Ron Cook: Standing on the corner
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OK, so maybe it's corny.
Corny, but meaningful.
"Look at this shirt. This is my motto," Steelers receiver Hines Ward was saying yesterday, pulling a yellow jersey out of his locker.
HARD WORK BEATS TALENT WHEN TALENT DOESN'T WORK HARD.
"That's been me my whole career," Ward said, "and that's him," pointing at the man in the next locker.
"To me, he's still our best corner," Ward said. "Maybe he isn't the tallest in the NFL and maybe he isn't the most talented, but you need more than physical tools and talent to make it in this league. You have to be smart and you have to know the game. He does. That's why he's lasted so long with this team."
Ten seasons and counting, making Townsend, along with Ward and guard Alan Faneca, the most-tenured Steelers' players.
They came in together in the 1998 draft class -- Faneca, the can't-miss No. 1 pick who has become the most-decorated guard in franchise history, Ward, a third-rounder now the team's all-time leading receiver in catches who was a Super Bowl MVP, and Townsend, who, as a fourth-round choice ...
Hey, he's still starting.
No one can beat him out.
Not that they haven't tried.
It was supposed to happen at training camp last season. Bryant McFadden was going to be The Man. He had done a nice job as a rookie in '05, giving the Steelers a big push toward Super Bowl XL by knocking away a late pass in the end zone against the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning in the AFC playoffs.
Townsend held him off.
Skip ahead to this camp. Again, McFadden was supposed to win the starting job. He played well in nine starts last season when the Steelers' big-money cornerback, Ike Taylor, was in coach Bill Cowher's doghouse. He had three interceptions, matching Troy Polamalu for the team lead.
But guess who was running with the first defense at practice yesterday opposite Taylor, who has re-emerged as a key player for new coach Mike Tomlin?
Guess who has been there all summer?
He had a nice game at Washington the other night. In one three-play sequence in the second quarter, he chased down Redskins back Derrick Blaylock from behind for a 1-yard loss, closed quickly to tackle wide receiver Brandon Lloyd after a 2-yard catch and sacked quarterback Todd Collins for a 9-yard loss.
"I can still run with people out there," Townsend said.
But there's so much more to it.
Ward was absolutely right.
"The mental part of the game allows me to slow things down," Townsend said.
Townsend never stops working at his trade, never stops studying it.
"I don't take anything for granted," he said. "I take the same notes now that I did as a rookie. In our meetings, I always write down every player's assignment. That helps me to be better prepared to do my job.
"I learned that from coach [Bill] Cowher. He always said, 'Nothing is etched in stone. When you come to camp, be prepared to win your job.' That's what I've done every year since I've been here."
Even Townsend thought he might be finished with the Steelers after the '05 season. He did the NFL tour as an unrestricted free agent and was at New England Patriots headquarters, ready to sign a deal, when Cowher got him on his cell phone. He sheepishly excused himself from that meeting with the Patriots and wound up signing a four-year, $8 million contract with the Steelers through the '09 season.
Now, who's to say Townsend -- 32 on Sept. 8, the day before the opener in Cleveland -- won't last long enough to play it out?
"People always put so much emphasis into age, but I don't think you can do that nowadays," he said. "The way we train year round, the medical staff we have ... It's easy to keep playing at a high level as you get older."
That's if you consider hard work easy.
"It's never been easy for me and Deshea," Ward said. "It seems like they're always bringing in someone to replace us ...
"Go back to that '98 draft. If you would have asked then what players would still be with the Steelers 10 years later, I guarantee no one would have said me and Deshea."
Sometimes, it's nice to be wrong.
First Published August 20, 2007 11:54 pm