Cowher’s persistent path from Crafton to Canton


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Bill Cowher is surprised by Hall of Fame president David Baker. - CBS SPORTS

Bill Cowher's surprise announcement as the first member of the 2020 Pro Football Hall of Fame class was a long time coming.

And it was something unexpected by Cowher. In fact, when he took over as head coach of the Steelers from Chuck Noll in 1992, he had a much more simple goal in mind.

The former special teams player with the Browns and Eagles and then-defensive coordinator of the Chiefs just wanted stick around.

"When I got the job in 1992, I was 34 years old, I remember going back to Kansas City and laying in bed that night and telling my wife, ‘If I don’t screw this up, I’m going back to my 20th class reunion as the head coach of my hometown team,’" Cowher told me earlier this year when he returned to Pittsburgh for his induction into the Steelers' Hall of Honor. "My first goal was just don’t get fired in the first three years."

That didn't happen. Cowher coached 15 seasons with his hometown team. He led the team to the playoffs in each of his first six seasons, advancing to the Super Bowl at the conclusion of the 1995 season. That trip ended with a 27-17 loss to the Cowboys.

It would be 10 more years before Cowher would get over that hump and finally win a Super Bowl. But his teams kept knocking on the door.

But until winning that Super Bowl at the conclusion of the 2005 season, it appeared Cowher's legacy might be that of a coach who could get a lot out of a team, but couldn't get over the hump.

The Steelers reached the AFC Championship in 1994, 1995, 1997, 2001 and 2004, going 1-4 in those games, all at home.

"We kept getting there. We kept knocking on the door," Cowher said. "Whatever was going to happen was going to happen. I don’t feel like in any of those games we played poorly. For whatever reason, you go back to the 1994 championship game we lost, we’re throwing the ball in the end zone at the end with a chance to win that game. In 1997, we’re playing against John Elway and Terrell Davis and Kordell (Stewart) threw an interception in the end zone and we still had a chance at the end, John Elway throws a ball to Shannon Sharpe. Shannon Sharpe to this day, didn’t even know what the play was. I know that because I worked with Shannon Sharpe. I talked to Shannon Sharpe.

"In 2001, they have two returns for touchdowns," he continued. "In 2004, if Ben (Roethlisberger) makes the read to Hines (Ward) at the end of the first half on a red zone play instead of going to Heath (Miller), Hines was wide open going over the middle. It was a throw and we still worked our way back. We just kept getting there. We were like Freddy Krueger, we were everyone’s worst nightmare. We keep coming back. We did have a resiliency. We had character, a toughness about us. We weren’t going to be defined by where we were. We were going to be defined by our next game."

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