Dealing with success Job One this summer for Cowher's Steelers
By Mike Prisuta
Sunday, July 31, 2005
There's almost nowhere to go but down.
That's the challenge confronting Bill Cowher as he begins his 14th season with the Steelers.
As successful as Cowher's first 13 seasons have been -- and if you don't classify eight division championships, five AFC Championship Game appearances and a near-miss in Super Bowl XXX a resounding success you're grading on too difficult a curve -- he has yet to win the big one.
Last season, a 15-1 masterpiece that ultimately ended in defeat, was as representative as any as far as the best of the Cowher Era is concerned:
Sweet, but shy of Super.
The Steelers' collection of Vince Lombardi trophies may have been moved from Three Rivers Stadium to the South Side, but nothing has been added to the arsenal of hardware except dust.
That makes Cowher's first 13 seasons, as riveting as the majority of them have been, ultimately unfulfilling, at least to a degree.
And since Cowher is annually the first to declare the Steelers' goal, as always, is to win the championship -- THE championship -- that makes Cowher 0-for-his-first-13 in the National Football League.
There's no shame in that, but nor does it get you to Canton (unless you happen to be Bud Grant or Marv Levy).
That's a dilemma Cowher hopes to wrestle with again down the road.
His immediate concern is re-creating the chemistry and camaraderie and cohesion, the work ethic that led to the preparation that produced near perfection, in the wake of a season to remember.
Cowher's had those before, but almost invariably they've come following seasons during which the Steelers failed to take significant steps forward.
Only in 1995, when the Steelers overcame the heartbreak that was San Diego at the conclusion of a determined run in 1994 and made it all the way to the last Sunday in January, can it be said the Steelers followed up a great season with an even greater one under Cowher.
Their other AFC Championship Game campaigns (1994, 1997, 2001 and 2004) followed a 9-7 disappointment in 1993, a second-round playoff exit that denied the Steelers a return to the Super Bowl in 1996, a 9-7 mark that snapped a streak of losing seasons at two but extended a playoff drought to three in 2000, and a 6-10 train wreck in 2003.
Considering all that they might really be up against it this season coming off of 15-1.
No one expects that again, but that doesn't mean Steeler Nation isn't salivating over what might be possible in 2005, particularly with New England in an apparent state of transition after losing both coordinators.
That'll be dealt with beginning in September.
These Steelers will have to overcome themselves before they can begin to contemplate tackling the Pats or anyone else blocking the Road to the Motown and Super Bowl XL.
Mike Prisuta is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.