Monday, February 06, 2006

SUPERBOWL XL, Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 10. - Feb. 5, 2006

I just saw Superbowl XL last night. For me it wasn't as big as the last year game.
But Well, It's Superbowl.

Major reward for sticking with right man

By Vic Carucci
National Editor,

DETROIT (Feb. 5, 2006) -- It's called the Vince Lombardi Trophy, symbolic of the championship of the NFL, but on this night it served as the most emphatic endorsement ever for coaching continuity.

That's because when this night ended, the trophy rested in the hands of Bill Cowher, who has the longest tenure with the same team of any coach in the league.

Before Super Bowl XL, that was viewed as more of a testament to the remarkable patience of Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney than of any particularly great skill Cowher might have with Xs and Os and everything else that goes into the guiding of a football team. In recent years, there have been more than a few suggestions on the talk-radio airwaves and the sports pages in Pittsburgh that Steeler followers were getting a bit tired of staring at that same granite-like face, with the mustache and prominent chin, on the sidelines. After all, he lost the only Super Bowl he was in, and that was 10 years ago. And he had suffered all of those embarrassing home losses in the AFC Championship Game.

Other than longevity, what was so special about Bill Cowher? Why not just do what so many other teams in the NFL have found so easy to do and get a new coach?

Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 10.

That's why.

"That's what he brought me here to do," Cowher said. "It really does complete a void that's been there."

It never had anything to do with Rooney being more patient than other NFL owners who have made one or more of the 93 coaching changes that have occurred since Cowher took over the Steelers in 1992. It wasn't about Rooney being too strong-willed to give into the urge of making a move or being too soft or ambivalent to do so.

It was simply this: Rooney had the right guy, and he knew it. He didn't care if anyone else disagreed.

"He's what's right about the National Football League," Cowher said of his boss. "I'm very fortunate to work for him. He makes you work as hard as you can to succeed."

Cowher was, in fact, too good a coach to be subjected to any sort of legitimate questions about whether he should remain at the Steelers' helm. And his team confirmed as much in Super Bowl XL.

Actually, it had confirmed as much by battling its way into the postseason as the No. 6 seed in the AFC, and proceeding to win three consecutive road games to reach the Super Bowl. The Steelers won those games with an explosive offense, led by Ben Roethlisberger, and their tough, big-play, blitz-happy defense.

But Cowher's coaching was every bit as large a factor. Someone has to lead. Someone has to convince everyone in the locker room that the mountain can be climbed, that obstacles can be cleared, that the impossible is possible. Cowher did that.

Now, finally, he has a Super Bowl victory to show for it.

There wasn't a single spectacular player for the Steelers in Super Bowl XL. Hines Ward was as good a choice as any for the Most Valuable Player award, but this was a victory that belonged to the entire Pittsburgh team. And, like the path Pittsburgh followed to get here, it wasn't nearly as easy as the score indicated. The Steelers had to overcome a sloppy first half on offense, as well as some defensive lapses. They had to settle down and calm their nerves -- especially Roethlisberger, who wound up throwing two interceptions.

"This was probably the most nervous I've been before any professional football game," the quarterback admitted afterward.

Cowher restored order. He got his team to play better and with greater poise in the second half.

That, alone, would have been enough to allow the Steelers to win. But Cowher also did what the best coaches do to win a championship game by taking risks, by not relying on a safe and conservative approach. The most daring move was a pass off of a reverse that resulted in a 43-yard touchdown to put the game away for the Steelers. It started with Roethlisberger pitching to Willie Parker, who handed the ball to receiver/quarterback Antwaan Randle El running from the opposite direction and then stopping to throw to Ward for the score to make it 21-10. Ken Whisenhunt, the Steelers' offensive coordinator, thrives on such creative scheming, but Cowher is the one who must sign off on such calls.

Ditto for having Roethlisberger keep the ball to dive one yard for the game's first touchdown after Jerome Bettis came up short on two runs from the doorstep of the goal line.

As Cowher said after the game, he is as proud as anyone of the Steelers' Super Bowl dynasty of the 1970s. But now there is a new Steeler team, in a new era, to be able to call itself a world champion.

The common thread between those clubs is stability. They have been guided by the only two coaches the Steelers have had in the last 37 years -- Chuck Noll and Cowher.

Noll, who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was never one to hog all of the glory, even though so much of it went his way. Cowher took the same approach after holding the Lombardi Trophy and then handing it right back to Rooney.

"This is a special group of coaches, a special group of players," he said. "I was one small part of this. We have a special organization. It starts at the top."

That's where you'll find an owner who knew he had the right man all along.

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