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Cowher was the man of the hour

Friday night was filled with laughter and smiles when former Steelers Coach Bill Cowher, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2020, was honored and roasted at the Mel Blount Youth Home All-Star Celebrity Roast, an event started by Steelers Hall of Famer Mel Blount.

With plenty of Cowher's former players on hand, as well as players who were there before and after Cowher's tenure, the stories were flowing and the genuine love and appreciation for each other was evident.

"It is special, and it's special to do it with the people of Pittsburgh that come out to the events to see generation after generation," said Cowher, who grew up in the Pittsburgh area neighborhood of Crafton and came home to coach the Steelers. "When you think about the journey that I was blessed to have, starting with growing up in Pittsburgh and all the core values you learn from being there and then taking off in my football journey to come back full cycle, to raise a family here and certainly the memories I have with all the players. For me to hear people talk about things, share stories, it's more of a gratitude from my standpoint and an appreciation of going down memory lane with so many of these memories growing up there, memories of raising a family there and the memories of coaching there. And more importantly, it's the people. It's the fan base unlike any other. Maybe I'm biased because I grew up there, I knew what kind of impact the '70s Steelers had, and that's why I came back. I never wanted to lose that tradition, what it meant to the city, what it meant to the community and the kind of impact you can have on that platform.

"So much of it is still the same. The core values that we have, the priorities that we have. They all kind of went from one generation to another and they were handed off. You can just see the impact that everyone's making.

"Not everyone has stayed in Pittsburgh, a lot have, but they'll never forget where they came from. I've always said, you can take the people out of Pittsburgh, but you'll never take Pittsburgh out of people. I think that's the one thing that's a common thread in all of us. It's the time we spent in this city that was very special from a standpoint of what sports meant, what family meant, and what work ethic meant. That's what we stood for. That's what the city stood for. You represented that. You felt an obligation to make sure you did it to the best of your ability."

And Cowher did just that. He became the 15th coach in Steelers history on Jan. 21, 1992 when he was hired to replace Chuck Noll as the second man to hold that job since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.

In Cowher's rookie season as coach, he took what had been a talented team that finished a disappointing 7-9 in 1991 and turned it into an 11-5 AFC Central Division champion that entered the playoffs as the AFC's No. 1 seed. In Cowher's 15 seasons as coach, the Steelers won eight division titles, made the playoffs 10 times during which they participated in 21 playoff games. Those 21 playoff games included six appearances in AFC Championship Games and two trips to the Super Bowl, in which the Steelers were 1-1.

Cowher finished his career as one of only six coaches in NFL history with at least seven division titles, and he joined Paul Brown as the only coaches in history to take their teams to the playoffs in each of their first six years as coach.

"When Bill Cowher came in and took over for the legendary Chuck Noll, that was huge to fill," said Blount. "Bill came right in, didn't miss a beat, put his stamp on that team and off and running they went. He had a great coaching career here. The standard is always the measuring stick, and he was above the standard. What he did for the Steelers, and what he represents to Steelers Nation, is why we wanted to pay tribute to him."

The event benefits the Mel Blount Youth Leadership Initiative, a program that helps kids grow, learn, develop and become productive citizens. And Cowher has always been impressed with the work Blount has done.

"It is pretty special," said Cowher. "Number one, what he has done with his youth home from a leadership standpoint and the difference that he's made in so many young people's lives. That in itself is a great message not just to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but professional athletes or anyone who has a platform like that. To be able to have that kind of impact on youth is just special. And Mel does it from the bottom of his heart. I very honored to be here and to be a part of this."

That is something Blount doesn't take for granted. Having current and former Steelers players attend the event is what keeps it running and he appreciates every one of them for giving their time and energy to the evening as it shines a light on what he is doing and allows it to continue.

"It's an incredible event that started when my wife said she wanted to have a birthday party for me when I turned 50," said Blount. "We had that event, and it was incredible. We raised money for the boy's home then. It gave us this idea that we should do this every year. If not me, then honor some of my teammates. We have gone down the list of great Steelers. It's a great event. A great way to bring Steelers Nation together. Players from different generations. I am humbled and grateful for the support I get from the players and people who were babies when I played. It speaks volumes for Steelers Nation and the camaraderie we had. It's something we all look forward to.

"All the funds go to supporting our young people through the Mel Blount Youth Leadership Initiative or the youth home. We have around 15 kids who are in college that we are sponsoring, helping them get their education. We maintain the facility and create programs that give kids hope, let's them see what life is like outside the inner city. The setting at the youth home gives kids an opportunity to get to know who they are, see life differently and understand how important it is to have respect for life and take care of life. We are building a foundation that no matter what happens as you go on this journey in life, you will have a solid foundation and you will always be able to weather the storm when it comes in your life and know what the basic fundamental principles of life are all about - faith, family, respecting life and having an opportunity to reach back and help someone. That is what it's all about, helping to develop a person so they can be productive and help the next generation."

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