It was, of all things, while buying a phone his rookie season that Kordell Stewart said he first got an inkling of the pressures involved with being a quarterback for the Steelers.
While signing forms, a salesman recognized his name and said, "Oh you're Kordell Stewart?"
Kordell retires a Steeler
Former quarterback Kordell Stewart annouces his retirement from football as a Steeler. (Video by Nate Guidry; 5/29/2012)
The salesman said, "Quarterback, huh?"
Again, Stewart said yes.
The salesman then asked, "You know about quarterbacks in this town?"
Stewart replied, "Nope."
He certainly learned. During eight seasons in Pittsburgh, Stewart was one of the most popular yet polarizing local sports figures of the 1990s and early 2000s. He returned to the team's South Side facility Wednesday to fill out some paperwork and "retire" as a member of the Steelers, nearly a decade after he last played for them and seven years after leaving the NFL.
After the death of his father in March 2011, Stewart said he felt he needed to get some closure in other areas of his life, including his bygone career as a Steeler. He'd seen a report about Torry Holt signing a one-day contract to "retire" as a St. Louis Ram in April, and he contacted Art Rooney II, who embraced the idea.
A second-round draft pick in 1995, Stewart became a bona fide NFL phenomenon his first two seasons, reaching stardom when he saw action as a wide receiver/quarterback/running back/returner/occasional punter, earning him the nickname "Slash."
Stewart became the starting quarterback in '97, leading the Steelers to the AFC championship with a season of electrifying play that included 21 passing and 11 rushing touchdowns, in an era before mobile quarterbacks were commonplace.
But three turbulent seasons of poor play followed and with them a showering of boos -- and once a cup of beer on his head -- from the Three Rivers Stadium stands, as well as rumors about his personal life and, according to him, death threats.
"I didn't know how strong I really was until I had to deal with some of those things," Stewart said.
In 2001, he rebounded and was the AFC offensive player of the year, the team MVP and a Pro Bowl selection en route to another conference championship berth. But another poor season followed and he signed as a free agent with Chicago in '03, playing a season there before finishing his career as a member of the Baltimore Ravens.
He has since worked as an NFL analyst on ESPN, and resides in Atlanta with his wife and son.
Of his Steelers career, Stewart said,
"It was phenomenal. ... It was an ebb and flow type career that I had. One where I had tons of highs and tons of lows. But ... if you understand anything in life, that's what you will have; the ups and downs of whatever you're a part of."
Dan Gigler: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1884 and Twitter @ gigs2312. First Published May 31, 2012 4:00 AM