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Steelers are a throwback when it comes to spending

The Pittsburgh Steelers seem to be in a time warp these days.

In these free-spending days of free agency, the Steelers operate almost the same way they did a half century ago when the team founder, the late Art Rooney, once said, "The biggest thrill wasn't winning on Sunday, but meeting the payroll on Monday."

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The Steelers act as if the hard cap the owners thought they negotiated in 1993 really exists. They virtually ignore all the loopholes that teams use to get around the cap.

They simply spend the cap money. They're $192,000 under it in this year's accounting and have spent only about $2 million over it in actual cash. The Jets, by contrast, spent $18 million more than the cap and are 0-6.

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When the Eric Greens, Neil O'Donnells and Leon Searcys get big offers that the Steelers think are more than they're worth, Pittsburgh officials don't match them. When they can find a younger, cheaper player to replace a Kevin Greene, they let Greene go.

They also don't like dealing with problem players. After Bam Morris plea bargained on a drug charge, they released him. It helped that they already had traded for Jerome Bettis.

When one of their best defensive players -- Rod Woodson last year and Greg Lloyd this year -- gets hurt in the opener, they plug in a replacement and move on.

The result is that a month after opening the season with a loss in Jacksonville, the Steelers are on a four-game winning streak and could be headed toward their second straight Super Bowl appearance.

After their 17-7 victory over Kansas City on Monday night, they have a good shot at a 10-1 or 9-2 start. Of their next six opponents -- Cincinnati (twice), Houston, Atlanta, St. Louis and Jacksonville -- only one (Houston, at 3-2) has a winning record, and the Steelers already have beaten the Oilers.

Linebacker Levon Kirkland said, "There were a lot of doubters out there, but we came in and made Arrowhead our home."

Coach Bill Cowher said, "I said before that in that kind of game, we would find out about ourselves. And I liked what I saw tonight."

Not that the Steelers were dazzling. Bettis fumbled twice and Mike Tomczak threw an end-zone interception, but the Steelers still made the plays when they had to.

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"It didn't always look pretty," Bettis said. "But we got the job done."

Goodbye

When Keith Byars was waived by Miami Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson last week, he lashed out at Johnson.

He said Johnson was "intimidated by my leadership skills" and added, "He [Johnson] creates a lot of stir in a short amount of time. If he doesn't get it done quick, Jimmy won't be there. He doesn't have the endurance to go the long haul."

Johnson shrugged off the criticism. "Keith is disappointed that he was released. I'm sorry he's disappointed and I wish him the best of luck."

Johnson showed the criticism didn't bother him when he released another veteran Monday after the Dolphins' 22-15 loss to Seattle.

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This week's victim was safety Gene Atkins, who didn't relay a call to cornerback Terrell Buckley. As a result, Atkins was playing one coverage, Buckley another and Joey Galloway caught a 51-yard touchdown pass when neither player covered him.

The visit

Jets owner Leon Hess visited the team's locker room after a 34-13 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday and talked to coach Rich Kotite.

As he departed, Hess, who hasn't talked to the news media about his team since mini-camp, was asked if he could answer a question.

He raised his left hand and said, "Please don't."

So nobody knows what he thinks of Kotite's two-year 3-19 record and 3-26 mark if he counts the last seven games he lost in Philadelphia in 1994.

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Vote of ?

It may not quite count as a vote of confidence, but it may have amounted to the same thing Monday when Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown said of coach David Shula, "I'm not looking for a scapegoat. I'm not going to offer up anybody's head to appease the critics."

But the Bengals are 1-4, Shula is 19-50 and in the final year of his contract and Brown is about to start a PSL campaign for his proposed new stadium.

It adds up to the fact that it'll take a lot of wins to save Shula.

Headaches

Terrell Davis of the Denver Broncos, who leads the league in rushing with 623 yards, has an unusual problem for a football player -- migraine headaches.

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They're so severe at times they've forced him out of two games with blurred vision and trainers have used bottled oxygen and lidocaine, a common anesthetic, to get him back on the field.

Neither the doctors nor Davis has any idea what is causing the headaches.

"I know everyone is upset and concerned about me. My family is real upset. But I've got confidence that I'll be OK," he said.

Looking ahead

In a game that could signal a change in the power structure in the NFC, the Green Bay Packers play host to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night. The Packers knocked the 49ers out of the playoffs last January. If they beat them again, it would be a sign they've passed the 49ers.

Quotebook

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Kicker Nick Lowery on the black cloud that seemingly has engulfed the Jets: "It's more than a black cloud, it's an entire ecosystem."

Pub Date: 10/09/96



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