Browns' Holmes still the talk of the Steelers' locker room

By ALAN ROBINSON, AP Sports Writer

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Cleveland linebacker Earl Holmes apparently couldn't wait until Sunday to tell the Pittsburgh Steelers what the Browns plan to do to them.

Holmes, one of Cleveland's best defensive players, picked up his phone on New Year's Eve and called a number of his former Steelers teammates telling them to expect the worst at Heinz Field.

"Earl is always going to talk," Steelers receiver Hines Ward said Wednesday. "He left messages on our phones talking trash. ... He just stated little things like, 'You all ain't going to beat us three times in the same season and stuff like that.' That's just how Earl is."

Holmes called receiver Plaxico Burress and running back Jerome Bettis among other players, but Ward said he couldn't repeat everything Holmes said.

"I can't say that on TV," he said, smiling.

His former teammates laughed off the phone messages and didn't appear to be bothered or motivated by them, even though the Steelers and Browns have long had one of the NFL's best rivalries.

Holmes was one of the Steelers' most popular -- and talkative -- players while playing for Pittsburgh from 1996-01.

"He's a great guy and a great football player," Ward said. "If you know Earl, that's just the way he is. I love Earl and I wish he had stayed with our team, but he's with Cleveland and we've got to go out there and go against him, and I'm looking forward to it."

In an apparent salary cap move, the Steelers did not make a big push to re-sign Holmes as a free agent before he signed with Cleveland last year. The Steelers then signed former Jets linebacker James Farrior as his replacement.

Holmes had eight tackles in Cleveland's 16-13 overtime loss in Pittsburgh earlier this season and nine tackles as the Steelers won in Cleveland 23-20.

Holmes talked to Pittsburgh reporters Tuesday and said he hadn't spoken to any of his former teammates -- yet.

"I am pretty sure I will get some phone calls," he said. "We wish each other luck but, until after the game Sunday, we are enemies."

Even if they are friendly enemies.

"Everybody in Cleveland is excited and I am excited because I get a chance to play Pittsburgh again," Holmes said. "You know what it would mean for me (to win). But like I tell the other guys, it doesn't matter who were are playing ... being here is one thing and winning is another. We want to win regardless of who we are playing."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)