Willie Parker opens another season as the starting tailback for the Steelers Thursday night. That makes it five consecutive openers for him there and judging by the way they've ignored him in non-contract talks, likely his last opening-day start for them.
Parker's first NFL start also came on opening day and it also came at home against Tennessee, Sept. 11, 2005, in Heinz Field. He made a grand debut with 161 yards rushing on 22 carries; he also ran 48 yards with a screen pass.
The Steelers won, 34-7, and would go on to win Super Bowl XL that season, in part, because Parker ripped off a record 75-yard touchdown run against Seattle.
Parker turns 29 Nov. 11 and with the injuries that caused him to miss five games last season, there is natural worry about whether his body is showing the effects of the 1,123 runs from scrimmage he made the past four seasons. He played just one game this preseason because of back and hamstring problems and carried just four times.
At 5 feet 10, 209 pounds, he is no Jerome Bettis.
"I'm not worried about that," Parker said, laughing at any speculation that his body is wilting. "I didn't even get hit. I was doing stuff on my day off. I just have to get my body back right."
It is good enough right now that coach Mike Tomlin declared emphatically on Friday that "Willie Parker's our runner."