Steelers Notebook: NFL's '09 opener has Titans at Heinz Field

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DANA POINT, Calif. -- The Steelers will play the AFC championship game that never was when the Tennessee Titans kick off the 2009 NFL season Sept. 10 at Heinz Field on a Thursday night.

To the winner of the Super Bowl goes the spoils, which is why the Steelers will get to open the NFL season at home for the second time in the past four years, and all the hoopla that surrounds that game.

It's a tradition the NFL started in 2004.

Kickoff is 8:30 p.m. on NBC.

The Titans, champions of the AFC South Division last season, earned the conference's No. 1 seed in the playoffs with a 13-3 record. But they were upset at home by Baltimore, sending the AFC championship game to the No. 2-seeded Steelers at Heinz Field against the Ravens.

Tennessee is a former member of the old AFC Central Division with the Steelers.

The Titans beat the Steelers, 31-14, Dec, 21 in Nashville to earn the top seed in the second-last game of the season.

The Sept. 10 game also will mark the return of former Steelers receiver Nate Washington, who signed this month as a free agent with Tennessee.

"I'm excited about getting things started in '09," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said yesterday after he learned of the opening matchup. "My philosophy or approach hasn't changed. It's less about who we play; I'm more concerned about how we prepare and how we play.

"Playing a quality opponent such as those guys makes preparation easier from my standpoint. I know it's going to be an exciting atmosphere and environment for our fans. That's what I'm most excited about."

Among the reasons the NFL scheduled Tennessee for the opener is the fact the Ravens, who lost all three games they played against the Steelers last season, asked the NFL not to schedule them for that game or any night games in Heinz Field, according to the Baltimore Sun.

The Ravens made their case to the league, according to the report, that they've played nationally televised games in Heinz Field three of the past four seasons and the Steelers have not played one in Baltimore since 2003.

"I thought it was interesting, you know," Tomlin said of the Ravens' request. "But to each his own.

"Personally, I don't care when we have to play people or where we play them. That's out of our control, so I don't focus on that."

As Super Bowl champions, the Steelers are likely to again have the maximum of five night games on their 2009 schedule, for the second season in a row. The rest of that schedule will be announced sometime in April. Tomlin said he welcomes the attention that goes with prime-time games.

"I do. I take it as a challenge. I also take it as a compliment. I think the league views those games as exciting games, marketable games. It's an honor to represent the NFL in that way."

Besides the opening game at Heinz Field, the NFL yesterday announced the rest of its kickoff weekend of nationally televised games.

Chicago will play at Green Bay Sunday night and their will be two games Monday night on ESPN: Buffalo at New England and San Diego at Oakland.

The league also revealed its Thanksgiving Day tripleheader of Green Bay at Detroit, Oakland at Dallas and the New York Giants at Denver.

Fifth-round pick added

The Steelers received and extra draft pick yesterday, but not the one they hoped to get. The NFL issued a fifth-round pick to the Steelers as one of 32 compensatory choices the league awarded to 16 teams.

Privately, the Steelers expected a third-round pick. The extra draft choice for the Steelers will be the 33rd in the fifth round or No. 169 overall.

"I'll take whatever they want to give us," coach Mike Tomlin said simply.

The NFL uses a complicated system to determine compensatory draft picks. The Steelers were awarded their extra choice based on losing two unrestricted free agents last year, Alan Faneca and Clark Haggans, and signing one, Mewelde Moore.

The Steelers have nine picks in the draft next month, one in each of the seven rounds, and additional picks in the fifth and seventh rounds. They have the final pick in the first round, No. 32. Tomlin said he prefers that choice over No. 1.

"I would rather pick at the bottom of the first round than the top because what it takes to get to the top to pick is miserable."

The Detroit Lions, based on their 0-16 record last season, pick first.



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