Rams look to change road luck

Sunday, October 26, 2003

PITTSBURGH -- This may surprise the salary cap wizards and contract lawyers the NFL employs, but Rams quarterback Marc Bulger once worked for the Pittsburgh Steelers without being on their roster.

Growing up in Pittsburgh, Bulger regularly attended Steelers games with father Jim, a former Notre Dame quarterback. He also accompanied family friend Teresa Varley to training camp, where the youngster handed out copies of the team newspaper that employs Varley.

Maybe that's why the Rams (4-2) are hoping the former Steelers fan's homecoming will make today's game at Pittsburgh (2-4) far less foreboding for what has become the NFL's most road-wary club.

The Rams may be the Greatest Show on Turf inside their friendly dome, winning a league-high 10 in a row, but their fast-paced act plays far less well on the road. They are 1-9 away from the dome the last two seasons, beating only Arizona in a half-empty stadium last season.

No wonder Bulger, 10-2 as a starter, will do everything possible to make himself feel at home. He'll visit his parents' house for a family dinner and plans a brief visit to the condo he owns. He might even thumb through the latest copy of the Steelers' paper, just as he did when he was handing it out at age 12.

If he does, he'll no doubt be intrigued by this statistic: The last two visiting quarterbacks to play in Heinz Field, Tennessee's Steve McNair and Cleveland's Tim Couch, were a combined 35-of-41 for five touchdowns and one interception as their teams outscored the Steelers 63-26.

"I never imagined I would be playing in the NFL, let alone playing against the Steelers," Bulger said. "It is pretty neat thinking about it. But I don't want to think about it too much, because then you start getting sentimental and you won't worry about what you are supposed to do."

Steeler milestone

The Steelers are waxing a bit nostalgic, too; they will be playing their 1,000th game, a milestone reached previously by only six other NFL clubs, none in the AFC. They will pay tribute to the accomplishment by recognizing one player from every decade of their existence.

But the Steelers understand there's little time for sentiment in a game that means so much to their season. Troubled by an ineffective running game and turnovers, the Steelers have dropped three in a row, two at home. Tommy Maddox hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in 14 quarters, but has been intercepted five times.

Should they drop to 2-5 for the first time, it'll be the first time in Bill Cowher's 12 seasons as coach.

"I think we all need to pick up our game and recognize the situation we are in," Cowher said. "The further along the season goes, the less margin of error you have."

The sense of desperation the Steelers seem certain to bring, even though they are only a game out of the AFC North lead, may explain why running back Jerome Bettis will start after backing up Amos Zereoue for six games.

While Bettis is back, the return of Rams star Marshall Faulk (hand, knee) may still be a week away. Coach Mike Martz dropped hints Faulk is ready, but seems inclined to give him another week to heal.

Unless Faulk makes a surprise return, the Rams may be forced to go with No. 3 running back Arlen Harris, a former Pennsylvania high school star.

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