Bill Cowher came up with a doozy of an analogy when his team was 7-5 and needed four straight victories just to make the playoffs. He told his players the tale of Christopher Columbus and the adversity and ridicule he faced as he prepared to sail for the New World.
Cowher compared the Pittsburgh Steelers' seemingly impossible journey to one that Columbus faced in 1492 when he set off across the Atlantic.
"We were getting a pep talk and out of nowhere Coach Cowher brought out that Christopher Columbus sailed here and nobody thought he could do it," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "It was hilarious. We were all just like, that's the first time I heard Christopher Columbus come up in a football pep talk."
Players laughed, especially when Jerome Bettis pointed out that Cowher had some of his Columbus facts wrong. Nevertheless, they urged their coach to tell them more and he kept doing it during their weekly meetings right up through the Super Bowl.
"I think it's a great analogy," Cowher said.
Cowher tried to compare the journey Columbus faced to the one his team had to undergo after the Steelers lost their third straight to go 7-5. He wasn't deterred by some factual errors.
"I know that he discovered the West Indies, it wasn't America," Cowher said. "I said 'periscope' one time instead of saying 'telescope.' They thought it was a submarine the other day."
Some laughed, but Cowher took it seriously.
"The whole thing with Columbus - and I mean this sincerely - was the fact . . . he took off sailing and they said, 'Don't go there because it's flat; the world is flat, and you keep going in that water, you're just going to drop off.'
"But he kept going. He kept going, not knowing what was ahead of him: Unsure, uncharted waters. But he found land. My point was, we were in uncharted waters."
He reminded his players that most people did not think the Steelers would make the playoffs and told them no sixth seed ever won a Super Bowl.
"History was not going to dictate our fate, but our effort can make history," Cowher said. "Maybe it was a little bit of a stretch with Columbus, but they kind of enjoyed that analogy."
--The retirement of running back Jerome Bettis will wipe his $5,351,000 salary from the Steelers 2006 books.
--The Big Ben marketing machine is in high gear. He signed a $1 million, one-year exclusive memorabilia deal with Mounted Memories that involves autographing jerseys, photos, helmets, etc. He also earned a $500,000 incentive because the Steelers won the Super Bowl, plus another $750,000 for playing time combined with making the playoffs. He earned $300,000 for being in the top five in the NFL in passer rating, another $300,000 for being in the top five in average gain per pass and another $153,000 in other statistical incentives.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--RB Verron Haynes is a solid third-down back valued more for his blocking than anything. But he can serve also as a No. 2 or No. 3 back. Not likely to get any attractive offers.
--DE Brett Keisel made it first as a special teams ace and has rotated with the starters the past two seasons. Productive, the Steelers project him as a starter and will make him a priority to sign.
--LB Clint Kriewaldt is more special teams player than position but he has filled in as a backup inside and they're hoping to keep him at a reasonable price.
--WR Lee Mays was cut before the season and signed when Quincy Morgan was hurt in the first playoff game. They may offer him minimum wage to return and compete again for a spot after spending his first three seasons with the Steelers.
--WR Quincy Morgan could serve as their No. 3 receiver if Randle El leaves. He can play on the outside and made a few big plays before he was injured in the playoffs.
--WR Antwaan Randle El wants to stay and the Steelers would like him back, but they won't break the bank for him and believe someone else might. A slot receiver, versatility is his biggest asset. Probably the best punt returner in the league.
--TE Jerame Tuman turned into a good blocker during his seven seasons with the Steelers and they want him to return in that role, although he won't get a big contract.
--DE Kimo von Oelhoffen, at 35, is still going strong and the Steelers hope he'll come back for another season. Had one of his best years in '05.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--WR Sean Morey is a great special teams player and he likely will get a lower tender from the team.
--CB Ike Taylor performed well in his first year as a starter and they likely will make a middle tender to him to ward off pursuers. Led the team with 24 passes defensed, 11 more than anyone else.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--RB Willie Parker came out of nowhere as an undrafted second-year player to rush for 1,202 yards, the most by a Steelers player in five seasons. He's their starter but unlikely to receive a long-term deal until possibly next year.