Friday, January 05, 2007


As the world sat around Friday awaiting the 1 o'clock official announcement of Bill Cowher's official resignation, the one thought that came to mind for a lot of us were those immortal words:


For those who flunked Latin in high school (and even for those who didn't), no ... the expression is not something that Cowher screamed as he led Team Terrible Towel into battle. Truth be told , it's merely the Latin phrase on the tiny banner beneath the tiny crest on this (and every) regulation-sized pack of Pall Malls.
"In hoc signes vinces ..."
Supposedly, it means, "in this sign, you shall conquer."

Yeah ... that kinda/sorta fits. Yet, on this, the day when the Steelers and Cowher parted ways, sometimes the only way to choke back the tears is to glance down at your pack of Pall Malls -- and then to ponder the Latin words on that tiny crest positioned above the tiny banner on this regulation-sized pack of smokes:


According to the translationistas who handle such translation matters, "per aspera ad astra" means "through difficulties to the stars."
Apparently, that's also taken to mean that "through hardships, we were taken to new heights."
Even if he doesn't chain-smoke like most of us in America, Cowher definitely did just that.

What's impressive is that we can break down the meaning of Latin expressions without the assistance of those Latin ballplayers (who actually don't speak a word of Latin, but since they were born in places in what is known as "Latin America," we're supposed to shrug it off when every sportswriter under the sun feels the need to call those players "Latin").
Regardless, the Latin expression which seems most-applicable and most-embraceable as The Cowher Power Era ends is:


"We came, we saw, we conquered ..."

Imagine that ... those are the words which appear on the crest on every pack of Marlboros.
Question: Why are tobacco companies spending so much time conquering Latin?

Without a Berlitz phrase book, the best answer to the question of "who'll replace Cowher?" as the Steelers' field general might be, "It's Greek to me."
No doubt, the Rooney Family will make the right choice, as long as that choice is not Frickin' Cam Frickin' Cameron (O-coordinator for Marty Shittyheimer, Cowher's mentor).
Hopefully, one of the two in-house front-runners -- Ken Whisenhunt or Russ Grimm -- will get the nod.

It'll be weird for all of us when there isn't that jutting jaw leading the Black N' Gold onto the field for the season opener in '07.
Then again, will our hearts be filled with THAT much more ambivalence and uncertainty than they were in Jan. '92 when we learned that the three finalists to replace Chuck Noll were three nobodies named "Wannstedt," "Gilbride" and "Cowher"?
What the frick?

We noticed that when he was fielding questions from the media, Cowher elaborated only slightly on his very first game -- that 29-24 win over the Houston Oilers at the Astrodome -- but that he twice alluded to the fake punt in that game.
For those of us who didn't make the trip to Houston, we were wishing we could've seen a highlight of punter Mark Royals' 44-yard completion to Warren Williams.
Was it a tight spiral?

For those of us who were serving as director of the Terrible Towel's West Coast Bureau at the time, those early days of Cowher Power had us somewhat (although not entirely) skeptical.
The Black N' Gold went 11-5 during Cowher's rookie campaign and, then, with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, laid a big, 24-3, egg to Buffalo at Three Rivers.
Bill couldn't conquer the Bills.
After an 0-2 start to begin '93, Cowher got the boys to battle back for a a 9-7 record -- but, alas, a gut-wrenching, OT defeat in K.C. (to Bill's mentor, Shittyheimer ... which, by the way, was one week before the most-recent MartyBall playoff win) was the final disappointment.

The '94 season ... jeez, we don't even want to talk about how the 12-4 team had that schedule conflict: Make a Super Bowl video or cover Albert Pupunu?
Dom Capers found it necessary to blitz 15 guys to rattle Ralph Friedgen's QB, yeeesh ...
Ron Erhardt ... nice idea throwin' to Barry Foster on fourth down ...

Cowher, Year IV resounded with a battle cry of "Three More Yards" ... well, the AFC Championship game vs. the Colts will live forever -- but, O'Donnell's two Super Bowl passes to ... who exactly?

In the time between Cowher philosophizing to his 9-year-old Meagan, "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose" and giving her a quick peck moments after SB XXX and the time when 19-year Meagan bear-hugged Dad following SB XL, all of us probably came to appreciate Cowher more.
Of course, the bridge which gapped 9-year-old Meagan and 19-year-old Meagan centered largely around that 6-10 season of '03 and most of us saying, "If he follows that up with a 7-9 or an 8-8, he's toast."
So, Cowher put the power back into Cowher Power and he went ballistic with a 15-1 record.
Maybe it was due to per aspera ad astra ... maybe not.
(Note: When ya watch highlights of Cowher getting the Gatorade shower at the end of SB XL, notice the force with which Marvel Smith tips over the bucket. Dude damn near broke Cowher's clavicle ... )

Immediately after the Cowher presser, ESPN's Trey Wingo conducted a mostly-bland interveiw with Kordell Stewart. What makes this intriguing is that, instead of Slash, wouldn't ESPN have been wiser to go with its own "Hodgie" -- former Steeler backfield warhorse Merril Hoge?
Hoge played for both Chuck Noll and Cowher and he could tie together the two and perhaps offer the viewers some insight as to the mood of Pittsburgh in Dec. '91 (when Noll announced his retirement) as to what the organization might do in the weeks ahead, circa "right now."
(Note: Exactly! As if any of us is going to tell ESPN how to butcher a no-brainer assignment. Initial reports, though, did indicate that the Worldwide Leader originally intended to send Dick Vitale to the Heinz Field parking lot and have him yell, "Cowher Power! He's awwww-summm, bayyyy-beeee! Unnn-beee-leee-vuhhh-bulll!")

The difference between Noll and Cowher might boil down to the mere mathematics of timing and age.
When Noll retired, he'd been to the playoffs only four times in his final 12 seasons (1980-'91).
Cowher went to the postseason in 10 of his 15 seasons and, despite missing the playoffs this year, the memories of a 15-1 record followed by SB XL the following season, well, those are very recent memories.
(Note: It is a little mind-boggling to consider that three times Noll lost in the AFC Championship Game and four times Cowher lost in the AFC Championship game -- all at home -- so, once you add it all up ... that's 13 (basically, one-third) of the 40 conference championship games for the Black N' Gold, which is a lot more than can be said for the Chiefs n' Colts n' Browns n' Broncos n' Chargers n' Bengals n' Jets n' Laughingstock Raiders, etc ... )

Strangely, a confluence of circumstances has tied Jan. '07 to Jan. '92.
The recent images of Cowher at his first press conference, well ... back then, he had more hair (which was parted in the middle) and he was wearing a suit n' tie.
Jan. '92 ... that was a simpler time when the girl you thought you were going to marry was not what you thought she was so you couldn't "crown her ass!" (as Denny Green says) -- which was OK, 'cuz Jan. '92 was when the girl you did marry gave you an autographed photo of Chuck Noll for you to hang in the West Coast Bureau of TerribleTowelTown.

Jan. '92 ... Bob Knight was in the news as having the best team in the nation (which just happened to be your favorite team) ... and, every time you sat down to watch the NHL, your favorite player (Stevie Y) was performing magic near the blue line.
So, how ironic is it that Cowher's "resignation" press conference (he's not retiring, dammit) occurs four days after Knight registers his record-setting 880th win and three days after Steve Yzerman's #19 is retired and raised to the rafters at Joe Louis Arena?

At least this news didn't come as a surprise. Cowher was thoughtful enough to let America know that his decision would come sometime during the week after the season finale, thereby allowing nothing that he said to diminish THE football news of the week -- that being the Boise Boyz's hook-and-ladder, the receiver-turned-halfback-option and the Statue of Liberty magnificence during the conquest of Oklahoma.

Despite that glory, it's time to come to grips with Cowher The Conqueror moving on. The theoristicians and hypotheticalistas have theorized and hypothesized that Bill will sit out the Autumn of '07 (and maybe '08) and then take his re-charged batteries back out onto the battlefield when he leads the Carolina Panthers into their '09 season opener.
That is, unless Cowher is guiding the Pitt Panthers into their '09 season opener (after Wannstache is fired).

If there is a faction of Steeler Nation out there who believes that Cowher is "bailing," such a viewpoint probably shouldn't be dismissed as "invalid."
A sense of resentment is understandable.
After all, if Cowher is walking away -- with a year left on his contract -- because he felt as though the Steelers needed new blood (and because he didn't perceive himself as the right man for the job), well ... OK, sort of.
After all, he does have a year remaining on what we imagine is a fairly-lucrative contract.

However, if he's resigning solely because he wants to watch his daughters play basketball and because his golf game needs work --at age 49 -- you can empathize with those who say, "Tough sh*t, Bill."
Blue-collar Steel Town might not be the place to make such "I'm-quitting-'cuz-I-feel-like-it" remarks. There must be thousands of citizens in and around the 'Burgh whose dads, uncles, brothers went to work each day for the honor of filling their lungs with coal soot ... but, at age 49, they couldn't walk away simply because they were bummed that they three-putted on the 14th green.
There are coal miners and steel workers who didn't live to see their 49th birthday.

If Cowher was leaving to for an obscene amount of green from another team, again ... OK. That stuff happens. More $$$ in the bank for the Mrs. and three girls never hurts.
Then again, if Cowher does become the head coach at Carolina in '09, Steeler Nation will need to find a happy medium between the conflict rattling inside their heads and the betrayal felt in their hearts.

Cowher has hinted that he has more gas left in his tank ... that he respects and admires the Rooney Family and the city of Pittsburgh ... and he confessed that he's not burned out and that he's not in poor health ... so, for argument's sake, is he really merely walking away from the Steelers?
Or is he turning his back on the team, the organization and the fans for reasons beyond what he's revealed?
If, in fact, this is a matter of "spending more time with the family," then why not do what Notre Dame's Charlie Weis does -- have your teeanger there with you on the sideline so that the kid is in the background every time the TV cameras catch a glimpse of you during 3rd-and-inches?
Have not the Steelers implemented a viable "Take Your Daughter To Work Day" policy?

In a semi-related story, there's another legendary coach in the Keystone State ... a coach who, when he was five weeks shy of his 49th birthday, was in his 10th season as head coach and saw his Nittany Lions lose at home, 15-14, to North Carolina State and their head coach, Lou Holtz, and their freshman linebacker Bill Cowher (who probably didn't see action in that game as most frosh didn't "back in the day").
That was the autumn of 1975.

Funny how it all comes together without the benefit of a Hefty Cinch Sak for, as he put it, "this Crafton boy." And, wouldn't ya know it, Cowher de Crafton's final college game for the NC State Wolfpack was a victory over his hometown Pitt Panthers in the '78 Tangerine Bowl.
Now, Cowher walks away from the Steel City two weeks after Joe Paterno turned 80 ... on the same day that Chuck Noll turned 75 and a day before Holtz turns 70.

As per Cowher's press conference itself ... sure, he looked/sounded composed, dignified, articulate and sincere.
That is, if he believes everything he said -- which there's a 93 percent chance that he did.
That sweater, with its zany, outdated print, was a little frightening, though.

Knit garments aside, the signature of his 15 years in Pittsburgh was that he never lacked for passion and emotion -- and his teams reflected that.
Some of us occasionally (it sez "occasionally") questioned Cowher's ability to manage the game as it was unfolding. He had some personnel issues worth nitpicking, such as a carousel at QB, highlighted by the decision to start Jim Miller at Jacksonville in the '96 opener and the ill-fated Kent Graham Experiment in the '00 opener vs. Baltimore.
Other than than that, however, his teams always played balls-out for him, no matter how badly free agency left his roster in a state of flux.
In other words, he was (and always will be) the anti-thesis of Nick Saban, whose Latin motto is:

"Let them hate, so long as they fear ... "

Believe it or not, those are the words that appear on the crest of every pack of Saban Country Cigarettes (available as Saban Country 100's, Saban County Lights and Saban Country Menthol and, coming soon ... Saban Country International Blend Unfiltereds).
That is ... if Nick Saban ever got off his dead ass long enough to oversee the manufacturing of a cigaret that the kids could believe in ...

Anyway, back in the zone which is Cowher Power, the consensus is that his players laid it out for him likely because most of 'em realized that he'd been through the NFL wars as a player. And, it's always been the belief of this tribunal that Cowher loading his staff with ex-NFL'ers (Whisenhunt, LeBeau, Grimm, Hoak, Butler, Perry, Horton) provided an advantage over NFL staffs composed of dopes who played a little JC ball maybe 14 or 15 years ago, although this is more speculation than scientific methodology.

We'll all find out soon how much of this staff remains intact with the new Steeler field boss. A lot of us still remember the illuminaries on Coach Noll's final staff ... ex-Steeler heroes such as Mean Joe and Jon Kolb (both starters in four Super Bowls) plus John Fox, Todd Blackledge's daddy, Joe Walton and, of course, Dick Hoak.

Perhaps lost amid all of the Cowher Power frenzy was the tiny detail that three days before Cowher resigned, Dick Hoak retired after 45 years with the Steelers ... 10 years as running back (1961-70) and 35 years as the running backs coach (1972-2006).
That's insane ... 45 years decked out in Black N' Gold.

We'll see if "the new guy" can assemble a staff of assistants as well as Noll and Cowher did. While Hoak was retained to maintain the ground game (Barry Foster went bananas in '92), Cowher's "defense first" philosphy seemed to be in good hands with the creation of his first group of assistants -- D-coordinator Dom Capers, linebackers coach Marvin Lewis, and DB coach Dick LeBeau.
It was two years later when John Mitchell was hired as the D-line coach ... a position he hasn't let go of, 13 seasons later.

So, the search is on (please don't be Cam Cameron. please don't be Cam Cameron, please don't be Cam Cameron ... ).
Next stop for Coach Jutting Jaw: "Canton."
That is, unless he's coaching in Carolina.
Whether he's there or wherever, it's hoped that Dermontti Dawson (a stalwart for 9 of Cowher's 15 seasons) also ends up in Canton.
In the fifteen seasons of Cowher Power, he did it with TWO centers -- Dawson ('92-'00) and Jeff Hartings ('01-current ... made his first pro start at center in the '01 opener).

However, now that Cowher has checked out and the Steelers are sittin' at home not defending their SB XL title, America can rev its engine for a postseason filled with Tom Coughlin and some dork they're calling "The Mangini-ous."

Sounds like a good time to step outside for a smoke ...

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