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‘A Great Teaching Moment For Me’: Bill Cowher Recalls Infamous Polaroid Incident With Official

Let’s set the scene: Sept. 24, 1995 at Three Rivers Stadium, the 2-1 Pittsburgh Steelers taking on the 1-2 Minnesota Vikings.

Under two minutes to go in the first half, the Vikings holding a 10-6 lead, Fuad Reveiz on to attempt a 48-yard field goal.

Reveiz’s kick is no good, yet there’s yellow laundry on the field for 12 men on the Steelers defense. After that, all hell breaks loose, eventually leading to then-head coach Bill Cowher and head official Gordon McCarter forever being linked due to a Polaroid.

It’s one of the more infamous incidents in Pittsburgh Steelers history, but also one of the more iconic, and quite honestly summed up who Cowher was as the head coach of the Steelers — that being a no-nonsense, hard-charging, fiery coach who went to bat for his team no matter what.

Despite it being a moment that will live on forever, the incident in which Cowher was so upset with the call that he stuffed a polaroid into McCarter’s pocket as he headed into the half still lives on as a teaching moment for the Hall of Fame head coach.

Appearing on the “Footbahlin with Ben Roethlisberger” podcast Monday night, Cowher recalled the incident nearly 28 years later, stating that he knew he was right, but in the end was wrong for the way he treated McCarter, and was later fined for the incident.

“…They [Vikings] missed a field goal…and flag comes out and it says we’ve got 12 guys on the field. And I’m like, ’12 guys on the field?’ And everyone’s still there. I go, ‘Whohoa, whoa, whoa.’ And then guys start walking over,” Cowher said to Roethlisberger on the episode of the podcast. “I go, ‘Wait, just stop, stop, stop. Just wanted to make sure, like no one come off, nobody go on.’ And then he [McCarter] comes over, and then at that time it’s like, now people are kind of milling around real close to the sideline. So…I called timeout. I said, ‘I can’t review this? And they go, ‘No, it’s not reviewable.’ And I say, ‘Well, let me just see.’

“And all of a sudden they’re talking and the guy hands me the Polaroid and I’m looking at Polaroid.”

That Polaroid, which was handed to Cowher during the timeout, showed that the Steelers had just 11 players on the field, not 12. That led to the penalty and ultimately the Vikings converting on a 43-yard field goal from Reveiz, giving Minnesota a 13-6 lead at the half.

“So I got the Polaroid and then I got really mad. I said, ‘Gordon, come here. Come here.’ I said, ‘I know you can’t look down.’ I said, ‘Just do the right thing’. I said, ‘It was not a penalty.’ He goes, ‘Well, he said,'” Cowher recalled on the podcast episode with Roethlisberger. “The second time they make it, we run off. I said, ‘Here, here, just take this and you can check it and you can check the video, check it at halftime when you’re in the locker room.’ And I ran back.”

Of course, back in 1995, league rules at the time did not allow photographic evidence to overturn calls. Therefore, despite having photographic evidence that the call was, in fact, wrong, nothing could be done about it, costing the Steelers three points in what was ultimately a 44-24 Vikings win.

Cameras caught Cowher angrily stuffing the Polaroid into McCarter’s pocket as the teams and officials headed to the locker room. It certainly showed that fiery side of Cowher and likely made him feel vindicated in the moment. It caught the attention of his daughter, Lauren, too, who apparently told Cowher after the game that he she liked what he did to McCarter.

Cowher, ever quick on his feet and in the moment, used the incident as a teaching moment for not only himself as a professional, but as a father to his children.

“The true story about that is after the game, my daughter come up and said, ‘Daddy, I’m so glad you did that to that official.’ And I said, ‘No, Lauren, your dad was wrong. You don’t show people up like that,'” Cowher recalled. “I said, ‘Your dad was wrong, but he was wrong too.’ I go, ‘He was wrong, but two wrongs do not make a right.’ So, it was a great teaching moment for me with them.”

It certainly was a great teaching moment for Cowher, as it allowed him to use his rage in the moment and turn it into something good for his family and his daughters, but it also made his pocket at bit lighter. While Cowher recalled he was fined $12,000, he was actually fined $7,500 by the NFL for contact with the official. McCarter and line judge Ben Montgomery, who originally threw the flag, were fined $4,009 and $2,826, respectively, and suspended one game apiece.

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