Willie Parker scores on his memorable 75-yard run in the third quarter of Super Bowl XL in February 2006.
Willie Parker celebrates after scoring against the Cincinnati Bengals in January 2006. There hasn't been such a sight for sore eyes lately.
By Ron Cook Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Willie Parker didn't call for advice, but I'm going to offer him some anyway this morning:
Hey, Fast Willie. The Steelers still need a really good backup running back to Rashard Mendenhall. You still don't have a job for next season, last time I checked. Put aside your hard feelings toward Mike Tomlin and the Steelers' organization and see if a deal can't be done that benefits everyone. You gotta remember one thing: We're talking business here. It should never be personal. It's business.
I hope Parker comes back.
The Steelers will be a better team for it.
Parker turns 30 on Nov. 11, but he still has plenty left. He proved that to me in the final game last season. He toted the football 12 times for 91 yards against the Miami Dolphins and looked good doing it.
If Parker can just get his mind right ...
We're talking business here. It should never be personal.
The Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette spoke to a person close to Parker and reported in his PG+ blog that Parker is so bitter toward the Steelers about his treatment last season that he would rather sit out 2010 than play here again. The source's message might be a bit extreme, but there's no question Parker -- a valuable guy who played a major role on two Super Bowl-winning teams -- couldn't have been happy about being pushed aside for Mendenhall. Parker had to know it was inevitable from the day the Steelers drafted Mendenhall No. 1 in the '08 draft and invested a fortune in him, but that didn't make it any easier to take. The Steelers hardly used Parker after he had a foot injury in the third game. He had a total of just 34 carries in the 10 games before the Miami game.
Of course, that stung even if Parker never complained about it publicly.
Parker is a proud man. He never was fully appreciated by a lot of media and fans here, but he should be remembered as one of the great Steelers. He ran for 1,200 yards in '05 and set a Super Bowl record with a 75-yard touchdown run against the Seattle Seahawks. He had nearly 1,500 yards in '06 and was leading the NFL with 1,316 yards in '07 when his right leg was broken in the next-to-last game. He came back to lead the '08 Super Bowl Steelers in rushing despite missing five games with knee and shoulder injuries.
Despite all of that, the Steelers weren't wrong to turn to Mendenhall last season. After taking a public scolding from Tomlin, who benched him on offense during the game at Cincinnati in September because he "wasn't on the details this week," he played like a No. 1 pick and finished the season with 1,108 yards. "I think he's capable of a lot more to be quite honest with you," Tomlin told Bouchette last week. "Looking for him to do great things for us."
But that doesn't mean there's not a spot for Parker as long as he can wrap his arms around being a backup. He knows Bruce Arians' offense. He could step in again if something happens to Mendenhall. He would be a better choice than any of the other backs on the roster -- Mewelde Moore, Frank Summers and Isaac Redman. He might be a better choice than the team could find elsewhere, either in the draft next month or in free agency later in the spring.
At this point, it doesn't look as if Parker will get a shot at a starting job with another team. There hasn't been nearly the interest in him around the league that I thought there would be. There has to be concerns about his age and his injuries the past three seasons.
That's why Parker owes it to himself to at least re-think his stance on the Steelers. I'm guessing they would like to have him back at the right price. They brought back wide receiver Antwaan Randle El and linebacker Larry Foote to provide depth at key positions on a veteran team they think is capable of taking another run at a Super Bowl. There's no reason they shouldn't want to fill a similar need with Parker. That's especially true if they are as serious about re-committing to the running game as Tomlin says they are. They're going to need two good, solid, proven running backs.
Clearly, Parker can be one of the two.
That's assuming, of course, Parker can make his peace with Tomlin and the organization and accept his role as Mendenhall's backup.
I'm thinking Fast Willie sounds a whole lot better.
. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.