PITTSBURGH -- Even during seasons when the Steelers haven't won as many games as some thought they should have, there has been little doubt about coach Bill Cowher's future.
The Steelers are his team and Pittsburgh is his town. As Cowher and the Steelers finished up their chores yesterday, the coach was asked about the growing pressure hovering above his team as it prepares for the Patriots in tomorrow's AFC Championship game.
"This business is about pressure," Cowher said. "I think the pressure comes when you start thinking about the big picture. Then you start thinking about the magnitude and what the outcome can bring you. The biggest thing you do is lose sight of the process. I think there was probably a lot of pressure to get here. Now this is one of those games that we're playing the defending world champions, a good football team, and we're looking forward to the challenge. I don't know if it's pressure as much as it's a great challenge. We're one of four teams still playing and after this weekend there will be two. That's exciting."
Cowher's tenure has brought praise from the Steeler ownership despite not winning a Super Bowl.
"His profession is to be a football coach," said team owner Dan Rooney. "And I think he's a good one. He enjoys himself. A lot of these people talk about burning out. He's far from burning out. He's enjoying it. He enjoys every year. He does the job. He enjoys being with the players, the team, and the organization, and yet he has a life. He has his family. His family means an awful lot to him. He has three daughters who are pretty good athletes. He goes and watches them. He's a fan when he goes to see them play. It's an important thing."
Cowher is also excited about matching strategies with Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
"Bill is a good coach," said Cowher. "He's done a heck of a job. I love the way his team plays. I love his respect for the game. I have nothing but respect for the guy. To me it's not so much a reflection of Bill as it is just playing the New England Patriots. You have to be able to understand their approach to the game. I don't think it's mystic or anything else. You have to understand going in what you see isn't always what you get. That being the case, you are going to anticipate some things. We might anticipate some things based on the looks we get, but you just understand going in there are no guarantees it's going to be how we talked about it during the week."
Cowher preaches a one-game-at-a-time mind-set to his players. It worked this season, as Pittsburgh posted an NFL-best 15-1 mark.
"He just wanted us to keep our same routine," said wide receiver Hines Ward. "And that's why we were able to have a streak like we had, winning 14, 15 games straight, because we were able to take it one game at a time and not really overlook anyone."
Cowher was asked yesterday if there would be a void if he ended his career without ever winning a Super Bowl. "Sure there will be a void when you don't win," he said. "That's why you are in this business. But you also have to enjoy the journey."
Old home week
Some former Steelers, including defensive back Mel Blount, gave yesterday's practice a back-to-the-future look. "It's great to be able to talk to those guys," said guard Alan Faneca . . . Unusual question of the day was posed to Ben Roethlisberger by a journalist from Mexico, who asked Roethlisberger if he had a message for Steelers fans in Mexico. "Thanks for your support," said the bemused rookie quarterback. "And I hope you keep watching."'. . . Vendors will not sell beer in the stands during the second half of tomorrow's game, but the decision has nothing to do with a multimillion-dollar jury award earlier this week related to beer sales at Giants Stadium, field managers said. "We do adjustments periodically, like for Monday night games, just to keep control," said Jimmy Sacco, executive director of stadium management at Heinz Field. "It's something we're doing this week just to keep a safe environment." Those attending the game can still buy beer until the end of the third quarter. The announcement comes just days after a jury in New Jersey ruled that Philadelphia-based Aramark Corp. should pay more than $100 million to the family of a girl paralyzed from the neck down in a 1999 accident involving an intoxicated fan leaving a game at Giants Stadium. Aramark, which is also the vendor at Heinz Field, said it will appeal . . . There was no change in the Steelers' injury report. All five players -- Kendrell Bell (groin), Clark Haggans (groin), Verron Haynes (knee), Antwaan Randle El (toe), and Deshea Townsend (hand) -- are probable.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.