A memory triggering a memory.
Well, sort of. Dave Bryan’s recent post about Kordell Stewart’s contract extension in 1999 and how it came together got me thinking about the role Dick LeBeau played in birthing the “Slash” role that would define Stewart’s Steelers career, for better and for worse.
To be clear, LeBeau thinks Stewart was a good quarterback, one who was ahead of his time (looking at you, Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts). And as the Steelers’ defensive coordinator in 1995, the year Stewart joined the team as a second-round draft pick, LeBeau had no say on how the Steelers deployed the wondrously talented Colorado product.
All LeBeau, who spent 59 years in the NFL as a player and coach, did was trust his eyes. And relay to what they were telling him to head coach Bill Cowher.
“We were watching film one day and Kordell would run pass routes all the time because he was the third quarterback, and we couldn’t stop him,” LeBeau recalled. “After about three or four days I told Bill, ‘Coach, you been watching No. 10 at all in these videos? We can’t stop him. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to take a look at him catching the damn ball.’ That was when he and Chan (Gailey) came up with that multiple stuff.”
That stuff helped launch the multi-faceted role that Stewart played before becoming the Steelers’ full-time starting quarterback. The seminal moment came in a late November 1995 game at Cincinnati. The Steelers fell behind 31-13 in the third quarter before pulling close with a pair of touchdowns. They took the lead for good after Stewart scored on a 71-yard pass catch and run.
“Kordell took a 4-yard pass and bolted upfield and they never even touched him,” LeBeau said. “He was just so fast.”
His first NFL touchdown was part of a 36-point outburst that swept the Steelers past the Bengals, 49-31, at Riverfront Stadium. Stewart had two catches that game and tied Pro Bowl wideout Yancey Thigpen with a team-high 86 receiving yards. Stewart also had a 15-yard run giving him 101 total yards.
He finished the season with 14 catches for 235 yards and 86 rushing on 15 attempts. Stuck behind Neil O’Donnell and Mike Tomczak at quarterback, he attempted only five passes as a rookie but completed five of them for 60 yards. One of those went for a touchdown giving Stewart a pretty nifty hat trick in 1995: he had a touchdown pass, a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown.
What seems like a footnote is part of why he has somewhat of a complicated legacy as a Steeler. As good as Stewart was there will always be questions about what he might have been had he stayed in that “Slash” role.
Or if he had played quarterback now in the NFL when coaches are all about exploiting mismatches and more willing than ever to buck convention to do that.