Bill Cowher believes the 1997 Steelers team was his best
(Photo by Greg Crisp/Getty Images)
Former Steelers head coach and Hall of Famer Bill Cowher recently had a one-on-one interview with Ed Bouchette of The Athletic about his new memoir Heart and Steel, which came out this past Tuesday, and one of the interesting pieces of information that Cowher revealed was that his 2005 Super Bowl-winning team wasn't the best team he coached. It wasn't the 1995 team that appeared in the Super Bowl or the 2004 team that went 15-1, either. It was his 1997 team that lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Broncos in the AFC Championship Game at Three Rivers Stadium, 24-21.
“I just thought it was the most balanced team,” Cowher told Bouchette. “We were doing things with Kordell that we never did with anybody else. Jerome Bettis was at the peak of his running skills. That defense was pretty dynamic. It just felt like it was one of the best teams from a balanced standpoint and special teams were good and we were playing well.”
Cowher and the Steelers got upset by the Chargers in the AFC Championship Game three years prior, so his loss against Denver was the second of ultimately four AFC Championship losses at home. The two other ones were against the Patriots at Heinz Field in 2001 and 2004.
“If you look at the championship losses, I can go down to each and every one of them and there are two or three moments in each one of those games I can always think about,” Cowher said. “That championship game, Kordell had a couple interceptions in the end zone I’m sure he would have liked to have taken back. Even that last third down when John Elway threw to Shannon Sharpe, Lee Flowers was on a blitz and was like a few steps from hitting Elway. But then they gave the ball to Terrell Davis and we couldn’t stop him.”
In the clip below at 1:07:14, you can see John Elway's completion to Shannon Sharpe on third-and-6 for 18 yards. It was a bullet from Elway as he completed the pass in a tight window. On the next play, Elway completed a 10-yard pass to Ed McCaffery, and two plays later Terrell Davis ran for 19 yards off the left side and sealed the game for Denver.
Kordell Stewart had a 117.5 quarterback rating and five total touchdowns (three through the air and two rushing) against Denver in their 1997 Week 15 regular-season meeting in which the Steelers won, 35-24. However, the Broncos figured him out in the AFC Championship Game, as Stewart was 18 of 36 (50%) for 201 yards and had a 1-3 touchdown-interception ratio, along with a quarterback rating of 41.6. Stewart also fumbled when getting sacked and the Broncos recovered. So, in total, Stewart turned the ball over four times in the game.