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Back-ups come to Steelers rescue



Published: Mon, January 21, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Running back Jerome Bettis had a reaction to a pain shot and could not play.

VINDICATOR STAFF REPORT

PITTSBURGH -- Imagine preparing for the biggest event of the year and at the last moment discovering you can't take part.

That's how Steelers running back Jerome Bettis felt when he was unable to play in Pittsburgh's playoff victory over the Baltimore Ravens Sunday.

Bettis, who missed the last month of the season with a groin injury, went out for pre-game warmups with back-up Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala, moments after receiving an injection to relieve some of the pain.

Suddenly, Bettis was losing feeling in his left leg, so much so that he couldn't stand on it.

"It was a tremendous letdown," said Bettis, who returned to the locker room and watched the Steelers' 27-10 victory on a monitor in the trainer's room.

Even following the game, he was unable to walk steadily and needed assistance leaving the locker room.

Suffers reaction: Bettis said he suffered a reaction to the injection. Early reports speculated that the needle struck a nerve.

"I wasn't afraid because I knew what it was," he said. "But when they kicked the ball off that's when it hit me that I wasn't actually going to be playing. It was a terrible feeling."

Pressed into more playing time than they expected, the Steelers back-ups did a terrific job. Amos Zereoue, himself sidelined with injuries late in the season, rushed 24 times for 63 yards and Fuamatu-Ma'afala had 30 yards on 12 carries.

Steelers prepared: There was no panic by the Steelers, said offensive guard Rich Tylski, because they prepare for just such an occurrence.

"Obviously, Jerome probably takes more of the reps during a week of practice," he said, "but those guys are thrown in there a good bunch in case something like this happens."

Tylski said the 154 yards rushing gained by the Steelers was a team effort.

"It was just guys up front playing together and all 11 guys taking care of their job.

"Nobody up there [the linemen] wants to be the reason that a play is unsuccessful."

Center Jeff Hartings said the team wouldn't panic without their leading rusher.

"It is not Jerome Bettis' team. He knows that; we all understand that. That is no disrespect to him. Obviously, he is a Hall of Fame back."

Broke the news: Steelers coach Bill Cowher addressed the team after warm-ups and before they took the field for the start of the game.

"I explained to them that Jerome also didn't play on that Sunday night game when we played in Baltimore.

"This football team all year has never been about one individual but a bunch of guys who have taken whatever adversity that has been handed to them and accepted the challenge."

"I was excited to see those guys [the back-ups] play well," said Bettis. "They held up their end of the bargain and hopefully next week I can hold up my end."




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