Big Lead Sports Bar



Welcome to the first installment of "The Legacy Of...", the new series in which we will discuss the legacies of Pittsburgh athletes who moved on to greener pastures.

I'll give you the facts, including details on the player's acquisition, his Pittsburgh career with all of the highs and lows, and the time when he moves on. After that, you can vote on his legacy and discuss it at greater length in the comments section.
Our first subject is a controversial figure you're all familiar with: former Steeler QB Kordell Stewart.
Stewart came to the Steelers in the second round of the 1995 draft out of the University of Colorado, where he set several school passing records under coach Bill McCartney. The highlight of his college career would be "The Miracle at Michigan", a play so spectacular that it has its own Wikipedia page.


Drafted by Bill Cowher with the second-round tag, Stewart was a luxury afforded to a team that already had Neil O'Donnell, Jim Miller, and Mike Tomczak manning the quarterback position. But Stewart was no ordinary quarterback. His unique set of skills was quickly translated by Myron Cope into the nickname "Slash", as he was a three-way-threat of rushing, receiving, and passing. The Steelers used Stewart in a variety of formations, and usually they resulted in something exciting.

His rookie campaign included a touchdown pass, run, and throw, but his mere presence was enough to distract opposing defenses and open up the offense for teammates such as Bam Morris, Erric Pegram, and Yancey Thigpen. Stewart was on the receiving end of a touchdown in the AFC Championship against the Colts and was a part of the Super Bowl XXX Steelers, the only Super Bowl appearance of his career.

As seen on QVC the night of the draft, the Kordell rookie card!

In 1996, with O'Donnell collecting fat paychecks from the 1-15, Rich Kotite-led New York Jets, Stewart was involved in a three-way battle for the starting QB job, which was "won" by Miller. Miller lasted all of one half before Cowher had seen enough, turning to Tomczak for the rest of the season. Stewart was again utilized in the Slash role, rushing for 171 yards, gaining another 293 as a receiver, and finding the end zone eight times.

Some may feel this should crack the "undeserving of an action figure" list from a few days ago

With Tomczak on the way to the Old Quarterbacks' Home, Stewart took advantage of the opening and was named the starter for 1997. And did he ever take advantage. Let's take a look at his 1997 stat line:

11-5 regular season; 3020 yards passing; 21 TD/17 INT; 476 yards rushing; 11 rushing TD

That's right. Kordell accounted for 32 touchdowns in the 1997 season. That's two a week, for those of you scoring at home.

What was a fantastic regular season would unravel in the playoffs, the point in the season that would ultimately prove to be Stewart's achilles heel. The Steelers escaped a first-round playoff matchup with the Patriots by a 7-6 margin; Stewart threw for just 134 yards and completed only 45% of his passes, but he did score the Steelers' lone touchdown. His performance in the AFC Championship left a lot to be desired, throwing three picks and watching as the Denver Broncos celebrated their Super Bowl berth on Three Rivers turf.

I have no pics of the AFC Championship, so you'll have to settle for this Kordell beanie baby, which couldn't have done much worse than his namesake against Denver

In 1998, with high expectations, Kordell and the Steelers fell flat on their faces. The losses of Offensive Coordinator Chan Gailey, WR Yancey Thigpen, and 3/5 of their offensive line was simply too much to overcome. What was an AFC Championship team a year before was now 7-9.
Starting all 16 games, Stewart threw for just over 2,500 yards, 11 TD, and 18 INT. This was the season that led to the desperation of drafting WR Troy Edwards in the 1st round of the 1999 draft, with hopes that all Kordell needed was another weapon. Unfortunately, we all know how that pick worked out. This was also the season where Kordell famously cried on the sidelines.

The Hills-exclusive 12" Kordell figure. I wish I was making this up. With decisions like that, no wonder Hills is out of business.

1999 brought a fresh start, but Stewart failed to rise to the occasion. 7-9 became 6-10, and Steeler Nation was growing impatient. It was during the '98/'99 time frame that the infamous rumors about his sexuality started to surface. Funny that they never surfaced during a winning season, no?

Pretty much the worst idea ever conceived for a card

Dr. Cowher's prescription for a struggling QB dogged by gay rumors while getting beer dumped on his head by the "home" crowd? One dose of Kent Graham.

Graham arrived via free agency in 2000 from the New York Giants, who felt no need to keep a quarterback with a career passer rating of 69. And he was no savior during his time here as a starter, which I mostly remember as a mixture of injuries, slow footwork, and defeats. The door was open for a Kordell Stewart Revival, and he took full advantage, saving the day in a 21-20 victory over what would be a 12-4 Oakland Raiders squad, and leading the Steelers to a 9-7 finish.

ESPN: The Mag, firmly in Kordell's corner since declaring him "Next" around 1998 or so

The 2001 Steelers had a QB depth chart of Stewart, XFL castoff Tommy Maddox, and college hero Tee Martin. With Graham underachieving in a whole new city (Washington), it was Kordell's team once again. And once again, his roller coaster career took an upturn. The Steelers finished 13-3 under Stewart, a Pro Bowler and team MVP. He threw for over 3,100 yards and ran for 537, accounting for a total of 19 touchdowns. And then...the playoffs came.

Round One was a pretty easy 27-10 win over Baltimore, but Stewart was less-than-spectacular, throwing for 154 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT. It was on to the AFC Championship against New England to try and erase bad memories from the 1997-98 AFC title bout.

The game was a disaster in nearly every facet. Steeler special teams came apart at the seams; the referees had one of the worst performances in modern history; Jerome Bettis ran for 8 yards on 9 carries; and Stewart accounted for three interceptions. It was the beginning of one era (New England/Brady) and the end of another. Kordell's days as a Steeler would never be the same.

Although he started 2002 as the starter, Stewart would not have that title for long. He was replaced by the fourth game of the season by the gunslinging Maddox, who went on to throw 20 TD in 11 starts and lead the Steelers to the second round of the playoffs.


Following the 2002 season, it was clear that the marriage of the Steelers and Kordell Stewart had come to an end. He was unhappy being the backup and the Steelers and the city were enthralled by the riches-to-rags-to-riches story of Maddox, who started his career as a first-round pick in 1992 with Denver.


Released from the Steelers, Stewart signed with the Chicago Bears in 2003, where he lasted all of one season under Dick Jauron. Kordell had a 2-5 record as the Bears' starter, throwing 7 TDs and 12 INTs after giving way to Chris Chandler and later Rex Grossman.

Seriously, how many Bears fans are going to spend $225 to commemorate Kordell's two wins there?

Once again, Stewart found himself a free agent, and in 2004 he joined the Baltimore Ravens and Brian Billick. He was the backup to Kyle Boller (and Anthony Wright), and did not throw a pass in a Raven uniform. He did, however, win NFL Special Teams Player of the Week honors for his impromptu punting performance while filling in for an injured Dave Zastudil.

Say what you want, the backwards purple visor look works

In 2005, Stewart was back with the Ravens, but not for long. He was released in early November as the Ravens opted to go only two-deep at the QB position. Kordell Stewart's NFL career was over.

Following his NFL career, Kordell Stewart has mostly flown under the radar. He did briefly appear on TV as part of the Pros vs. Joes series, trash-talking and subsequently running over some random dude:

ESPN's Hashmarks also reminded us in November of last year that it was Kordell Stewart's presence that allowed the Ravens to cut QB Derek Anderson, now the face of the Cleveland Browns. So in a way, he's still affecting the AFC North hierarchy.

And as recently as a few weeks ago, Kordell was back in the news courtesy of a book-pushing Plaxico Burress, who said that Kordell's performance was affected by the gay rumors.


So that's all the information I have. At this point, the discussion is in your hands. Do you have mostly good or mostly bad memories of Kordell Stewart as a Steeler? We're putting it to a poll, and there's no wiggle room: it's either a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. What wins out: two AFC Championship appearances and the fun-loving Slash, or two AFC Championship defeats and numerous disappointing seasons in-between?


HotDog_Zanzabar said...

You have to lead the entire blogosphere in Hills Department Store References.

My fondest memory of Kordell is him being rated the number one quarterback in fantsay football prior to the 98 season. My pompous neighbor drafted him for what was a silver lining on an otherwise ominous season.

Dave said...

Overall I definitely have positive feelings for Kordell. Yeah, he had some rough patches, but when he was good, he was the most dynamic player in the league (remember his 82-yard TD run against Jacksonville? It was the longest rush by a QB until Mike Vick ran through the entire Minnesota defense several years later)

And ultimately, I think his last AFC Championship is tainted by the cheating of the Pats. Maybe they didn't cheat in that game, and maybe they did. Would we be having this conversation if he took the team to the promised land?

But through all of his successes and failures, the reason we have the team (namely the world-class QB)that we have is because Kordell couldn't hold off Maddox, which ultimately caused us to draft Ben.

Basically, he was a great player who kept the team relevant and competitive for many years in the 90s, and his failures led the team to Big Ben. I can't find any reason to look down upon that.

ManBearPig said...

I always liked that thing on Kordell's neck.

AJ said...

I remember watching either a Sunday or Monday night prime time game... it was a home game and may have been against Jacksonville. There was a little kid in the stands with that same Hills - Kordell doll and a sign that said something like "KORDELL STEWART DOLL - PULL THE STRING AND WATCH IT CRY"

Man, the classics never die.

Oh... and Stewart sucked. He was so much more effective in the slash role than as a starter. Once defenses figured out that all you had to do was put 8 in the box against him, his career was over.

He should have continued to be Pittsburgh's version of Eric Metcalf and Cowher never should have benched Jim Miller.

darnay85 said...

I have the wonderful memory and still the nice taste in mouth of that abortion of an AFC Championship game which i dropped 800 bucks for 2 tickets to watch Kordell absolutely shit the bed in prime form to the tune of 3 picks.....nothing but a mark on the wall of bad memories. Don't get me wrong, he did handle the "Slash" role quite well for awhile, however after that it became nothing more than a defense's dream when he took the helm as a full time QB....Fuck Kordell

sshisheng said...

I liked Kordell and consider him more a Steeler than that loser Tommy Maddox. The gay rumors and the subsequent abuse are low points for Steeler Nation, I'd have to say that was the only time I have ever been embarrassed by my fellow Yinzers.

darnay85 said...

I really don't think the rumors were really rumors.....?!?!?!?

Koz said...

One of my strongest memories of Kordell that sums up his career was in the AFC Champ game agains the Pats when he threw a late pick and on the sideline his body language totally showed he was beaten and the game was lost.

In reality, there was enough time on the clock for the Steelers to get the ball back and have another shot - but once I saw his face, I knew it was over and the Steelers would never win a championship with him. The Steelers did get the ball back and nothing came of it.

Some guys just don't have all it takes and he was one of them. Physically gifted but limited by his focus and fortitude.

darnay85 said...

You hit the nail on the head simply boils to attitude and focus, which Kordell lacked and i think you, me, and just about everyone else in Heinz Field that day saw the looks and attitude on his face and knew that was the end...plain and simple

getfreshdesigns said...

Where is the both good and bad memories choice?

The guy had some spectacular moments and some that just made you want to cringe.

The QB position is always blamed first for the failures of the overall team, those afc championship teams were flawed on special teams, defensive backs, and a game plan known by all. Where those teams fail the 2005 team excelled. Coach Cowher learned from his mistakes in those games and said, aw f*ck it, let's throw the ball instead of try and pound ball up the gut. I remember a big deal about Bettis coming back for the Pats championship game, a lot of good that did.

But in the end, Kordell probably would have made one hell of a WR.

Anonymous said...

Full disclosure here...

I am what my friends call a "Kordell Stewart Apologist."

I was a huge fan of his during the heydey of 1993-1997, 2001 - and I remain so to this day.

He was a truly progressive talent when NFL talent evaluators all wanted a big white guy with a strong arm who had no mobility inside or outside of the pocket.

Sure, Kordell has his shortcomings. Look back at this time with the Steelers though - how many offensive coordinators did he see over his 8 seasons in the 'Burgh?

Ron Erhardt, Chan Gailey, Kevin Gilbride, Ray Sherman, Mike Mularkey. Is that everyone?

With that kind of turnover, one has to assign some portion of Kordell's lack of performance on coaching.

Lastly, I shall eternally tip my cap to #10 for the perseverence he showed by coming off the bench in 2000 and leading the team to a 13-3record in 2001. Anyone who lived in Pittsburgh in the late 1990's remembers (and should be ashamed of) the hatred that was pointed in his direction. For him to be able to block out all of that negativity and still produce on the field was an act of greatness.

OK, I realize that I open myself up to ridicule with such comments, but that's my honest opinion.

I'd still root for him today if the Steelers were to ever bring him back for a pre-game ceremony.

The Rick said...

OK.... I must say I blame Kordell for a lot of my Steeler angst during his career. But I must also admit he was a damn taleneted athlete.

He had his good and bad moments at QB, and I think he made a terrible decision to forego his Slash role.

Had he stayed at WR, I really believe he could have put up Hall of Fame numbers.

HotDog_Zanzabar said...

Finding out Cecil from Cecil is a closet Kordell fan is like finding out there isn't a Santa Claus.

mondesishouse said...

Totally amazed at how close this was. Thought this would be a landslide against Kordell. That's why they play the games.

Don't forget to click on the "comments" section of the poll. You can see where the votes are coming from, like votes against Kordell from Iraq and the UK, and votes for Kordell from Switzerland.

Anonymous said...

hotdog zanzabar...very funny!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Man, for a guy who was only 3 months old when the Steelers won their 4th Super Bowl, I was so bitter at Kordell at not getting us the one for the thumb. After growing up watching the glory days on late night ESPN NFL Films reruns, all I wanted was to see one Steelers championship with my own eyes. (This was worst thing about being a Steelers fan at my age before Super Bowl XL, it's kinda like being told about this once in a lifetime awesome party that you missed.)

Now that Big Ben got us there, for some reason I'm tending to remember his crazy, "watch me pull a rabbit outta my a$$" plays than his major disappointments in the big games.

sptrfn said...

I never bought Kordell as a QB from day one. When he threw those picks against the Pats in the 01 AFC Championship, I knew that his time was up. He was the starter a lot longer than I thought he ever would be.