For the world to love Kordell Stewart any more, he would have to officially be declared a Care Bear.
He is ninth on his team in receptions. It doesn't matter. He is fifth in rushing. So what? Three quarterbacks have passed for more yardage. Big deal.
Anymore, the Pittsburgh Steelers are known as Kordell Stewart's team. He is the man who provides the electricity, the fun, the pizazz. Forget America's team. This is America's player.
He catches. He runs. He throws. He punts. Even better, he bothers the dickens out of Jerry Jones.
Tell me. Do you love this guy, or what?
In the stale sameness of what can be pro football, no one has been a fresher blast of air than Stewart, the man they call "Slash." In a sport of conglomerates, millionaires and sound bites, Stewart has reminded us this is
no more than a kid's game, and there is a child's exuberance to the way he plays it.
Remember the playground games, where a player was a receiver one down, a runner the next, the quarterback the next? This is how Stewart attacks the NFL. No one knows where he's going, and no one knows what he's going to do.
"I remember one game where I heard (a defender) yell, "It's a screen,"' Stewart said. "Another one's going, "Draw .
. draw.' And another one said, "Watch him deep.' I could tell they were confused."
Stewart laughed, a calm, easy laugh. This is no ordinary rookie, intimidated by his surroundings. This is no ordinary reserve quarterback, biding his time with a clipboard. More and more, it is apparent this is no ordinary athlete.
Others compare his versatility to Deion Sanders, who plays a little cornerback, a little receiver and a little baseball. Not Stewart. He compares Deion to him. "He doesn't play quarterback," Stewart says, "so I think I have the edge."
For the Steelers, Stewart has been the edge. He spent the season's first seven games on the bench, like any rookie quarterback, watching other people play. About that time, Steelers coach Bill Cowher approached Stewart with the idea of playing wide receiver.
Under other circumstances, this would have been a repugnant idea. Stewart had told several teams not to draft him because of their interest in him as a receiver. He refused to work out for others as a receiver at the scouting combine. He was a quarterback, he told all who would listen, and he would spend his NFL career as a quarterback.
But after Cowher assured him the Steelers still thought his future was under center, Stewart went along. And he has been sensational. One week, he would catch a long pass. The next week, he would throw one. He moved around like Mr. Fix-It, daring the defense to find him, daring it to stop him when it did.
"I'm having a lot of fun," he said. "I get to catch and run and throw. It beats sitting on the sideline.
"But I will be a quarterback."
The thing is, why does he want to be? There are 100 or so quarterbacks in the league, but only one Slash.
"It's just something I want to do," he said. "You can be successful at one thing and want to do something else. Even if I play quarterback, I'll still be able to run or catch the ball from the tailback. I'll still be Slash.
"The thing is, this all happened all of the sudden. We had receivers hurt, so they asked me to come out. It wasn't like the Steelers drafted me as an athlete."
Other teams might, however. Stewart has shown there is room for a utility player who can do a lot of things, which could open the door for other players. Someone throws the name Tommie Frazier at Stewart. Stewart shakes his head. "I think Tommie Frazier is a great quarterback," he said.
Down deep, he thinks Kordell Stewart is, too. This is how he sees his future, as a quarterback who bedevils the opposition, not as an all-around athlete who befuddles them. This is no one-trick pony, like William Perry lining up at fullback and waddling into the line. This is sort of what the Dolphins used to do with Jim Jensen _ whose nickname, incidentally, was Crash _ by lining him up all over the field to create mismatches. Except Stewart does it with raw speed and uncanny big-play ability.
The Steelers will rely on him heavily. Already, Cowher is hinting there are new plays and new talents to exploit in Stewart. The slot receiver has given Dallas fits this year, which could mean a big day.
Stewart would like all conversations about the matter to start with his feet. He has been thinking about his very own training shoe, in case anyone from Nike is interested. "You could go to church in it, and you could play golf in it, and you could go skiing in it," he said, grinning. "If it's my shoe, it has to be versatile, doesn't it?"
The Cowboys, on the other hand, want to talk about Stewart's head. In particular, his helmet.
Jerry Jones, the Cowboys' team owner, went to the league last week to complain about the transmitter in Stewart's helmet, which allows Stewart to hear the plays from the sideline. Technically, only quarterbacks are supposed to have them. Jones said he wanted either Stewart's removed, or the rights to put one in Michael Irvin's helmet, too. He was turned down on both requests.
Stewart frowns. "It's not like Coach (Ron) Erhardt is telling me what to do during the play," Stewart said. "I have a transmitter because I am a quarterback."
He keeps saying that. He is a quarterback. He is merely doing this receiver bit while he waits. A little running, a little catching, a little punting, a little passing.
Until a starting job comes along, it's one way to pass the time.
Sun Devil Stadium
Home of the Arizona Cardinals, Sun Devil Stadium is the site of Sunday's Super Bowl XXX battle between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys. This will be the fifth appearance for Pittsburgh (4-0) and the eighth for Dallas (4-3).
Location: Tempe, Arizona
Seating capacity: 74,000