I’m a Kordell Stewart fan.
There, I said it. And I am not ashamed to admit that publicly. I like Kordell Stewart. Not in a “Brokeback Quarterback” kind of way, not that there’s anything wrong with that. But my admiration for Kordell is the simple, innocent, pure kind of fandom which teenagers all around Pittsburgh feel toward current Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger.
The Steel Dynasty of the 1970’s won their last Super Bowl the same year I began kindergarten. The next decade was an era of mediocrity for the Black and Gold. Sure, we made one minor run with Mark Malone and then had another improbable post-season with Bubby Brister but mostly things weren’t terribly exciting for wavers of the Terrible Towel. Don’t get me wrong, everybody followed the team religiously; it was just as I moved from elementary school through middle school and then on to high school, the Glory Days of the Steelers began to be a more and more distant memory.
Then came Coach Bill Cowher, who restored the Steelers to greatness. He put together a couple playoff teams, including one which lost a heartbreaking 1994 AFC Championship game to the San Diego Chargers when 49ers reject Tim McKyer got beat like a red-headed stepchild late in the 4th quarter. Then came the NFL Draft and in the second round Pittsburgh selected a quarterback out of the University of Colorado, known for beating Michigan on the most famous Hail Mary play not involving a guy named Doug Flutie.
Slash was born. With apologies to Bam Morris, Neil O’Donnell, Greg F’n Lloyd, or any of the other 1995 Steelers but if we didn’t have Slash that year, we wouldn’t have made the Super Bowl. Of course, we lost when O’Donnell was paid off by Jerry Jones to throw the game threw a bunch of stupid interceptions but that wasn’t Stewart’s fault. O’Donnell left via free agency after that loss and despite wasting a year with Mike Tomczak, everybody knew Slash was next in line for his job.
Nobody could imagine what he’d do in the role, though. In 1997, his first full season as a starter, he had 32 touchdowns. You read that right, THIRTY TWO TOUCHDOWNS. He threw for 21 and ran for another 11. That is just an amazing output. The Michael Vicks or the Vince Youngs received a ridiculous amount of press as being “The Ultimate Weapon” on the football field when they wish they could have a season like Kordell did.
Yes, his numbers dropped in subsequent years. He accounted for 15+ touchdowns only twice more in his career. Stewart still averaged 422 yards rushing 2402 yards passing per season during his years as a starter. He was truly an Ultimate Weapon. And his numbers could’ve been better but people don’t remember what he had to deal with. When he had a superstar WR like Yancey Thigpen, his passing stats soared. When the Steelers cheaped out and let Pigpen go via free agency, the passing game couldn’t help but suffer. In fact, if Big Ben had to throw to the likes of Charles Johnson or Troy Edwards, I doubt his numbers would be any good either.
Forget the crying on the sidelines, forget the rumors of his man-on-man tryst in Schenley Park, the reason Steeler fans like to dismiss and detract from the memory of Kordell Stewart is simply because he never won the big one. He made the playoffs four times, including two AFC Championship games, but failed to carry us to the Super Bowl each time. Nobody ever seems to remember Jerome Bettis rushing for a whopping 9 yards in one of those games or the vaunted defense letting Tyrell Davis rush for 140 yards in the other.
Kordell Stewart was the guy who made me believe we could win a championship again. He also made some of the most incredible, improbable, “Holy shit! Did you see that!?” type plays any Steeler quarterback has ever made. That’s why I’m a fan of #10. And I always will be.