From the time he stepped down as Pittsburgh Steelers’ head coach, it took Bill Cowher more than a decade for his final football stop. Canton, Ohio, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When Cowher resigned as Steelers’ head coach after the 2006 season, he thought he was resigning from his chance for football immortality, too. That’s what he revealed on Monday’s episode of Ben Roethlisberger’s Footbahlin podcast, where Cowher served as this week’s guest, and told the story of how he finally found out he was getting the golden jacket.
“When I left here, I thought I probably walked away from a Hall of Fame career,” Cowher told the show. “Because I know this was a team that was gonna win. We could have won. And as you did three years later again. But we built that team and it was a special team and I knew when I walked away it was really hard.”
Hired in 1992, Cowher had sustained success with the Steelers, though a Super Bowl ring remained elusive. It wasn’t until 2005 when Pittsburgh went on one of the greatest playoff runs in NFL history, becoming the first six-seed to take home a Lombardi. Doing so meant beating the Cincinnati Bengals, the heavily favored Indianapolis Colts, and the Denver Broncos before knocking off the Seattle Seahawks in Jerome Bettis’ hometown of Detroit.
Still, when Cowher stepped aside after 2006, his Hall of Fame resume looked borderline. There’s a list of coaches with one Super Bowl victory. And Gary Kubiak, Don McCafferty, and Barry Switzer won’t be approaching Canton anytime soon. Win two Super Bowls, as Cowher could’ve done had he stayed, would’ve cemented his spot in the Hall. Leaving after his first ring made him a 50/50 candidate for the Hall and, if we’re being honest, he was aided by a large centennial 2020 class.
But Cowher’s career will forever be memorialized. That’s all that matters. He found out in the most public of ways, on live TV, with then-president David Baker congratulating him on CBS Sunday’s set.
Cowher recalled that moment, completely surprised by the announcement.
“All of a sudden [co-anchor Phil Simms] says, ‘Coach before we do this on Lamar, he goes, David Baker has something to say to you.’ And I look over and I’m seeing David Baker and it just, everything’s just flashing in my head,” Cowher said. “I’m going, ‘No, he knocks on doors. He’s supposed to knock on a door.”
Of course, that refers to Baker’s typical greeting, dubbed “The Knock” to announce Canton’s presence.
You can see the moment below.
So how did Cowher celebrate? A little bit of alcohol and a nice quiet night.
“I had one scotch and one beer that night and my wife, she went to bed. I go, ‘Just let me sit here for a second by myself please.’ And I sat there just to try to process and just think.”
Due to the pandemic, Cowher had to wait a little longer for his acceptance speech and official enshrinement that took place in August of 2021. But he’s in Canton forever and the coaching career he did have was enough to make it to the Hall of Fame, making him an elite of the elite who have played and coached the game.