Maybe Bill Romanowski had it right all of those years ago. It was late in the AFC championship game after the 1997 NFL season when Romanowski, a linebacker with the Denver Broncos, jumped in the face of Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart after Stewart threw his third interception of the day. The Broncos were headed to Super Bowl XXXII, thanks to their 24-21 win at Three Rivers Stadium, and Romanowski felt the need to rub it in. He mocked Stewart by tapping the side of his own helmet.
"I was just telling Kordell he isn't the smartest guy in the world," Romanowski said after the game.
It was a low-class move by a low-class player. Where was Jack Lambert when Stewart needed him? It would have been nice to see someone on the Steelers have Stewart's back and slam Romanowski down.
But maybe Romanowski was right.
Certainly, Stewart didn't show much intelligence this week when he came back to Pittsburgh to retire as a Steeler. It wasn't just bizarre. It was absurd. Stewart threw his last pass for the Steelers in 2002. He played in his last NFL game with the Baltimore Ravens in 2005.
And Stewart comes back now to announce his retirement?
How smart was that?
Stewart had to know people would look back on his career. He was one of this city's most vilified sports figures. It was so bad at times that it was embarrassing to the Steelers and to Steelers Nation.
The beer that was thrown on Stewart's head at Three Rivers Stadium. The racial slurs. The non-stop insults and innuendoes on the talk shows and the Internet. The death threats.
Many of those same people were back at it again this week, attacking Stewart anew.
Speaking of low class ...
A lot of Steelers fans should be ashamed of themselves.
Stewart did more for Pittsburgh than Pittsburgh ever did for him. He was the Steelers' best quarterback between four-time Super Bowl winner Terry Bradshaw and two-time Super Bowl winner Ben Roethlisberger. He also is a much better man than his gutless, anonymous critics who came -- and are still coming -- after him personally. He never once lowered himself to fight back, never once got into a hissing contest with the snakes.
I admire Stewart more as a man than as a quarterback. And he was a pretty fair quarterback.
A lot of people forget Stewart led the Steelers to two AFC championship games. In several NFL cities, they would want to build a statue of the man. So many people talk only about the three interceptions he threw in that loss to the Broncos and the three others he threw in a 24-17 loss to the New England Patriots after the 2001 season. Too few fail to mention the many plays he made to get the team that far. He was a Pro Bowl player and the team's MVP when the Steelers went 13-3 in '01.
Stewart once predicted he would make the Hall of Fame. He fell considerably short, but he was better than everyone on this list: Cliff Stoudt, Mark Malone, David Woodley, Scott Campbell, Bubby Brister, Steve Bono, Todd Blackledge, Neil O'Donnell, Mike Tomczak, Jim Miller, Kent Graham and Tommy Maddox. They are the other Steelers quarterbacks who followed Bradshaw and preceded Roethlisberger.
Who knows how much better Stewart would have been with more stable coaching? It's not just that he played for five offensive coordinators during his eight seasons with the Steelers: Ron Erhardt, Chan Gailey, Ray Sherman, Kevin Gilbride and Mike Mularkey. None of the coaches seemed to know how best to use him. He was a multitalented quarterback long before the world heard of Tim Tebow. But he was about 10 times better than Tebow.
It's still hard to believe that Stewart was benched at various times for Tomczak, Maddox and, especially, Graham. He was benched pretty much for good in the third game of the 2002 season. Imagine that. Pro Bowl in '01. Benched early in '02. Released before the '03 season.
That's some fast fall.
It would have been nice if Stewart had taken a bit more blame after losses. That couldn't have hurt his popularity. Too often, he would say, "It's not just me out there." Of course, he was right, but no one wants to hear that from the quarterback. Roethlisberger gets it. He's always the first to say after every loss, "Put the blame on me." No one is going to question his intelligence.
But, as far as I can remember, Stewart never lashed out publicly about his treatment from the Steelers. He also never took on the alleged fans who made him the target of their hateful rumors about his personal life. He again dismissed all of it this week -- even the frightening death threats -- as a part of the "high expectations" that people have for all Steelers quarterbacks.
Stewart is a bigger man than me.
I would have said the hell with Pittsburgh.
I wouldn't have come back.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.