Bill Cowher walked into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with his wife Veronica beside him, and couldn't help but break into a smile.
As he entered the doors, just feet from where his picture hung on the outside of the building along with the other 19 members of the Hall of Fame Class of 2020, he received a hero's welcome.
A Hall of Fame welcome, to be exact.
The entire Hall of Fame staff, along with a group of school kids there on a tour, cheered as he and Rams receiver Isaac Bruce entered for their official site visit on Tuesday.
It was the start of what was a perfect day for Cowher, a day where the road to Canton became a reality.
"I really am that kid from Crafton," said Cowher. "You reflect, Crafton to Canton.
"You get so reflective in such a short period of time. I had put closure to it and now it's re-opening and boy does it feel good."
Members of the Class of 2020 will spend a day like Cowher did, a day where they get all of the details of what enshrinement weekend will be like, from the moment they receive their Gold Jacket at a dinner to receiving their bust on a stadium stage, which will happen for Cowher and Troy Polamalu on Aug. 8 and Donnie Shell on Sept. 18.
But more than all of that, it's an opportunity for them to let it all soak in, that they are now a part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"Visiting Canton, you hear about the history of the game, the artifacts they have, I think about the things I have," said Cowher. "You get here, you see the stories, you see the men, you see their makeup. It's so humbling. It's hard to put into words. As time goes on you realize you have a small place in it, the people you influenced, the lessons that it taught you."
This is the first time Cowher, who coached the Steelers for 15 seasons from 1992-2006 and won Super Bowl XL, has actually visited the Hall of Fame, even though he was there for a preseason game the Steelers played in 1998. And what he saw, it touched him.
"The history and what they do here preserving the game," said Cowher. "The legacy of the people. You are forever a number. I am (Hall of Famer) number 330. I will always remember that number. It's a team you will always be a part of the rest of your life. It's a great place that has preserved the game. This really is America's game. It represents communities, it brings people together. It builds character."
Bill Cowher visited the Hall of Fame ahead of his enshrinement
For a first-timer visiting the Hall of Fame, the must-see stop is the room with the Hall of Fame busts. It's something that moves you, it touches you, it makes you feel the history.
When Cowher first walked in, you could see it in his eyes that he immediately got that feeling. And as he glanced around, there was one bust he asked to see. Dan Rooney's bust. He stood there for a few minutes just taking it all in, his eyes glistening as he stared with loving admiration at the bust for the man who brought him to Pittsburgh.
"Dan Rooney, he was my boss, he was my father, he was my friend, he was my mentor," said Cowher. "I could do three or four laps around there. It's so special because you see so many, people like Dan Rooney, Derrick Thomas, I coached him his first three years, Dirt (Dermontti Dawson), Rod (Woodson), Joe (Greene), Franco (Harris), Chuck (Noll). It's overwhelming at times.
"It's humbling to think you are going to be in there. Pictures and videos of you. I think it will be great some day for the family, the kids, the grandkids, their grandkids. This is what he was, this is what he represented. I am still processing it."
Cowher said he has had a chance to reflect on his career since retiring after the 2006 season but said he never could have imagined when he was hired as the Steelers coach in 1992, taking over for Hall of Fame Coach Chuck Noll, that he would now be reflecting back on a Hall of Fame career of his own.
"I just wanted to come in and you're not going to replace Chuck Noll," said Cowher. "What he did was so special. He is the one, the renaissance of Pittsburgh started with Chuck Noll. My obligation was to hold up that tradition, that responsibility. And to try to do it to some degree with which he did it. I embraced the tradition of the Pittsburgh Steelers when I came in. We brought all of those (former players) back here for dinners. We drafted guys and said when you are coming to this city, it's a special city. It's tradition. It's expectation. It's a responsibility. These guys all stayed here because the people here are special. We have to do things a certain way. Whether you like it or not, you are going to be a role model. You are representing this organization. It's bigger than you. It's bigger than me.
"There were people before you, people after you. There were people before me, there were people after me. But when you are a part of it, hold up your end of the bargain. Do it your way but do it the right way. I never thought about it, even when I left. I was proud in that time frame we won more games in the NFL than any other team during those 15 years.
"I was so proud, even if it took me a long time to get there, to hand him the trophy in Detroit. I said, 'Mr. (Dan) Rooney I am sorry it took this long. I was trying to get this to you for a while.' I gave him the one for the thumb and that meant so much because of him. That is a special family that represents Pittsburgh. I was happy to give him that. But Canton was never a thought."
Cowher, who is currently an analyst for CBS' NFL Today, admitted that he misses coaching from the standpoint of teaching players and the joy of teamwork but has no regrets about stepping away from the game.
"I had the best job in football. I was there 15 years. I had no regrets," said Cowher. "The only thing I realized when I walked away is it's a pretty good life out there.
I love the balance I have in my life. I have never had that itch to come back. Do I miss it, absolutely? But not enough to go back into the lifestyle. I haven't won a game in 14 years, but I haven't lost one."
There is no doubt that Steelers Nation will be turning out in full force in Canton for both enshrinements, and Cowher gave his full support for the city to make the trek to Canton in large numbers.
"Why would you not be here for enshrinement? Are you kidding me? This place is going to be special," said Cowher. "I already called the guys and told them rally the troops, we are going to Canton. We had a great run with a great bunch of guys, great coaches. We have one of the most special groups of people – Steelers Nation. If you want, just come for the day. Or camp out. Take your sleeping bags, find a nice park and stay for three or four days. That's what we do in the Burgh. You can do this."