2000: Hope for the Future
Although Kordell Stewart and Kent Graham were still at the helm as the team’s quarterbacks, there were plenty of things to be excited about with the team which finished 1-7 in 1999, then started 0-3 in 2000, won their next five games, and finished the 2000 campaign with a 9-7 record.
As far as the offense was concerned, the unit was finally showing signs of life behind some of their most recent draft picks. The team’s 1998 first round draft choice, Alan Faneca, was showing how much of a mauler he could be as a left guard. Rookie right tackle Marvel Smith was making strides as well, and his prospects for the future also appeared bright. In addition to the offensive linemen, one of Faneca’s 1998 draft classmates was turning heads at the wide receiver as well.
Hines Ward had fought his way up the depth chart for playing time and had taken his place as the team’s “number one” wide receiver. Ward and rookie Plaxico Burress formed the core of an effective passing attack, and their talents had many of us dreaming of how great they could be with a better quarterback in town.
Even the then-veteran Jerome Bettis was returning to form that fall too. Bettis rushed for 1,341 yards and eight touchdowns in 2000, and looked more like the 1996-version of himself than the 1999-version who lost playing time to Richard Huntley. “The Bus” was back in form, and it only helped that the new “Bus Driver” was an undrafted rookie fullback named Dan Kreider.
Not to be outdone by their teammates on offense, Pittsburgh’s defense was also emerging as a formidable unit as well.
Joey Porter was establishing himself as a terror an as outside pass rusher. Teamed with veteran Jason Gildon (13.5 sacks in 2000), the second-year outside linebacker was busy racking up sacks during the 2000 season.
Porter recorded a total of 7.0 during Pittsburgh’s 4-0 stretch during the month of October, and was becoming an anchor on Pittsburgh’s front-seven along with second-year defensive end Aaron Smith, veteran defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen, and rookie nose tackle Casey Hampton.
Even the Steelers’ inconsistent secondary showed signs of life that fall. Cornerbacks Chad Scott and Dewayne Washington snagged five interceptions apiece that fall, and the team’s pass defense looked vastly improved when compared to the previous two seasons.