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He didn’t give birth to Steelers Nation. The man who fathered Steelers Nation was Chuck Noll, who raised a corpse of a franchise to unmatched success with four Super Bowl championships over a six-season span and, in the process, restored a sense of pride into a populace beaten down by the loss of the steel industry and the accompanying bodyblow to the region’s economy.
What Bill Cowher did was resuscitate Steelers Nation.
Following a legend, and a beloved legend in the case of Chuck Noll, is the most difficult task in the profession Cowher chose as his life’s work, and while no coach can or should be expected to duplicate Chuck Noll’s accomplishments, what can be said about Bill Cowher is that in terms of the love affair between the team and its fan base, he left things in better shape than they were when he arrived.
Cowher was hired in January 1992, and the shine of the 1970s had been dimmed by only three playoff seasons and two postseason wins in the 12 years before he was hired. But soon after the hiring of the boy who was born and raised in Crafton, which was about a 12-minute drive from Three Rivers Stadium, the resuscitation of Steelers Nation was underway.
That process was jump-started by the 1992 regular season opener, which sent the Steelers to the Astrodome for a game against the defending AFC Central Division champion Houston Oilers, who were quarterbacked by Warren Moon, a Pro Bowl selection in 1991 who had led the NFL in attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns that season. With the Steelers losing, 14-0, in the first quarter, Cowher boldly ordered a fake punt that changed the dynamic of the game and propelled his team to a 29-24 upset victory in which the defense intercepted Moon five times.
The Steelers went on to sweep the home-andhome series with the Oilers and unseat them as AFC Central Division champions, which meant an NFL playoff game in Pittsburgh for the first time since the strike-shortened season of 1982. It proved to be just the start.
“First thing I’d like to do is just say congratulations to my fellow enshrinees, and all the gold jackets on this stage tonight,” began Cowher from the podium in Canton. “It’s an honor to go in with each and every one of you. Your individual careers and journeys are remarkable and inspiring. But what a weekend for the Pittsburgh Steelers. It is unbelievable to me to go into the Hall of Fame on the same weekend with two guys you drafted – Troy Polamalu and Alan Faneca. Also, Donnie Shell and the late, great Bill Nunn. With the Pittsburgh Steelers on this stage, with the gold jackets on this stage, you guys set the standard and created the culture. It’s our job to keep it going.”