Brett Keisel may have played the bulk of his 13-year career with the Pittsburgh Steelers under head coach Mike Tomlin before retiring after the 2014 season, but he was originally drafted, as a seventh-round pick, by Bill Cowher back in 2002. It took him years, until Cowher’s final season, before he climbed into the starting lineup (posting a career-high 5.5 sacks that year), but he’ll always have a deep, abiding love for both coaches.
And he’ll have a second crack at honoring one of his coaches this year as Cowher enters the Hall of Fame. He previously had the opportunity to do so while he was still an active player when his defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau, was enshrined for his playing career as a cornerback with the Detroit Lions.
“That chin and that ’stache and that demeanor will never be forgotten”, he would tell the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in commenting about the announcement that Cowher will be part of the 2020 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “And now he will forever be enshrined in Canton. It’s awesome”.
He was the Steelers’ head coach from 1992 through the 2006 season, during which time he reached the postseason 10 times, eight as a division winner. He reached the conference finals a number of times, winning twice to reach the Super Bowl, and finally reached the zenith of the sport in his penultimate year during a miraculous 2005 run to a Lombardi in Jerome Bettis’s home town.
“That was one of the differences playing for him”, Keisel said of his former head coach. “You have someone you care about, you go out and play at a different level. We all liked going out there and bleeding for B.C. He had ways of bringing our team together. No way we could’ve made that run to Detroit like we did without him”.
Though far from a disaster in most years, the Steelers found themselves at 7-5 with four games to go in the regular season back in 2005 after falling victim to a three-game losing streak. They would go on to run the table the rest of the way.
That included the final four games of the regular season, including the league’s best defense that year in the Chicago Bears—featuring Bettis’ famous touchdown run over Brian Urlacher—and then four straight games in the postseason.
The Steelers that year became the first team to ever win the Super Bowl from the sixth seed, though it would be done shortly thereafter by the New York Giants. They remain the only team to go through the top three seeds in their own conference and then defeat the top-seeded team in the opposing conference to secure the league championship.
And according to Keisel, they wouldn’t have had that drive and guidance needed to make that run without Cowher’s leadership. Perhaps that’s why he now finds himself preparing to be enshrined into the Hall of Fame.