October 21, 2002
PITTSBURGH -- It has taken Tommy Maddox 10 years to become an overnight success.
An unnoticed backup who had played only a handful of NFL games since 1992 until a couple of weeks ago, the Steelers' quarterback suddenly finds himself the focal point of tonight's game against the Colts.
No doubt the national TV audience will revisit the long trail that took Maddox from being a first-round draft pick to an insurance salesman to a Kurt Warner-like Arena Football star to the XFL's only MVP and, finally, back to the NFL.
The confidence and chemistry he brought to what was a barely functioning Steelers offense will be detailed. So will coach Bill Cowher's decision to start the 31-year-old journeyman who, until last week, had never won as an NFL starter.
Still, if all this attention is disrupting Maddox after so many years of anonymity, he's not showing it -- maybe because he realizes it wouldn't be happening if he were playing poorly, or if he were still selling life insurance in Dallas.
"Everybody always complains about things, and then you take them away, and they're like, 'Man, that wasn't so bad,"' he said. "It's a time in your life and you might as well enjoy it, because it will soon be gone, too."
Maddox was so relaxed last week he allowed an NFL Films crew to accompany him to restaurants and radio shows, the locker room and his home -- all without telling his wife beforehand.
"Yeah, she wasn't real happy about it," Maddox said. "But she made it. My kids were going crazy. I thought they would be shy, but they're enjoying it."
Just as Maddox is enjoying the trappings of success. Since replacing Kordell Stewart in the fourth quarter to rally Pittsburgh past Cleveland Sept.29, he has revived a turnover-ridden team that was threatening to go off the deep end after losing badly to New England and Oakland.
The Steelers can get back to .500 by beating the Colts, something Maddox said could turn their season around. He has thrown for 606 yards and five touchdowns in slightly more than two games.
"I don't know if it will send us in one direction or the next, but it's obviously a huge game for us," Maddox said.
This will be his biggest test and not just because it will come in the everybody-in-the-NFL-is-watching environment of Monday night, or because his play will be compared to the more accomplished Peyton Manning of the Colts.
The Colts have the league's second-ranked pass defense, so Maddox probably won't find the unprotected passing lanes and undefended receivers he saw so often in a 34-7 win over Cincinnati last week.
"I think people are starting to see what this defense can do," Colts linebacker Marcus Washington said. "There's a lot of talent on this defense, and I think we're getting more confidence."
Even while improving from 29th overall last season to ninth in total defense under new coach Tony Dungy, the Colts are 27th against the run. Their biggest challenge might be slowing Jerome Bettis, who is rumbling again with 193 yards in his past two games.
Bettis needs 68 yards to move past O.J. Simpson into the 11th place in career rushing.
The Colts also need big plays from their star triumvirate of Manning, running back Edgerrin James and receiver Marvin Harrison. Most of their offense in last week's 22-20 win over Baltimore came from kicker Mike Vanderjagt's five field goals.
"Defenses are trying to take away the deep stuff from us, trying to take away big plays," Manning said. "The Steelers made a lot of plays against the Bengals, created turnovers, got pressure on the quarterback, and that's what we expect to see."
The Steeler defense should get a lift from the return of linebacker Kendrell Bell, last season's defensive rookie of the year. He has been out with a sprained ankle since the opener.
OF NOTE: It'll be all Colts, right? Not so fast. The Colts really haven't beaten anyone (Jags, Texans, Bengals, Ravens). They lost their only game against a top team (Miami). This will be a telling game because it's on the road and on national television. The Steelers are coming off an impressive blowout of the Bengals and look to carry that momentum into tonight. The Colts defense is vastly improved under Tony Dungy, but count on running back Jerome Bettis busting loose again and leading the way to another Steelers win.
DARRELL FRY'S PROMISE: Steelers 21, Colts 14.
UPDATED RECORD: Darrell Fry's season record after last week (5-9 straight up, 5-9 against the spread) was 53-35 straight up, 44-42-2 against the spread. It was not updated in Sunday's Times.