Cowher's Team

<p>In Pittsburgh, playoffs are a given and winning the Super Bowl is what's missing from Bill Cowher's resume. It's the biggest of big games and that has been a problem for Cowher over the years. After being handed complete power and a virtual blank check to correct that problem, the Wild Card game this Sunday against the Browns could very well be the last stand for Cowher's credibility as far as winning the big one goes.</p>

In 11 years of being the Steelers head coach, he has made the playoffs 7 times, but only has a 6-7 record to show for it. He has made it to the Super Bowl once and was turned away with a loss.

In the 1992 playoffs vs. the Bills, the Steelers lost 24- 3 after going 11-5 for the regular season.

A year later in the 1993 playoffs, they lost a heartbreaker to the Chiefs, 24-27 in OT, after coming in at 9-7 for the season.

In 1994, the Steelers won their first playoff game with Bill Cowher as head coach, against Cleveland.  The final score was 29-9, but could have easily been 54 -9 had Cowher not gone to the prevent offense. They went on to play the Chargers, and lost 13-17, in a close game that went down to the last play.  It was with this playoff loss that many Steeler fans and media became of the opinion that Cowher and the team had developed a syndrome of overlooking the immediate opponent, when it came to big games.

The 1995 season was one of the most exciting seasons in many years for the city of Pittsburgh. The playoffs started out with quick work of the Biils, 40-21, and then moved to a narrow 20-16 victory over the Colts with a desperation Hail Mary thrown into the end zone and many Colts fans still feeling they were screwed. Amid the euphoria of going to the Super Bowl, there were some question marks hovering after that game.

The Steelers found themselves playing against the so-called "America's Team", the Dallas Cowboys, in Super Bowl XXX. It was two bizarre and very costly turnovers by Neil O'Donnell to Larry Brown that prevented the Steelers from winning. The explanations of one receiver slipping and another not running the correct route did not sit well with the fans. Neil O'Donnell quickly departed the 'Burgh.

The 1996 season started with high hopes, and ended with a 10-6 regular season record and many cautiously optimistic fans and media. Another trip to the Super Bowl was not out of the question.  The AFC Championship game at New England would come to be known as the Fog Bowl, not only for the actual weather but also for the fog that the coaches and players seemed to be in. Pittsburgh lost 28-3, and now few doubted that Cowher struggled when it came to getting his teams up for the big games.

The 1997 season saw an 11-5 record that put an extra step into all fans and players. The Steelers hosted the Patriots and finally, after 60 minutes, the Steelers won 7-6 -- Pittsburgh's only score coming on a 40-yard TD run by Kordell Stewart in the first quarter.  The Steelers then looked at Denver, and felt they had this team's number with one of the best defenses in the league. In the second quarter the Steelers gave up 17 points, and a 38-yard field goal attempt from Norm Johnson that failed to go between the yellow posts provided the 3-point deficit in the 21-24 loss. Pittsburgh went into the off-season dejected and rejected.

1998: Finished 7-9.

1999: Finished 6-10. What is happening? Kordell benched, Bettis and Cowher getting heat from the media? Say it ain't so.

In 2000, with Bill Cowher drawing the line in the sand, Tom Donahoe ultimately was blamed for the failings of the team and forced to resign.  This is Bill Cowhers' team now. The team's back to winning (9-7) and the Kevin Gilbride experiment has been flushed. No playoffs, but what the heck, give the guy a raise, well at least an extension... OK, you get 3 more years to get a ring, Bill. The Steelers and all the taxpayers in Pittsburgh will even give you a new stadium as a bonus.

The 2001 season, first game of the year and the Steelers were crushed 21-3. Not a good way to start. After that, the Steelers had one of the most statistically balanced teams in many years, led by LB's on defense and the power of Jerome Bettis and Kordell Stewart on offense. Win, Win, Win and end the season at 13-3. Steelers are favored to go to the big dance, and many like their chances - just ask the players and coaches and they will tell you that. Not once are the Patriots' chances considered. The Steelers stroll into the playoffs and make quick turkey of the genius, cook the Goose, and shut the Sharpe up. The playoffs will be easy.  So who will the Steelers see in the Super-Bowl? Steelers have to attend the game with the Patriots because of league rules.

The Patriots handed the Steelers the defining wake-up call of the franchise's history. The Patriots came to play.  The Steelers came to be on TV and see how many interviews they could do without mentioning the Patriots. Steelers lose 17-24 to the Patriots, who went on to become the Super Bowl champs.  Jerome and Kordell became the punching bags of the fans and media, but quickly it's only Kordell. Jerome was injured; you can't blame a loss on an injured player and certainly not a coach who forgot to get his team ready for a playoff game.

The 2002 season, "Buy, buy, buy," Cowher screams.  And Mr. Rooney did, over $60 million and closer to $75 million.  2001 was a fluke and we should have been the Super-bowl champs, just know. The Steelers attended the games vs. the Patriots and Raiders but were more involved in thinking of last year's success, but quickly it was apparent how short-lived success can be. Kordell was benched, Bettis was injured again, and LB Kendrell bell was on the bench with a bad ankle. They let teams play catch with the defensive backs and the kicker to end all kickers was on the hot seat until a blemish on an x-ray was found to enable a bum's rush to IR. Tommy Maddox takes the stage and all becomes well. The success of the Steelers after the poor start is attributed to Tommy Maddox's arm and Bill Cowher's creative coaching. The media has the Steelers as a long shot and Tommy is the topic of the local media's 100 articles per week on the same player.

With the Steelers of 2001 mostly intact, the plan is for this season to be the same story as last season, except for the ending.  The only differences are Maddox at starting QB, James Farrior at starting LILB, and rookie Kendall Simmons at starting RG.  There is no losing in Pittsburgh; we have the Tommy Gun at QB and Cowher Power at head coach, what could go wrong? And who would be blamed if the Steelers would lose? Certainly not Coach Cowher or Tommy Gun, so says Jerome Bettis. Bettis has been on and oft-injured, but we can't blame a loss on an injured player can we?

The Cleveland Browns must make you see a resemblance to the New England Patriots. The Browns in the playoffs? What a fluke, and what an easy game for the Steelers to prep for the real teams in the playoffs, just like a year ago. Let's hope that, like Cowher this season, the team has less spit and more bite. 

The key to the game will be at what point Cowher feels enough points have been scored and starts playing Bungal Ball, with the defensive strategy a guessing game of  just how many points that opposing offense can score within a certain amount of time. Key players on offense will be the line, and on defense the db's, two parts of the team that have been hot and cold all year.

However the Steelers' 2002 season playoff story ultimately unfolds, the game this Sunday is the one they are supposed to win.  This is the team that was truly coached and built, with over $70 million in new contracts, by Cowher.  If they fail, it is hard to picture the blame going anywhere but on his shoulders, squarely, as they say 

-- Steel City Sports





Steel City Insider Top Stories