Heinz quieter, 'Bus' fumes

There's one thing about the Pittsburgh Steelers' new home that bothers running back Jerome Bettis -- the not-as-rowdy fans.
Sunday, after the Steelers' 16-7 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in the debut of Heinz Field, "The Bus" pulled no punches when he was asked what he thought of the near-capacity crowd.
"There's no comparison -- Three Rivers Stadium was clearly a louder stadium," said Bettis in comparing the Steelers' old home to the new one that opened officially Sunday with an attendance of 62,335 (a surprising 2,115 short of capacity considering it was a sunny though chilly October afternoon).
"I feel bad saying this but, for us to go into our first game here, it was nothing like Three Rivers Stadium. The fans never even stood up," Bettis said.
New fans: One reason is because some long-time season ticketholders chose not to pay for personal seat licenses required to retain their seats. The fans who can afford the extra tariff aren't as likely to spend their Sunday mornings quaffing Iron City beers and gobbling bratwursts during pregame.
Bettis said he noticed fans didn't rise to the occasion when the Steelers defenders were trying to stop the Bengals during their fourth-quarter scoring drive.
"That was disappointing for me," Bettis said, "We need them there all game long."
A major reason why the Heinz Field seems quieter is because the airy, spacious stadium is open on the south end, unlike Three Rivers Stadium which was a concrete bowl that trapped noise.
The price for a spectacular view of the city skyline, Point State Park and the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela rivers is a quieter football palace.
Quarterback Kordell Stewart, who had an unspectacular day by completing 15 of 24 passes for 151 yards, chose a diplomatic tact when asked about fan participation.
"This is a wonderful place," Stewart said. "The fans were real energetic. They reacted the way we needed them to; obviously, we gave them a reason to react."
Still in contention: The win was satisfying for the Steelers and their fans for many reasons. Most importantly, the 2-1 Steelers are only a half-game behind the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns in the early AFC Central Division race.
Another reason to celebrate was watching Bettis surpass the 10,000-yard career rushing mark on his fifth carry of the day, the 14th player to achieve this milestone.
Bettis, who is in his sixth year with the Steelers after a draft-day trade with the St. Louis Rams in 1996, trails only the Cowboys' Emmitt Smith and the Eagles' Ricky Watters among active players.
How many yards will he get?
"It depends on health," Bettis said. "My love for the game hasn't changed at all. And as long as the offensive line stays healthy, the sky is the limit.
"I'm 29, I'm still young and I think I have a lot left, that the [final] chapter is not closing yet," Bettis said.
Bettis admitted receiving a fright in the second half when he felt pain in his knee after a tackle.
"I was scared because [a knee injury] slowed me down the past two years," the former Notre Dame back admitted.
But after taking a few steps on the sideline, Bettis said the pain was gone, enabling him to return and finish the day with 153 yards.
But as good as the Steelers' rushing game was, the passing attack had observers grumbling.
Stewart threw incompletions on six of his first nine passes. His only successful target was wide receiver Hines Ward, who hauled in the three completions.
With seven of their last 11 games at Heinz Field, the Steelers need to play well in their next two road games to remain in the division race.
Of the two, this Sunday's game at Kansas City against the Chiefs seems more winnable than their Oct. 21 date in Tampa against the Buccaneers.
XTom Williams is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at williams@vindy.com.