return men.
Colclough, of course, flashed his wares, but Ike Taylor returned a kickoff 100 yards for another score.
“It’s like I told these guys: Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and tonight we won,” Spencer said. “We could easily have gotten our butts kicked.”
Is he excited about the potential of his two young speed demons?
“I am,” he said. “Do you know why? Hopefully the film will verify this, but it wasn’t so much the guys back there but the guys in front. Those guys did a great job springing them, and when you give those kids a seam they can hurt you.”