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Love it or hate it, Jags have to play in it


Keenan McCardell loves the place, even though he was the subject of a vicious assault by Greg Lloyd. Jimmy Smith hates the place, even though it's where he made his first NFL pass reception.

"I've been in Three Rivers Stadium nine straight years. I hate to see it go, but it's got to go," McCardell said following today's practice for Sunday night's game in Pittsburgh.

Three years ago, McCardell was the recipient of a blow to the head from Lloyd on the first play of the game, leaving McCardell barely conscious and crawling from the field on his hands and knees. After the game, Lloyd accused McCardell of having made a threatening phone call to Lloyd's home during the week of the game.

Ah, memories; what would life be without them?

"They picked on the wrong person. I ain't no chump," McCardell said. "If you want to play like that, I can play like that. Playing up there in that game was fun. It brought out the best in you," he added.

McCardell was playing for the Cleveland Browns the first five times he played in Three Rivers, including two losing trips in 1994. Last year, in McCardell's ninth game in Three Rivers, he scored his first win, yet, he has a fond appreciation for the legendary home of the "Steel Curtain."

"It's a football stadium. It's a true football stadium. Pittsburgh is a true football city. Playing there is fun. The best time to play there is in the winter, because you see the true football fans, people bundled up, drinking hot chocolate, smoke coming out of their mouths. It was always fun playing in Three Rivers late because that's when the true players come out," McCardell said.

Smith was struggling to stay in the league when he went there on Oct. 29, 1995. He made his first pro catch in a four-for-54-yards effort. His career was born in Three Rivers, yet, he'd like to forget the place.

"I'm not sad at all (to see it go). I hate that stadium. Bad turf; it's a hostile environment. It's tough to win up there," Smith said.

For the Jaguars to win there Sunday night, they'll have to beat the demons and the weather, which is forecast to be cold and snowy. They'll also have to stop Steelers running back Jerome "The Bus" Bettis, and that's where strong safety Donovin Darius comes in.

"I love this kind of game. I think it's one of the reasons they brought me here," Darius said.

In Jacksonville last December, Darius delivered a crushing head-to-head blow to Bettis early in the game. Darius went down, Bettis recoiled, then staggered ahead a couple of steps. It was a train-wreck tackle that defines the two players' styles.

"Hits like that in a game like this are necessary. If nothing else, they look for you. If you get somebody aware of you, then you've got a chance to strip the ball," Darius said.

It is a place for hitting; cold, cruel and sometimes even vicious. One more time in this Jaguars-Steelers series, Three Rivers Stadium will identify those players to whom McCardell refers as being "true players."

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