PITTSBURGH--It is the most revered of what an opponent might accomplish against the Steelers. In a city that prides itself on defense and respects rushing totals above all other sports statistics, Fred Taylor stepped into the Holy Grail category of the Steelers record book.
Taylor is now the Steelers' all-time, single-game, opposing-player rushing leader. Taylor's 234 yards rushing Sunday night bested by seven yards the mark O.J. Simpson established in 1975 against no less an opponent than the "Steel Curtain."
The bulk of Simpson's yards that day came on one play. On a third-and-inches play with Buffalo leading and the Steelers needing a stop, Simpson bounced his carry outside and sailed 80 yards for a touchdown.
Sunday night, Taylor enjoyed no such easy yardage, unless you count several long-gainer cut-back runs that Taylor's talent made look ridiculously easy. Nothing was easy against this Steelers bunch, which devours opposing runners with traditional ease and had held the Jaguars to 26 yards rushing in Jacksonville on Oct. 1.
Simply put, Taylor turned in a performance in Three Rivers Stadium that re-established him as one of the most explosive running backs in the NFL. He's back to the form he displayed in last year's playoff win over the Dolphins, after an offseason of seeing all of his professional football earnings disappear in an investment scam by his agent, and following a start of the season that forced him to defend his manhood.
Who would call him "Fragile Fred" today?
He was skewered by fans for missing the first three games of the season with a medial collateral ligament that was torn in two places. Since then, Taylor has been an ironman, playing through a painfully-sprained wrist and now riding a five-game 100-yard streak that has him on the verge of the second 1,000 yard season of his career.
"Everybody is probably more excited about it than I am," a humble Taylor said of his record-setting performance against the Steelers. He gave all praise and honor to his offensive linemen, but tight end Kyle Brady smiled at the suggestion that it was the Jags offensive line that deserved the credit.
"He's unbelievably talented. He's a special kind of player," said Brady, who seemingly held his block on strong safety Lee Flowers forever, as Taylor scored on a 16-yard catch-and-run play just before halftime.
"I felt fast tonight. The turf was dry and fast. They're a very aggressive team. The cut-back is going to be there," Taylor said.
The cut-back was the tactic with which Taylor rushed past Simpson. On that warm second Sunday of the '75 season, Simpson slashed for 227 yards. Sunday, in the late-November Pittsburgh chill, Taylor repeatedly reversed his field on the Steelers defense, repeatedly over-ran the play. The moment Taylor made his cut-back, one whole side of the field would open up.
"I'm so happy for Fred. He battled injuries and proved his critics wrong. I'll take him over any running back in the league," wide receiver Jimmy Smith said.
If he is not fully appreciated by Jaguars fans, he is certainly revered in Pittsburgh. The running game is what the Steelers and their fans respect, and great runners are considered gods. Taylor achieved that status this past Sunday, with a performance that will probably stand for a long time, maybe forever. It is the Steelers' tradition to stop the run. They will re dedicate to it.
"It's going to get better," Taylor said of the Jaguars' season, which now stands at a disappointing 4-7, but could take a serious turn for the better with a win over the hated Titans this Sunday.
"Everybody was saying my 100-yard streak was going to end here," Taylor said from the Jaguars' locker room in Three Rivers Stadium. "I know myself. I'm only going to get better," he added.
Admittedly, he had yet to fully grasp what he had done to the Steelers. He hadn't had time to consider all of the great runners the Steelers franchise had never permitted to rush for as many yards as Taylor gained Sunday night. Jim Brown had never done it. Neither had Gale Sayers, Earl Campbell, Tony Dorsett, Eric Dickerson, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders. The age-old Steelers franchise has played against professional football's great running backs, and Taylor's name now sits in the Steelers' record book as a black mark, an embarrassment, to be endured by that proud franchise for possibly longer than the 25 years Simpson's record stood.
Then, "Mean Joe" Greene said he was embarrassed by what Simpson had done to the Steelers that day. Greene would probably thank Taylor for erasing Simpson's name.