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Slippery sleeves coming off

Pittsburgh running back Willie Parker has promised young fan to remove rubber sleeves he wore when he lost two fumbles last week.

December 09, 2007|From the Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- Willie Parker is taking the gloves off for the New England Patriots.

Actually, he's removing those rubber sleeves from his arms, the ones that were blamed for his two lost fumbles Sunday. And he's doing it because of a suggestion from a young fan.

Parker, usually one of the NFL's least fumble-prone running backs, came in for considerable scrutiny for wearing the slick elbow sleeves on a rainy night. John Madden on NBC wondered why he was wearing them, and Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin had no explanation for them.

"You would have to ask him," Tomlin said.

A boy asked Parker exactly that when Parker appeared at an autograph session one night later: Why do you wear them and, since you fumbled, why not take them off?

The surprising reply from Parker: I think I'll do exactly that.

"A little kid looked at me and told me, after I gave him his autograph, he said, 'Next game don't wear those things on your arm,' " Parker said. "I said, 'Just for you I'm not going to wear them.' I gave him my word I wasn't going to wear them. That's the only reason I'm not going to wear them."

Parker asked for the young fan's phone number and plans to call him after the game to remind him he kept his promise.

Which gets back to the original question, namely why was wearing Parker wearing the slippery sleeves while running on Heinz Field's squishy playing field?

Sure, the Steelers beat Cincinnati 24-10 and Parker, No. 2 in NFL rushing with 1,093 yards, ran for 87 yards and had a 14-yard reception. Still, it seemed an odd equipment choice given the weather and field conditions.

Parker said the sleeves usually allow him to grip the ball better. Until fumbling twice in less than a quarter's worth of playing time, Parker had lost only one other fumble this season.

Turns out the player who advised Parker to wear the rubber sleeves was Jerome Bettis, the No. 5 rusher in NFL history and Parker's former teammate.

As much as Parker respects Madden for being a Super Bowl-winning coach, he believes Bettis knows a little more about a running back's business than Madden.

"He once told me, 'Use those rubber gloves when it gets wet,' " Parker said. "I have been using them ever since. Nobody complains when I am out there carrying it 20, 30 times and not putting it on the floor. It was just a bad game."

Parker hasn't had many of those this season, despite having only one 100-yard effort in the Steelers' last five games. He is only 104 yards behind NFL rushing leader Adrian Peterson of Minnesota and has a chance to become the Steelers' first NFL rushing leader since Bill Dudley in 1946.

The Steelers (9-3) probably need a big game from Parker today to win at New England and end the Patriots' pursuit of the NFL's first 16-0 regular-season record. Baltimore's Willis McGahee ran for 138 yards and a touchdown Monday night against the Patriots (12-0), who escaped with a 27-24 victory by rallying in the final minute.

"I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself this week. This is a big weekend," Parker said. "They've got a great defense, and I just have got to be ready to make some plays."

Parker doesn't doubt the Patriots spent extra time last week to correct the errors they made on defense that led to McGahee's big game.

"It's going to be a different game. You know the Patriots are going to come at us real hard," Parker said. "Whatever happened and whatever breakdowns they had last week, they're going to try not to have them this week."

Just as Parker won't be wearing his sleeves.

Parker can only hope to have more success than another one-time Steelers player who listened to a fan's advice.

After the Steelers lost a fourth-quarter lead in a playoff loss to San Diego 25 years ago at Three Rivers Stadium, a fan screamed at barefoot punter John Goodson to put a shoe on.

When the Steelers resumed workouts the following spring, Goodson -- who averaged 40.4 yards as a rookie punter in 1982 -- did exactly that. He raved repeatedly about how he loved kicking with a shoe.

He never punted again in an NFL game.

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