After rushing for a franchise-record 223 yards and leading the Steelers to an easy 27-7 win over the Cleveland Browns on Thursday, Willie Parker was asked what he was going to do for his offensive linemen.

“We’ve got to do something,” said Parker. “But they really don’t like to party like I like to party.”

Oh, the offensive linemen would party if Parker asked.

After all, they have plenty to celebrate after enduring three weeks of criticism over an ailing running game.

“I went to (Parker) before the game and said that we need to shut everybody up about our running-game woes and just go ahead and rip it off,” right tackle Max Starks said. “He did a phenomenal job.”

So did Starks and the rest of the line. After the worst three weeks running the football in the Bill Cowher era, the offensive line paved the way for Parker’s record-setting day.

They did it against a Browns defense that held the Steelers to 77 yards on 20 carries only 18 days earlier.

That game had come on the heels of Parker’s 213-yard effort against the New Orleans Saints.

That night, record-holder John “Frenchy” Fuqua prepared to send a telegram to Parker congratulating him on breaking his record of 218 rushing yards set back in 1970.

“I guess it wasn’t meant to be … at this point,” Fuqua said that week from his home in Detroit.

“But Willie’s going to get it,” Fuqua predicted. “If not this year, next year. He’s so explosive, so fluid. I used to boast about that record, but this guy, I look forward to meeting him. Every game he gets better. I’m quite sure I’ll be sending that telegram to him soon enough.”

Is today soon enough, Frenchy?

The record fell Thursday night in a game that was dissimilar from Parker’s big game against the Saints.

Against the Saints, Parker ripped off runs of 76 and 72 yards and reached 213 on 22 carries (9.7). On Thursday, his longest runs were 39 and 26 yards.

Instead of racing to the record, he systematically took the Browns apart. After rushing for 114 yards in the first half, Parker approached Fuqua’s team record late in the third quarter before Cowher pulled him aside.

Parker’s 3-yard touchdown run had just put the Steelers ahead, 24-0, when “Coach Cowher came to me and asked me if I wanted to run some more,” said Parker, who asked his coach what was up.

“He said, ‘Because you’re 7 yards away from the record.’

“I told him, yeah, I want to run some more.”

Parker gained 6 yards on his next carry to tie Fuqua on the last play of the third quarter.

Parker was 77 yards away from the NFL record (295 by Jamal Lewis in 2003) but was lifted from the blowout early in the fourth quarter after gaining 5 more yards. Parker met Cowher on the sideline and the two men hugged.

“He just said how proud he was of me, how far I’ve come,” Parker said. “It’s like a father-son type of relationship and he just embraced me and kind of got emotional.”

Parker finished with 223 yards on a career-high 32 carries (7.0 avg.) to give him 1,199 yards (4.5 avg.) for the season, his second 1,000-yard season since becoming the starting tailback in 2005.

Parker also became the only Steeler with two 200-yard rushing games – and he posted them on each side of the worst three-game drought since 1990. Welcome to the schizophrenic 2006 season.

“We found a few plays that were working for us and they didn’t have a remedy for it, so we kept going at them,” said right guard Kendall Simmons. “We were kind of grinning the whole night because everything was working and we kept going with it.”

“They have a lot of pride in playing,” offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said of the line. “We talked about running the football after the Baltimore game, that we have to run the football better and a little bit more, and they came out and took it upon themselves and they did a good job.

“You know, we haven’t been running the football the way we like to, but we still have a thousand-yard rusher. We’re not 29th in the league like we were four years ago, we just haven’t been running it the way we like to run it. It was good to get back to that.”

They got back to it in weather that made lesser men – i.e. the Cleveland Browns – shrink in retreat. The temperature at the 8 p.m. kickoff was 22 degrees, with a wind-chill factor of 8 degrees.

“It was freezing,” said Parker. “I was freezing out there, but that’s the type of weather you love to play in. That’s football weather. You know you’re going to run the ball.”

Cowher wasn’t so sure.

“I looked at the weather conditions and didn’t think this would be a good night for Willie Parker,” Cowher said. “How about that thinking going in?”

Well, the thinking coming out was sheer elation, and Parker was buying.

“I just want to thank everybody just for believing in me,” he said. “Everybody who criticized me, I want to thank them, too. They make me move even more.”

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