Some will contend that Coach Bill Cowher’s funniest strangulation of the English language occurred on a day he was talking about one of his Pittsburgh Steeler players’ situations, when he said, “I don’t want to get into a long distortation about it, but . . .”
Others will argue that their favorite Jabberwocky from the iron-jawed Steeler coach came during a discussion of a particularly ugly victory, when he said, “It was no Mozart.”
Naturally there are nominations for the time Cowher said his team must recapture its chemistry, or when he expressed a need for the team’s problem-solvers to uncover every stone, or, with a screwball twist that would have made malaprop immortals such as Yogi Berra and Danny Ozark yield and declare him king, the occasion Cowher had to say of the Oakland Raiders that they were constantly trying “to circumcise the rules.”
You gotta love the guy.
They do here in Pittsburgh, or, at least, they certainly seem to today, as the Steelers strive to leapfrog the Indianapolis Colts smack into Super Bowl XXX. Nothing but compliments are being paid momentarily to Cowher, the kid who was raised 10 minutes from Three Rivers Stadium, the man of steel who, as one writer fibbed affectionately, grew up desiring “the only job without a union card a Pittsburgh boy would ever consider taking.”
Cowher isn’t a talker by nature; he’s a doer. What comes out of his mouth on Sundays also occasionally comes in the form of a scream, usually issued face-to-facemask with one of his own players. Television lenses have focused more than once on the Pittsburgh coach in mid-lecture with linebacker Greg Lloyd, or scolding punter Rohn Stark, always close enough so they know whether his morning McDonald’s burger came with or without onions.
“Man speaks his mind,” Lloyd says, without complaint.
Pittsburghers weren’t sure what they were getting when Chuck Noll finally stepped aside as coach, with a dynasty behind him. Nor was the new coach sure, because Cowher called his wife in 1992, soon as he was appointed coach, and asked her over the phone: “What have I gotten myself into?” Your dream job, she answered, but Cowher already was too unnerved to sleep.
Part of his regular-guy appeal has been that Cowher can be seen, with his three daughters, in a drive-through at his neighborhood McDonald’s far more often than he can be seen in any establishment demanding a suit and tie, and that his father’s house is still down the street from the stadium, where fans drive by and don’t forget to honk.
Cowher is a realist, saying, “I could coach a team in the NFL other than the Pittsburgh Steelers. I just wouldn’t want to.”
It wouldn’t be his idea of a good time. Cowher felt the same way about what happened here a year ago, when his Steelers, again poised to play on Super Sunday, trudged off their own field defeated by the San Diego Chargers and in a mood black as their jerseys. Tim McKyer, burned by a touchdown pass, was so distraught that he had to be ushered to the locker room, where Kevin Greene could be found down on all fours, issuing primal screams.
“I made up my mind to forget that game, the minute it was over,” Cowher said.
Easier said than done. Like most coaches, Cowher took the blows when the blame began to be meted out. He was accused of, contrary to his nature, being too aggressive, rather than too conservative. He was faulted for leaving the creaky McKyer in one-on-one coverage against the opposition’s speedy Tony Martin, who became San Diego’s answer to Dwight Clark.
Pittsburgh seemed to be up three rivers without a paddle then. But with patience, particularly after a game against Jacksonville that lessened Cowher’s popularity considerably, and a few well-placed screams, the coach has returned his Steelers to the scene of last season’s crime.
The team is . . . well, what was it Cowher said of linebacker Jerry Olsavasky’s effort?
“He’s like the EverReady bunny. He just keeps on ticking.”
Yes, and don’t mess with those ticking bunnies. When Bill Cowher talks, they listen.