I realize there are some people who are reading this article who weren’t alive for the Kordell Stewart era in Pittsburgh Steelers history. They weren’t there to see “Slash” explode onto the scene. They weren’t there for the meteoric rise of a Colorado quarterback as a do-it-all offensive weapon for Bill Cowher’s Steelers.
They also weren’t there for Stewart’s struggles on the field. The AFC Championship game losses, and of course the rumors.
In 1998 I was a freshman in High School in Wheeling, WV. For those who don’t know where Wheeling is geographically compared to Pittsburgh, it is about 45-50 minutes way from the Steel City in the northern panhandle of West Virginia, the small part pinched between Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Wheeling is Pittsburgh through and through, when it comes to professional sports teams, but fans of the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates who reside in the mountain state are always considered a distant relative to the “real” black and gold fans in the keystone state.
But even in Wheeling, the rumors of Kordell Stewart swirled. I remember talking to friends about Stewart, and wishing he was more “Slash” and less Kordell the quarterback. Their response?
“You didn’t hear about Kordell?”
“No. What are you talking about?”
Their answer was about the rumor of Stewart being caught with another man in a vehicle in Pittsburgh. Immediately, his sexuality was questioned, and so was his ability to lead the Steelers to the Super Bowl, as crooked as that may seem.
From that moment on, the fan base didn’t view Stewart the same. It is horrible to even suggest, but that is just the fact of what it was like during that 1998-1999 season. This week Stewart spoke about it publicly, writing a piece for The Players’ Tribune about that season. I can’t suggest reading this article enough for those who were alive for it, and to hear the story from Stewart’s perspective.
Here are some of the excerpts from the article:
Stewart on hearing the rumors himself
I had absolutely no idea what it was going to become.
Next morning, I get to Three Rivers Stadium and our PR person is waiting for me at the front door. And she’s looking at me like she’s seen a ghost.
She says, “Hey, Kordell, how you doing? Listen, before you go to the meeting, Mr. Rooney wants to see you.”
I said, “Haaaahhh???”
The big fella wants to see me??? The owner????
I’d never been called to the principal’s office before. And honestly, Mr. Rooney was like a father figure to me. So I’m thinking to myself, Man, I’m going to the bench? And they gotta have Mr. Rooney tell me? For real???
Stewart’s conversation with Dan Rooney
I said, “What’s up, big fella?”
He said, “Oh nothing, I just wanted to make sure you’re doing O.K.”
“Yeah, I’m good, Mr. Rooney.”
But now I’m putting the pieces together, and I’m like — “Wait, Mr. Rooney, this isn’t about some crazy rumor you heard about —”
He cut me off, and he said, “No, no, no, I don’t care about that nonsense. I just wanted to make sure you’re O.K.”
“I’m good. I’m just trying to go watch some film and get ready for next week.”
“Well, when you get a minute, Coach wants to see you.”
Coach wants to see me???
Now I’m starting to think, O.K., What’s really going on????
His conversation with Bill Cowher
He said, “How you doin’, kid?”
I said, “Come on, coach. For real? Seriously?”
“I know, I know, I know. This is some malicious bleepity-bleep. I’m sorry, kid.”
“Wait, does the team know about this b.s.?!”
“Yeah, Slash. They all heard.”
“Well, what are we supposed to do about it?”
“Maybe you should address the team.”
In my head I’m like, Address the team???? And say what?????
Just to think, this was before the internet was in everyone’s homes. When cell phones could only do one thing, make phone calls. This was before Twitter, Facebook or any other social media platform which would have taken this story and blown it even more out of proportion.
Throughout the article, which I can’t recommend reading enough, you get a glimpse into what Stewart was seeing, hearing and reading throughout the ordeal, and how it shaped his career. As I said earlier, from that moment on things were never the same with Stewart, and this after he had some great seasons as the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
When you talk about the bridge from Terry Bradshaw to Ben Roethlisberger, you gloss over names like Bubby Brister, Mike Tomczak, Kent Graham, Tommy Maddox and even Stewart. But of all those quarterbacks, which not all were listed, Stewart is the one who should garner the most attention. He was as dynamic as they come, and some would suggest he was ahead of his time.
Criticize Stewart all you want for his play on the field, but no one, and I mean no one, deserves what he endured off the field during his career in Pittsburgh. No one.