There were also more substantive changes that led to Pittsburgh's subsequent eight-game winning streak. Cowher met with offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt and told him to get Stewart, the team's second-round draft pick, into the offensive mix. While Stewart's presence was energizing the offense during the second half of the season, the defense was taking fewer risks. With star cornerback Rod Woodson sidelined by a torn ACL in his right knee, which he suffered in the season opener, Cowher and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau took the Blitz out of Blitzburgh. Cowher also made several position changes, most notably the one that moved All-Pro safety Carnell Lake to cornerback. Not only did Lake excel, but the Steelers' other new starting corner, Willie Williams, also became a standout player. Woodson returned to practice last week and hopes to play in the Super Bowl, but it's not as if the Steelers are desperate. On Sunday, Williams made a spectacular shoestring tackle of Indianapolis running back Lamont Warren on a third-and-one play to set up Pittsburgh's winning drive.
The Steelers took over at their own 33 with 3:03 left, and O'Donnell (25 for 41, 205 yards) helped to erase his image as a player who gags under pressure. To O'Donnell, the Charger defeat "was always in front of my face." Against San Diego, his fourth-and-goal pass from the three never made it to halfback Barry Foster, prompting the presence of a banner reading 3 MORE YARDS at Pittsburgh home games this season. With 2:25 to go on Sunday, O'Donnell faced fourth-and-three from the Indy 47, took a shotgun snap, stayed in the pocket for what seemed like an eternity and fired a nine-yard completion to receiver Andre Hastings.
On the next play O'Donnell said to receiver Ernie Mills, "Come on, Ernie, let's go." Replied Mills, known to teammates as E-Thrills because of his penchant for dynamic catches, "Just give me a chance." The play was 80-Semi-move-Go. The Colts blitzed, but the Steelers were waiting with their maximum-protection package, and O'Donnell launched a perfect pass down the right sideline. Mills had broken free by putting an up-and-out move on cornerback Ashley Ambrose, and he cradled the pass while dragging his left foot before going out of bounds inside the one-yard-line. Two plays later Bam Morris bulled into the end zone, and Pittsburgh had its winning points.
That drive would have extinguished a typical team, but Harbaugh seems determined to reinvent himself as a sloppy version of Joe Montana. If you like football, you simply must love this man. Scrambling for his life in the final 90 seconds, Harbaugh fired a fourth-down completion, dislocated the index finger on his throwing hand, popped it back into place between plays and eventually got the Colts to the Steeler 29 with six seconds left. His Hail Mary pass was there for Bailey's taking, but Steeler defenders Randy Fuller, Myron Bell and Darren Perry collided with Bailey to help jar the ball loose. Bailey scooped it up on the first hop and appeared to have scored, but the pass was called incomplete, a call later confirmed by the replay.
The Steelers savored the moment. Among the more animated players was long-haired linebacker Kevin Greene, who vows to trim his flowing blond locks if the Steelers win the Super Bowl. After leaving the locker room, Greene stood atop a snowbank outside the stadium and told 1,000 delirious fans, "Let's go out and kick some ass in the Super Bowl."
Most coaches would cringe at such a bold display of attitude, but Cowher is no buttoned-down paranoiac. Two hours after the game, with about 100 hearty fans remaining, Cowher strode to the same spot where Greene had delivered his exhortation and one-upped the wild-man pass rusher. Cowher tried to quiet the fans, but they kept yelling for his autograph. "Hey!" he screamed, holding out his hands to command their attention. "Let me tell you something. We're not just gonna go to Arizona; we're gonna go there and win. And then I promise: I'll come back here and sign everything and anything."
He turned away from the throng and strode back to his office like a champion.