PITTSBURGH – The last Steeler to lead the NFL in rushing?
It wasn’t Jerome Bettis, or Franco Harris, or John Henry Johnson, but Johnson has come the closest since Bill Dudley led the NFL with 604 rushing yards in 1946. Johnson was second to Jim Taylor (1,474) with 1,141 rushing yards in 1962.
The Steelers’ Willie Parker currently leads the NFL with 1,217 rushing yards. He’d never heard of Dudley, but asked plenty of questions about him.
“Is he the guy from the ’40s? Okay, I’ve been asked about him,” Parker said. “Did he play with the team a long time?”
Dudley led the NFL in rushing as a rookie in 1942 and again in 1946, but only spent three seasons with the Steelers. He entered the Army Air Force after his rookie season and didn’t return until the end of 1945. After his MVP season in 1946, Dudley was traded to the Detroit Lions.
“Why?” Parker asked.
Dudley was traded because he didn’t get along with the coach, a disciplinarian from Pitt named Jock Sutherland. Still, Art Rooney considered Dudley the team’s greatest player up until the 1970s.
“Because he’s in the Hall of Fame?” Parker asked.
That, Parker was told, and because he led the league in rushing. Parker was asked if the latter is on his mind.
“I don’t want to get into all that leading rusher stuff,” he said. “We’ve still got three games left. I know it would be a blessing, but it’s not something I want to think about right now.”
Parker leads Minnesota rookie Adrian Peterson by 17 yards after rushing for 124 last Sunday against New England. It was his first 100-yard game in the last four, and his most productive since gaining 126 in Game 7 at Cincinnati.
“I just made up my mind I was going to get back to what I know,” Parker said. “Lift weights during the week and run like a wild man during the game.”
PRO BOWL POTENTIAL
Fred Taylor’s 132-yard performance last week against Carolina boosted him past Eddie George and Tiki Barber into 18th place on the NFL’s all-time rushing list, but the 10th-year vet has never played in a Pro Bowl. In fact, Taylor is the only back out of the league’s all-time top 49 who can make that claim.
Taylor’s cousin, Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes, wishes he could help.
“If I could vote 500,000 times for Fred Taylor, that’s how many times I would vote for him,” said Holmes, who grew up with his cousin in Belle Glade, Fla.
“If this is his last year, he deserves to go before he retires,” Holmes said. “He gave them everything he had.”
PRIDE OF FLORENCE
Lawrence Timmons was the Steelers’ first-round pick last April, but he hasn’t moved into the starting lineup as quickly as high-school teammate Justin Durant.
The second-round pick of the Jaguars last April out of Hampton University, Durant has started the last four games at strong-side linebacker since the injury to Mike Peterson. Durant had his first interception Nov. 25 against Buffalo and followed it up with an 11-tackle game against Indianapolis.
Timmons and Durant were teammates at Wilson High in Florence, South Carolina. The school just won its first state Class AAA football championship, but with two highly drafted linebackers on the same side for two seasons, the team couldn’t advance past the quarterfinal round.
“We had so many players, it was ridiculous,” said Timmons. “The year Justin’s brother Darren was there they should’ve won it, too. He’s ridiculous. He became the quarterback at North Carolina and he’s in the Canadian Football League right now. He’s a ridiculous athlete.”
Timmons said it was “poor chemistry” that cost Wilson.
Durant played inside and was a year older than Timmons, who played outside.
“He was a great player and he always led the team in tackles,” Timmons said.
“Nobody really ran the ball on us at all. It was a fun defense.”
Wilson High was also the proving ground of former New York Giants star linebacker Harry Carson and former baseball star Reggie Sanders.
“He was a good side-to-side player,” Timmons said of Durant. “He always filled the gaps and did the things nobody could do. As a person he was a really good guy. He was in National Honor Society, a very smart kid. I don’t see how the big schools missed him. I still don’t get it to this day. I think a lot of it has to do with coaches putting it out there. With me, I didn’t leave it up to my coach.”
POLA RECRUITED POLAMALU
Troy Polamalu’s uncle, Kennedy Pola, the running backs coach at Jacksonville, tried to recruit Troy to play at the University of Colorado the summer before Troy’s senior season at Douglas High School in Tenmile, Oregon.
“He was the running backs coach at Colorado,” said Polamalu. “They were pretty successful, maybe a top 10, top 15 team. I went to their camp and after the camp Rick Neuheisel offered me a scholarship. It was the first scholarship I was ever offered. I even asked if it was a full scholarship or half scholarship, but it’s well known that there are only full scholarships in football.”
Polamalu said he was prepared to accept the offer, but Neuheisel left the following January for the University of Washington. Pola took a job at San Diego State, where he coached for a year before joining his nephew at USC.