Steelers veterans institute regulation on Mendenhall to keep rookie from fumbling
Rashard Mendenhall is paying a steep price for his two fumbles Saturday against the Vikings. Fellow running back Willie Parker and veteran wide receiver Hines Ward have set the stakes: The '$100 Mendenhall ball.'
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The news was out, posted on the Steelers bulletin board for all to read.
"Take Mendenhall's ball away and get $100 from him. And you get an extra $500 if you bring it to the running back's meeting room."
Naturally, rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall had a gaggle of reporters waiting for him at his locker yesterday afternoon.
As Mendenhall strode toward his locker, one of his teammates yelled that he better have that football with him wherever he went.
That football is the "$100 Mendenhall ball," the creation of Hines Ward and Willie Parker to help the Steelers' top draft pick out of Illinois hang onto the football.
- Who: Steelers (2-1) vs. Carolina Panthers (2-1).
- What: Final preseason game.
- When: 7 p.m.
- Where: Heinz Field.
- TV/radio: KDKA, FSN Pittsburgh, WDVE-FM (102.5), WBGG-AM (970) and Steelers Radio Network.
Ward and Parker assigned Mendenhall to carry the football around the Steelers' practice facility at all times. Anyone who strips Mendenhall of the ball this week will be the proud recipient of $100, courtesy of Mendenhall.
"Hopefully, he won't have too big of a tab by the end of the week," Ward said.
Ward and Parker came up with this bit of rookie hazing after Mendenhall fumbled twice in the Steelers' 12-10 preseason victory against the Minnesota Vikings Saturday night at the Metrodome. The second fumble came late in the fourth quarter with the Steelers driving for the potential winning field goal.
The Steelers eventually got the ball back and Jeff Reed booted the winning points through the uprights with four seconds remaining, but the end result did not mean Mendenhall was going to get off easy.
The design of the assignment is twofold. Make Mendenhall aware that his fumbling won't be tolerated, and at the same time, make it a light-hearted affair.
"It's for his sake, to get his mind off last game," Parker said. "Now he has other things to think about. It's not fun for him, but it is fun for the other guys in the locker room. It's football. It's what we do. We just want him to take it a little more serious."
"We just want to make sure that he's not fumbling at crucial times," Ward said. "We just wanted to give him a little extra incentive and motivation."
When asked if a rookie could afford such a potentially steep bill, Ward said, "What was his signing bonus? He can afford it."
The idea apparently was lifted from the movie "The Program," the 1993 flick starring James Caan, Halle Berry and Omar Epps.
Epps portrays a running back. Because of his tendency to fumble, Epps' character is forced to lug a ball with him wherever he goes.
Mendenhall is well aware of the movie, calling it one of his favorites, but he's not particularly fond of being cast in Epps' former role.
"It's a little unrealistic if you ask me," Mendenhall said. "Eighty guys [trying to strip the ball] all the time. But it's something I have to do."
Mendenhall's week got off to a rough start. Defensive backs Tyrone Carter and Travis Williams already had knocked the ball from his grasp.
The only time Mendenhall doesn't have to hold onto the ball is when he's eating. Otherwise, it's open season, including his time away from the team's practice facility.
"If I see him out at a restaurant, I better see that ball," Ward said.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin made it clear after the game Saturday that Mendenhall's ball security would be addressed. And he seemed to be in favor of the way his teammates were getting their message across.
"Peer pressure is the ultimate motivator," Tomlin said. "The reality is he has to hold onto the football, by whatever means that gets done. I saw him walking around with a football a little bit. As long as he doesn't fumble it, he's fine."
Mendenhall, who said he had never fumbled twice in a game in his college or high school career, was taking the assignment in stride. And he hopes to have the majority of his signing bonus still in the bank by the time the Steelers play host to the Carolina Panthers in the preseason finale Thursday night.
As of last night, no one had been awarded the $500 prize.
"Yeah I'm losing a little bit of money, but it will be all right," he said. "It's part of being a rookie. You have to do anything that's asked of you, especially if it's a veteran like Hines."
"Hopefully, he won't have too big of a tab by the end of the week. ... What was his signing bonus? He can afford it."
First Published August 26, 2008 12:00 am