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mesaSteeler
12-11-2011, 07:41 AM
On the Steelers: The days of Slash 'n' burn
Sunday, December 11, 2011
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

There's a lot of excitement in Denver and in the Carolinas because of their young quarterbacks, Tim Tebow and Cam Newton. They are phenoms, Tebow compiling a 6-1 record and dragging the Broncos back in the playoff race, and Newton rushing for more touchdowns than any quarterback in the history of the game in one season (13). Both are trying to make it in a league that does not easily put up with the kind of unorthodox play each has shown so far. If anyone should know, it is Kordell Stewart. He was a much better version of Tebow. Newton is more accomplished as a passer than Stewart and is big enough to take a pounding by running. But this is a league that does not know how to deal with a quarterback who runs.

Kevin Gilbride, the Steelers' offensive coordinator at the time, once took Stewart to task along the sideline after he ran off the field following an exciting touchdown run. Gilbride told him he should have thrown it instead. Think any coach went to Newton on any of his 13 touchdown runs and scolded him for not passing?

Stewart, by the way, may have been a better runner than Newton. He rushed for 11 touchdowns in 1997, when his longest run was 74 yards. He ran for an 80-yard touchdown in 1996.

For Tebow's sake, John Fox had better have a lot more patience with him and use him to his best abilities. Bill Cowher and his offensive coordinators lost their patience with Stewart.

"He was passing, running. I think he had more than two completions," Hines Ward said the other day when asked to compare Tebow to Stewart. Ward believes Stewart was a much better quarterback.

Ward said there is one thing above all else when judging a quarterback, one stat that is not counted in the complicated formula that makes up the passer rating: Wins and losses, and for that reason he's a Tebow fan.

"Tebow reminds me of no one. He's just Tebow," Ward said. "Regardless of the critics, the haters, all the guy has done is won. He may do it in an unorthodox way, but in this business at the quarterback position, that's how you measure it, on wins and losses. He may not put up the numbers as other guys, but he's winning games.

"He's not turning the ball over, the defense is doing a great job and he's making plays at crunch time and giving them a chance to win at the end. That's all you can ask of a quarterback. Those guys rally behind him."

Stewart burst onto the scene in 1995 as Slash, dubbed so by Cowher because he was a wide receiver/quarterback. He became the Steelers starting quarterback in 1997, one season before Ward joined the team. Stewart would start the next five seasons, off and on, even though Cowher and his offensive coordinators did everything they could to find someone else, such as that big walrus, Kent Graham, a Gilbride favorite.

Here is what I know. In 1997, the Steelers made it to the AFC championship game at home against John Elway and the Denver Broncos. The Steelers had the Broncos on the run, were driving for another score and then offensive coordinator Chan Gailey decided to take the ball out of Jerome Bettis' belly and put it in the hands of Stewart. The result was a disaster and the Steelers wound up losing by three points -- a makeable field goal that Norm Johnson did not make.

There were some tumultuous times after that. Stewart was benched for Mike Tomczak in 1999 and for Graham in 2000.

Here is something else I know: The 2001 Steelers again earned homefield advantage in the playoffs with a 13-3 record behind Stewart. They played the New England Patriots at home in the AFC championship game and while Stewart was blamed for that loss, a blocked field goal and a punt were returned for touchdowns by the Patriots, 14 points in a game that was decided by seven.

Stewart made the Pro Bowl that season. His teammates voted him their MVP.

It took only three games into the next season before Cowher benched him, during an overtime victory at home against Cleveland. Tommy Maddox started the fourth game, in New Orleans, and the rest is history. Stewart was done in Pittsburgh.

From team MVP and Pro Bowl quarterback to benched in the third game the next season.

"It was tough," Ward recalled. "I was there. I experienced all that."

mesaSteeler
12-11-2011, 07:42 AM
Maddox put visions of sugar plums dancing through the heads of Cowher and coordinator Mike Mularkey. In the end, Maddox proved to be a turnover machine, helping to ruin the 2003 season. He helped get the Steelers into the playoffs in 2002 and won a game against Cleveland, 36-33, then lost the following week in Tennessee.

The coaches fell in love with his passing, and his arm even convinced them to bench Bettis in 2003 in favor of Amos Zereoue, another disastrous move.

The point is, Stewart was a more talented version of Tebow and he showed he could win and help his team to championship games. His coaches, though, schooled in how offenses should be played, refused to allow Stewart to do his thing, ultimately, and he frustrated them no end by his unorthodox play.

Nevertheless, Tebow and Newton are showing again that there are other ways to play quarterback in the NFL than how the pros insist quarterbacks play it. We'll see if their coaches have enough patience to stick with it through the years.

Holiday 'Cookie' and more: Books for the shopping list

Two more local books have hit the bookstands and the electronic readers.

One is John Steigerwald's sequel to the hit book he authored last year, this one titled "Just Watch The Game (Again)." The other is an autobiography by the late, local phenom Cookie Gilchrist, "The Cookie That Did Not Crumble."

Steigerwald's book is written in the same vein as his first, a light-hearted look at sports from a guy who watched and then covered in TV and radio local sports in parts of six decades. If you liked the first, you'll enjoy this one, too. While the first was better, packed with more interesting stories, he has enough leftovers to make another go of it here.

The Gilchrist book, co-authored by Chris Garbarino, is all football and details the unique career and life of one of the greatest players to come out of Western Pennsylvania. He was so good he jumped straight from Har-Brack High School in Natrona Heights to sign an NFL contract before his senior year. One year, he was playing for the WPIAL championship, the next he was in the training camp of the Cleveland Browns.

After Gilchrist helped Har-Brack to a WPIAL championship in 1953, Cleveland's Paul Brown talked him into turning pro because he was too old at 19 to play high school football as a senior.

Gilchrist wanted to attend college but writes that Brown made him an offer he couldn't refuse -- $5,500 to jump directly to the NFL for the 1954 season. He signed the contract but eight weeks into training camp was cut.

He had his suspicions as to why. Wrote Gilchrist: "The real story was that Art Rooney Sr., the Pittsburgh Steelers owner, had become upset when he heard the news that I signed a contract with the Browns."

It was his contention that Rooney did not want a local kid playing in Cleveland and used his friend, NFL commissioner Bert Bell, to put a stop to it. But the NFL had similar rules then as it does now about eligibility and Paul Brown was the one who erred.

Anyway, that fiasco forced Gilchrist to play in the CFL because he was no longer eligible to play in college. He became a five-time all-star and then a four-time all-star in the AFL with the Buffalo Bills, where he won the 1962 AFL MVP award.

It is a fascinating story of one of the most unique football careers in the second half of the last century. Gilchrist, who returned home to live in Natrona Heights, died of throat cancer Jan. 10 before he could see his book published.
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.

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