Legends Series: Amos Zereoue
It was a game Amos Zereoue will never forget, especially being that it was one he wasn't expected to start.
The Steelers were hosting the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Divisional Playoffs on January 20, 2002 at Heinz Field. Jerome Bettis was slated to be the starting running back, but after he had participated in pregame warmups, he had an adverse reaction to an injection for a groin injury that ended up striking a nerve. Bettis would be sidelined, and Zereoue would get the start.
"I would have to say getting the starting nod, unfortunately Jerome went down right before the game, would be my best memory," said Zereoue. "Knowing the confidence Coach (Bill) Cowher and the rest of the team had in me to go out and perform the way I did. I went out there and did my job and scored two touchdowns. Just getting the confidence of my teammates propelled me to have the confidence to know I can play in this league."
Zereoue carried the ball 24 times for 63 yards, and his two first half touchdowns gave the Steelers a lead the Ravens would never be able to overcome. The Steelers won the game 27-10, and Zereoue had a memory of a lifetime.
"I always had confidence in myself," said Zereoue. "Knowing Jerome went down, there was no time to contemplate what I can do. I just had to go out there and play ball. That is what they brought me in to do. The crowd, Ray Lewis across from me. Everything was so surreal. It all happened so fast. It was something I felt like I was ready for and I proved it."
Zereoue also weighed in on a variety of other topics in this exclusive interview:
What was the relationship between you and Jerome like?
"It was wonderful. It made it easier because Jerome is such a nice guy. Normally when you are a younger guy you come in and veterans have a tendency to give you a hard time. You are playing the same position, it's a competition. Being the guy he is, it made it a lot smoother. We had the little brother, big brother relationship. He took me under his wing. We hit it off good early. Once I came into the building it was easy to talk to him when there were things I didn't understand on the field, and off the field."
How did he mentor you?
"First how to be a professional. I had some road blocks as a rookie. We talked about life in general, football, what to do in particular plays. Off the field how to conduct myself, what to expect as a pro. He made the transition for me a lot smoother."
What was it like to be there and see him go in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
"It was about time. He was a guy who put in the work on the field and off the field. He is a guy who has the ability to get his message in a way you are glued to what he is saying. He is a genuine nice guy. He would give you the shirt off his back. On the field he was amazing. I thought he deserved to go earlier, but he is in. It's something I am proud to say I played with him and shared the field with him. It's something I can forever tell my kids."
What was it like playing for Coach Bill Cowher?
"Bill used to always get on me. I would be in the back of the line stretching, he would get on me in a good fatherly way to get me going to play ball. He was a players' coach. You could talk to him. His door was always open. He taught a lot, he held you accountable. He was a fair guy."
Did it help that you had a tight locker room when you played?"It was something that propelled us to have the types of seasons we did when I was there the last few years. The camaraderie was there. Whatever happened outside, we didn't let it filter inside. To be able to tell someone you did this or didn't do that, and not have that individual take it personally, helped us have the success we had. The close knit family atmosphere we had in the locker room was with the whole organization. People may say I am biased, but playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers wasn't just being on a team. It was an experience. The Rooney family are great owners. Throughout the facility everyone speaks to you, treats you like family. I wouldn't have had it any other way."
You played for other teams. Is being a Steelers player like no other?"I played for some top organizations, but to me personally none are like the Steelers. You can go anywhere in the world and the Steelers emblem is like no other."
Did you take pride in wearing the logo on your helmet?"I am a short guy and it made me feel like I am 6-foot-5. There is a pride that comes with it because you know you are part of something that is big, that is special. It's not just about you. It's a way of life. I wasn't traded to the Steelers, I was drafted by them and they wanted me from the beginning. That was special to me."
There were a lot of characters on the teams you played on, you being one of them. What did you bring to the locker room?
"Guys always pick on the smaller guys, there were always jabs thrown at me. I had to make light of it and play around and have a good time. To have that personality to make everyone laugh, it makes for a better atmosphere."