Kaye Cowher, the wife of former Steelers football coach Bill Cowher, died Friday in her native North Carolina after losing a battle with skin cancer. She was 54.
The Cowhers moved to Raleigh, N.C., in 2006, Mr. Cowher's final season coaching the Steelers, and continued to make it their home.
Mr. Cowher issued a statement today in which he called his late wife "the foundation of our family."
"Sadly, my wife Kaye lost her battle with cancer on Friday. Kaye was such a loving and compassionate person and she was the foundation of our family," Mr. Cowher said in the statement released to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"Kaye was always at my side throughout my career as a player, coach, NFL analyst and, most importantly, as a parent to our three daughters Meagan, Lauren and Lindsay. They will miss their mother dearly.
"Kaye was the rock that we could all lean on in the tough times. She was looked up to by so many people and I cannot say enough about what Kaye meant to our family," the statement continued. "Her memory will never be forgotten. We would like to thank everyone who has kept our family in their thoughts and prayers and for those who have reached out to express their condolences. It is clear that Kaye touched a lot of lives."
Steelers President Arthur J. Rooney, II issued a statement today on behalf of the team:
"We were saddened to learn of the loss of Kaye Cowher. Kaye was a very private person who was very devoted to her family. Kaye made many friends in our organization and our community. She will be missed by the many people whose lives she touched. On behalf of the entire Steeler family, we extend our condolences to Bill, his daughters and their family."
The Cowhers met when they were classmates at North Carolina State University in 1976. Mr. Cowher was on the football team and Mrs. Cowher, the former Kaye Young, and her twin sister, Faye, played basketball.
Tall at 5-foot-11, Mrs. Cowher displayed an inside power game that made her one of the first young women in her home state to receive a college athletic scholarship.
Her teams at North Carolina State went 21-3 and 29-5, respectively, winning the inaugural Atlantic Coast Conference women's basketball title in 1978 with a 9-0 record and ranking No. 3 nationally.
Faye and Kaye later played for the Women's Professional Basketball League, where Mrs. Cowher was among the pioneers in the early days of Title IX. They played one season with the New York Stars and two with the New Jersey Gems, competing against notable stars Carol Blazejowski and Nancy Lieberman.
After the league folded in 1981, she married Mr. Cowher, who was then playing for the Cleveland Browns.
From Bunn, N.C., where her father initially refused to let his twin daughters play the rough sport of basketball, Mrs. Cowher's mother made it happen.
"The reason we played is because of my mother," Kaye Cowher told the Post-Gazette in 2002. "She said that absolutely, these girls are going to have the opportunity to play."
She also appeared in a Wrigley Doublemint gum commercial with her twin sister.
Mrs. Cowher spent two years at Peace College in Raleigh before transferring to North Carolina State, where she graduated with a bachelor's in sociology in 1978.
At the time of her death she was a member of the North Carolina State Board of Visitors, an honorary body that advises the chancellor and board of trustees.
The Cowhers have three daughters, Meagan, Lauren, and Lindsay, all of whom have been standout basketball players. The oldest two, Meagan and Lauren, played together at Princeton University, where Meagan was the fourth-highest scorer in the program's history and Lauren was a co-captain finishing the 2008-09 season as the team's leading scorer.
The parents often took in their daughters' Tigers games.
"The girls get all their skills from their Mom -- she started to teach them at an early age," Bill once told The Daily Princetonian. "I'm just a spectator who loves the game."
Mrs. Cowher was a constant presence in the press box on Steelers game days and was considered as resolute and steely as her more famous husband.
She was the driving force behind her husband's retirement in 2007, pressing him to move with her and their youngest daughter to North Carolina, help with the commute to basketball games, reunite the nuclear family before their final daughter left the nest. Lindsay last winter completed her freshman season at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., where she played sparsely in 14 games.
For the last three years, Mr. Cowher, a Crafton native who attended Carlynton High School, has worked as a studio analyst for CBS Sports on its "NFL Today" show.
The family has requested privacy and will hold a private service Monday in North Carolina.
Memorial contributions may be directed to Family Resources of Pennsylvania, 412)-363-1702 or www.familyresourcesofpa.org.
Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published July 24, 2010 4:30 AM