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Kordell Stewart: Steeler For Life (?)

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Kordell Stewart retired yesterday as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I’m sure many of you are thinking, “Wait, what? I thought he retired a long time ago in order to take a job as back-up dancer at It’s Raining Men.” Actually, the artist formerly known as Slash has been a B-team (actually more like D-team) NFL analyst over at ESPN since 2008. Considering barely literate jackasses like Keyshawn Johnson are given prominent air time at the four letter, that should tell you how highly they value Kordell’s broadcasting skills. Which is too bad because the few times I watched their nigh unwatchable First Take program (mainly to catch of glimpse of foxy Dana Jacobson), I thought Stewart offered some decent insights.

Then again, I’m an unapologetic Slash fanboy. I’ve always found the level of vitriol directed at him by Steeler Nation to be absolutely ridiculous. Leaving aside the rednecks who hated him because he was black and the bigots who couldn’t stand that he was gay, the vast majority of Steeler fans disliked him simply because he committed the mortal sin of never winning a Super Bowl. I never understood that being some magical bar Yinzers hold up as the only worthwhile proof of football skill.

Unfortunately, I hear this line of thinking from Steeler Nation all too often and it drives me crazy. It’s the same reason you can’t have a rational discussion about coaches because all too often you’ll hear some nonsense like, “Mike Tomlin won two Super Bowls. Bill Cowher won one. Therefore Tomlin is the greatest coach since Paul Brown!” That’s like saying Kim Kardashian must be way more beautiful and talented than Mila Kunis because more people watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians than watched That 70s Show. The reason fans clamor for Cowher to come rescue their team at the end of every season is because Cowher’s level of success is unparallelled in modern football. The only other coach who comes close is Bill Parcells. Tomlin? Well, he did a good job of not killing the golden goose he was handed but we have yet to see if he can win consistently with teams of his own.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand focusing on the Super Bowl. When all is said and done, hoisting the Lombardi should be the ultimate barometer of your season. However, football being a team game, I don’t see that as the sole measure of a player’s worth. After all, if you only allowed Super Bowl winning quarterbacks into the Hall of Fame, there’d only be about 30 of them in Canton. I don’t think anybody is going to argue the greatness of guys like Warren Moon (who also fell victim to being an African American QB), Jim Kelly, or Pittsburgh’s own Dan Marino, even if they never won the big one.

Kordell Stewart made Pro Bowls. Kordell Stewart took the Steelers to playoffs. Kordell Stewart appeared in multiple AFC Championship games. In 30 other NFL cities, those accomplishments would make him a beloved figure by the loyal fanbase. In Pittsburgh, all it’s earned him are shrugs and withering comments.

For two seasons, Slash was the most fearsome offensive weapon in football. Fantasy footballers go nuts over Michael Vick or Cam Newton but look at some of the stats Stewart put up during his time in Pittsburgh. In 1997 alone he accounted for 32 touchdowns (21 passing, 11 rushing). THIRTY-TWO TOUCHDOWNS. He also passed for 3,000 yards in an era not quite as wide open as it was today and throwing to some truly horrible wide receivers. Andre Hastings? Charles Johnson? Big Ben wouldn’t throw for 2,500 yards let alone 4,000 if he had those guys as his targets. When Slash had Plax and Hines in 2001, he went back to being a 3,000 yard passer. Besides, anybody that watched Kordell during the late 90s remembers how terrified defenses were of him. He could throw the ball 45 yards or tuck it down and outrun the entire defense all by himself. He was undoubtedly the best hybrid pass-throw QB ever even though he never gets the credit that overrated dog rapist in Philly seems to get.

Anyway, I’m glad Stewart got to retire a Steeler. It’s a silly custom, signing a one day contract so you can file your official retirement papers as a member of a certain team, but I applaud the Steelers for going along with it. By doing so, they’re at least acknowledging what a great player he was for them and the vital role he played in some really memorable seasons. Hopefully, some day Steeler fans will also give the third best QB in Black and Gold history the credit he deserves.