(Screenshot of T.J. Houshmandzadeh wiping his cleats with the Terrible Towel)
I finished reading Bill Cowher's memoir Heart and Steel this past Tuesday and I highly recommend it, as it's a great read that takes you chronologically through Cowher's life from his childhood in Crafton right up to the present where he'll soon be formally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this August.
There are many great stories from Cowher in the book, but probably my favorite is the one that he told in Chapter 14 when he talked about one particular moment on the Steelers Steelers 2005 Super Bowl run.
The Steelers lost to the Bengals, 38-31, in Week 13 of the 2005 season and it was their third straight loss. Many counted the Steelers out to make the playoffs, as they had to win their final four games to reach the postseason. However, the Steelers did just that and got into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed with a record of 11-5.
The Steelers would see those same Bengals in the wild-card round game in Cincinnati and they had plenty to remember from their bitter defeat a month earlier at Heinz Field. Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh infamously wiped his cleats with the Terrible Towel after they beat the Steelers in Week 13, and Coach Cowher was using it as bulletin board material.
"I knew that being in the playoffs against the Bengals was motivational enough. But I couldn't resist something else," Cowher wrote. "The Bengals were the last team we'd lost to before starting our winning streak. They'd beaten us in Pittsburgh, 38-31. After that game, Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh took our team and city symbol, the bright yellow Terrible Towel, and wiped his shoes with it. As soon as I saw that clip, I thought, I'll remember that one.
"I doubt the Bengals expected to play us in the wild card game a month later. At our meeting the night before the game, I told the players, 'I can show you clips of our last two games this year against the Bengals, but I think you know them and I think they know us. But what I'm not so sure you're aware of is what happened the last time we played them. I want to show you what one of their players did, something that I think may be as disrespectful as any act I've ever seen.'"
Cowher said that when he showed the clip, there wasn't a sound in that room.
"When we win, we win with humility. And if we lose, we lose with grace," Cowher told his team on the night before their wild-card playoff game against the Bengals. "That wasn't humility. So tomorrow, when you go out there, just think about him wiping his shoes with something that signifies us as a team. And if you have a chance tomorrow, let him know you didn't appreciate it. That's it. Good night."
The Steelers ended up beating the Bengals, 31-17, in the wild-card game and Houshmanzadeh was limited to just four receptions for 25 yards and a touchdown.
"That clip did the trick," Cowher wrote. "Throughout that whole game, at every opportunity someone hit Houshmandzadeh. I suspect he walked around wondering what he did. We won, 31-17. I thought we already matched up well with them, but the lack of respect raised our pissed-off factor and put each of our players in the right mental state."