TEMPE, Ariz. — Everybody wants to be something or somebody else. Something they're not.
Paul Newman wants to be a race driver. Michael Jordan wants to be a baseball player. A champion boxer wants to be a basketball player. An opera singer wants to do "Melancholy Baby." A crooner wants to do "Carmen." An alligator would probably rather be a bird.
But if you were a professional football player with 4.3 speed, size and quickness, and you'd just helped put your team in the Super Bowl with the style and precision of a drum major, if you had a metropolitan area of about 2 million fawning at your feet, if you were about to be the NFL rookie of the year, wouldn't you feel you had it made?
Not Kordell Stewart. He's the best thing to happen to Pittsburgh since U.S. Steel. If the Pittsburgh Steelers have any hope in Super Bowl XXX, he's it.
He doesn't care for the sensation.
Oh, he's perfectly happy being a football player. He simply feels out of position. Kordell Stewart doesn't want to be the next Jerry Rice. He wants to be the next Joe Montana.
He wants to run this team, not run for it. He wants to be quarterback. He feels he's out of position. Somebody's making a terrible mistake.
Of course, the Steeler coach doesn't think so. He wonders why they should give the ball to someone with the guile and elusiveness of Kordell Stewart one yard behind the line of scrimmage when he has shown he can come up with it 10 yards downfield. And in an end zone.
But you know how that goes: Someone walks up to Michael Jordan and suggests timidly, "But, Michael, you're the world's greatest basketball player ever! Why go make an ass of yourself trying to hit a curveball? A baseball's awful small--and you can't dunk it!"
But did Michael listen? Hah!
Will Kordell? Hah!
Stewart is nicknamed "Slash." As in Kordell Stewart, runner/kicker/play-caller/passer/wide receiver.
"He's a Jim Thorpe," Steeler Coach Bill Cowher butters him up.
The Indianapolis Colts wish he really were a quarterback. They might be in the Super Bowl today if Stewart hadn't run a route as a wide receiver and scored a touchdown against them in the AFC championship game.
And what a route it was. Instant replay showed Stewart's route took him out of bounds beyond the end line. That's a no-no. You have to have both feet inside the field of play at all times for a catch to be legal. But the official didn't see it. Officials have as much trouble as cornerbacks keeping up with Kordell Stewart's moves.
So why doesn't he simply shut up and deal? What's wrong with being one of the most feared pass catchers in the league with his own agent, a possible salary in the millions in his future and a Super Bowl in his present?
Well, Jordan might be content being back dribbling downcourt, Newman may climb out of a sports car to be a grumpy old man in his next picture. But Stewart wants to be the team's next Terry Bradshaw, not its next Lynn Swann. Maybe he wants to get a better table at restaurants.
At first glance, Stewart doesn't seem to have had a Pro Bowl year. He caught 14 passes for 235 yards and one touchdown. That would be a good week for Jerry Rice. But he also ran for 86 yards in 15 carries and a touchdown. No Red Grange there. But he also passed seven times, completed five, one for a touchdown. He is one of the few athletes who have run and thrown for a touchdown and caught a touchdown pass in the same season. He also had one punt for 41 yards.
He does everything but hold for the kicker. He is football's version of those multiple personalities. The "Three Faces of Eve" pale beside the four faces of Kordell. When he lines up, the defense doesn't know which way to line up. Is he going to kick, throw, run, catch--or hand off? You can't double-team him, you have to quadruple-team him.
This makes Cowher salivate. But it leaves Stewart cold. He wants to be a field general, not the cavalry.
His credentials are in impeccable order. Before he was "Slash" Stewart, he was a world-class quarterback. In his native New Orleans, as an all-state high-school player, he completed 51 passes for 17 touchdowns and he added 943 yards rushing for 23 more touchdowns.
At the University of Colorado, he set the all-time school records for yards passing, 6,481, with 33 touchdowns.
So it's easy to see how he figured they were handing him a mop and a pail when they asked him (ugh!) to go out and look over his shoulder for the ball. In the NFL tryouts, he refused to run for the timing clocks.
"I feel my value is as quarterback," he told the assembled media at the Steelers' hotel Wednesday. "In my heart, I know I'm a quarterback. It's my future."
Cowher would rather make it his past. Of course, Stewart wasn't drafted until the second round (60th overall), which would make some think his quarterback form was not all that eye-popping. Till you remember Joe Montana was not drafted till the third round and the Colts had to go get John Unitas off the cab of a steam-shovel he was operating.
But Kordell "Slash" Stewart is not one to glower and sulk over his predicament. A sunny, bubbly young six-footer, he feels it's only a question of time before his true self will be discovered and he will be on the other end of league-winning forward passes--and well in bounds the whole time. He doesn't want to be "Slash" or "Crash," he wants to be Armed-and-Dangerous Stewart.
Meantime, he's hostage to his own talent. And if he has a slashing day in Super Bowl XXX, he might as well dream of being president as quarterback.
Oh, well, at least he doesn't hanker to be a ballet dancer or a channel swimmer or Shakespearean actor. His daydreams are not unreasonable. All he wants is the football all the time, not just some of the time. Getting Kordell Stewart the ball any way you can is not a bad idea.