Monday, December 18, 2006
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
CHARLOTTE. N.C. -- Willie Parker has had bigger days on the football field in the state of North Carolina. But it had been a while since he rushed for this many yards in his home state. And, safe to say, with this amount of satisfaction.
There were smiles and appreciable measures of contentment scattered all through the locker room yesterday after the Steelers won their third game in a row and fifth in the past six starts with a 37-3 victory against the Carolina Panthers. But there wasn't a player who loved what transpired at Bank of America Stadium more than Parker, a native son who had not rushed for this many yards in the Tar Heel state since he was a senior at Clinton High School.
"The game was real big," Parker said.
"I had to just keep my composure coming into this game. A lot of my teammates kept me well-grounded. I had never done anything in the state of North Carolina before, so you know how much that meant to me, coming back here playing."
To be accurate, Parker has done some big things in the state of North Carolina. He just didn't get to do them once he went to the University of North Carolina, where he was under-used and under-appreciated for three years.
Yesterday, though, he took out all his Tar Heel frustration on the Panthers, rushing for 132 yards on 23 carries and scoring on a 41-yard run in the third quarter. It was the most yards Parker had gained on North Carolina soil since he gained 221 yards on 14 carries and scored two touchdowns Oct. 17, 1998, when Clinton beat East Duplin High School.
Parker had only one 100-yard rushing game in a quiet three-year career at North Carolina, and that was when he gained 131 yards against Auburn in the 2001 Peach Bowl.
"For him to come back to North Carolina, where it didn't go too well for him when he was here, to come back now and have a dominating performance like this was a big game for him," said offensive left tackle Marvel Smith. "When he broke that long run, that was like redemption for him for everything he had been through."