Stewart, Kordell 1972–
Kordell Stewart 1972–
Professional football player
Called “a modern-day Jim Thorpe” by coach Bill Cowher of the Pittsburgh Steelers, quarterback Kordell Stewart possesses a combination of skills as a passer, rusher, and pass receiver that is highly unusual for his position. In his first season as starting quarterback for the Steelers in 1997, he led his team to a Central Division title in the American Football Conference (AFC) and became a favorite with hometown fans for his displays of heroics on the gridiron. As Bob Smizik wrote in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1997, “Stewart is a hero because of his versatility, because of his pass-catching skills, because of his ability to confuse defenses in short-yardage situations.” Stewart’s ability to excel at three offensive positions led Cowher to nickname him “Slash,” a reference to the slashes in quarterback/running back/wide receiver.
Life wasn’t easy for Stewart as a child growing up in Marrero, Louisiana, a city across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. His mother, Florence Stewart, died after a long fight against liver cancer when he was twelve. His father, Robert Stewart, had to toil long hours at an assortment of jobs to take care of Kordell and his other two children. As Stewart told Sports Illustrated for Kids, “I’m Slash junior. Slash senior [his father] is a barber slash house painter slash carpenter. He does more things than I do, believe me.” The young Kordell contributed to the household by sometimes helping his father cut hair, as well as by doing the laundry and cooking dinner. During his high school and college years, Stewart occasionally gave haircuts to his teammates on the football team.
Stewart credits his father with helping him stay out of trouble by making sure he didn’t get involved with tough kids on the street. This influence helped him develop excellent work habits both in the classroom and on the football field. Stewart became an outstanding quarterback on the football team at John Ehret High School, and was named New Orleans Player of the Year while earning a spot on the All-State team as a senior in 1990.
After his football skills landed him a scholarship to the University of Colorado, Stewart proceeded to become one of the greatest football players in the school’s
At a Glance…
Born October 16, 1972, in New Orleans, LA; son of Robert Stewart and Florence Stewart (deceased); one brother, one sister. Education: University of Colorado, 1990-94.
Career: Was star quarterback at John Ehret High School, Marrero, LA; won football scholarship to University of Colorado, 1991; set University of Colorado records for yards passing, touchdowns, and other statistical categories, 1991-94; selected in second round of professional draft by Pittsburgh Steelers, 1995; became starting quarterback on Steelers, 1997-; had second highest total of touchdowns (11) for a quarterback in NFL history, 1997.
Awards and honors: New Orleans Football Player of the Year, 1990; All-State Football Team, Louisiana, 1990; All-American Second Team, Associated Press, 1994; Most Valuable Rookie, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1995; Joe Greene Great Performance Award, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1995.
Addresses: Professional—do Pittsburgh Steelers, 300 Stadium Circle, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.
history. He soon blossomed into an exceptional quarterback who could run and catch, as well as pass. According to John Walters in Sports Illustrated, Stewart’s quarter-backing abilities were nurtured in large part by Rick Neuheisel, who coached quarterbacks and receivers at Colorado.
In 1994, Stewart had an outstanding senior year. He completed 62 percent of his passes for 2,071 yards and 10 touchdowns, which led the Big Eight Conference. Stewart set a number of college records at Colorado, completing 456 of 785 passes for 6,481 yards and 33 touchdowns. He also set school records for yards of total offense (7,770), average yards per completion (13.8), and yards per offensive play (6.36), among others, according to the ESPN site on the World Wide Web. In addition, Stewart carried the ball 247 times for a total of 772 yards.
Because he was on the small side (6’1’ 212 pounds) by professional quarterback standards, Stewart was not among the first athletes selected in the 1995 pro draft. However, when scouts asked him to exhibit his running back and receiver skills, he declined because he wanted to play quarterback. “I knew I could run and catch the ball,” he told Sports Illustrated for Kids. “But I want to play quarterback.” The Pittsburgh Steelers picked him in the second round after fifty-nine other college players had already been selected.
As the Steelers’ fourth-string quarterback in 1995, Stewart didn’t play in the first five games of his rookie season. However, he got an opportunity to prove himself when the Steeler coaching staff began looking for ways to spark the team’s lackluster offense. He had impressed the coaches with his explosive speed and great moves during practices. “This kid has so much talent,” said Cowher about Stewart in Sports Illustrated for Kids. “Can’t we find a way to use him?” In a highly unusual move, the coaches decided to use Stewart as a “super-substitute,” playing him at three different positions to confuse opposing defenses.
Stewart proved equal to the challenge and his ability to dramatically alter the course of a game soon made him a favorite among Steeler fans. In the eighth game of the 1995 season against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Stewart entered the game to run a quarterback sneak. Instead, he dashed 16 yards downfield for a first down. The following week against the Cleveland Browns, Stewart ran with the ball twice, caught two passes, and threw his first touchdown pass as a pro. In the next game against the Cincinnati Bengals, he caught a short pass and scored his first touchdown as a pro on a 71-yard run.
With Stewart adding new life to the team’s offense, the Steelers became a serious contender in the NFL. They won eight straight games and earned a berth in the playoffs. In the ten games he appeared in during the 1995 season, Stewart completed five of seven passes for 60 yards and a 71.4 completion percentage, carried the ball 15 times for 86 yards, and caught 14 passes for 235 yards. He had balanced his scoring evenly between his different offensive roles, generating one touchdown each on passes, runs, and receptions. In the first round of the playoffs against the Buffalo Bills, he punted the ball 41 yards into the end zone. In the next round against the Indianapolis Colts, Stewart caught a crucial touchdown pass that helped the Steelers clinch the AFC Championship and a berth in the Super Bowl. In Super Bowl XXX against the Dallas Cowboys, Stewart played well as both a quarterback and a running back, but the Steelers lost the game by a score of 27-17.
At the end of the 1995 season Stewart’s teammates named him the team’s top rookie, and also gave him the Steelers’ Joe Greene Great Performance Award. Despite the accolades showered upon him, Stewart was not satisfied with his role on the team. “I want to be out there being a quarterback,” he told Smizik of the Post-Gazette of his hopes for the 1996 season. “That would be my number-one thing. Right now, I’m doing this for the team because we need it. But quarterback is my number-one position.”
In 1996, Stewart again proved his worth to the Steeler fans and coaches with his “instant offense” potential. Although he still expressed a keen desire to be the team’s starting quarterback, his performance at that position in 1996 was mediocre. In the final game of the 1996 season against the Carolina Panthers, Stewart completed eight of 21 passes for only 77 yards while tossing two interceptions. In a playoff round against the New England Patriots, he completed no passes in ten attempts. Despite these setbacks, the Steeler coaching staff refused to lose faith in Stewart. In July of 1997, Steeler head coach Bill Cowher announced that Stewart would be the starting quarterback for the 1997 season. Stewart’s self-confidence remained high and he remarked on a pre-game radio show in August of 1997 that “I will be a Pro Bowl quarterback and I will go to the Hall of Fame some day,” according to Ron Cook in the Post-Gazette.
After a stellar exhibition season, Stewart played poorly in the 1997 season opener against the Dallas Cowboys. However, he recovered from this performance and led the Steelers to 11 victories and a division title. He also played a major role in 32 of the Steelers’ 41 regular-season offensive touchdowns. He generated nearly 3,500 yards of total offense in 1997, completing 440 passes for 3,020 yards and carrying the ball 88 times for 476 yards.
Although Stewart threw many interceptions, he also possessed the ability to turn games around with his potent receiving and running skills. According to Cook in the Post-Gazette, Stewart’s exciting play made him the most popular sports figure in Pittsburgh. Highlights of the 1997 season included two separate games in which he passed and ran for a total of five touchdowns. In one game late in the season, Stewart secured a victory with a 74-yard touchdown run.
The 1998 season proved disappointing for Stewart, as his total number of touchdown passes dropped by ten from the previous season and his total number of interceptions soared. His total passing yards dropped by almost 500, while his total of rushing touchdowns dropped by nine. The Steelers finished with only seven wins against nine losses and failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. Stewart ended the 1998 season on a bad note, completing 17 of 37 passes for only 174 yards while throwing two interceptions.
Although some doubt that Stewart will remain the Steelers’ starting quarterback, team management has voiced its support of Stewart as the starter for the 1999 season. “He [Stewart) went through some growing pains this year,” claimed Tom Donahoe, the Steelers’ director of football operations, in a December 1998 issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I think he’ll be the better for it. I think at some point in his career, he’ll look back at this year and probably realize all the adversity he went through was good for him.”
New York Times, September 22, 1998, p. C27.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 29, 1995; July 13, 1997; August 12, 1997; July 26, 1998; December 30, 1998.
Sports Illustrated, September 26, 1994, p. 71; December 11, 1995, p. 54; November 9, 1998, p. 133.
Sports Illustrated for Kids, September 1996, p. 40.
American football player
Star quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kordell Stewart led his team to the Super Bowl his very first season in the National Football League (NFL). After seven seasons as a quarterback with the Steelers, Stewart boasted a pass-completion rate of 55.7 percent for a total of 12,173 yards and sixty-four touchdowns. Despite his obvious prowess as a quarterback, Stewart has also seen service as a wide receiver, running back, and punter, making him one of pro football's most versatile players and earning him the nickname "Slash" from head coach Bill Cowher. Of Stewart's importance to the Steelers, Cowher told Sports Illustrated : "No one can exemplify this team's unselfish attitude more than Kordell Stewart. I'm sure he'll never forget some of the things he's had to go through, and I wouldn't wish them upon anyone, but he's buried the hatchet and handled himself like the consummate pro."
Born in New Orleans
Stewart was born in New Orleans on October 16, 1972. The son of Robert (a barber, house painter, and carpenter) and Florence Stewart, he was raised in Marrero, a suburb of New Orleans. It was not an easy childhood for Stewart. As he told Reuters, "my mom passed away when I was eleven, and my dad's been there for me ever since. It's been a rough one for me, but when things like that happen to you, you can either be a person who goes astray or understand that things happen for a reason, and that's the approach that I have taken." As a boy, Stewart managed to stay out of trouble by spending his free time helping his father in the barber shop or various other endeavors
and handling the cooking and laundry chores on the home front.
Because of his responsibilities at home, Stewart didn't really get involved in football until he joined the varsity team at the beginning of his junior year at John Ehret High School in Marrero. Despite his late start, he quickly demonstrated his talents on the gridiron, passing for a total of 1,645 yards and nineteen touchdowns his first season. The following year, Stewart, now a senior, ran an option-attack, throwing for 942 yards and seventeen touchdowns and carrying the ball for a total of 923 yards and twenty-three touchdowns. Stewart's versatile performance powered Ehret to a record of 8-3 and the district championship. Stewart was named Louisiana's Most Valuable Player and New Orleans Player of the Year, making him one of the most sought-after high school option-quarterback prospects in the country.
Accepts Scholarship to Colorado
Heavily recruited by a number of top colleges, Stewart eventually accepted a football scholarship to the University of Colorado. Although he saw limited action on the football field his freshman year, he became Colorado's starting quarterback during his sophomore year. He quickly proved his worth by passing for a new school record of 2,109 yards and tying Colorado's record with twelve touchdown passes. As a junior, he broke his own passing record by throwing for 2,299 yards and starting every game of the season despite a fractured bone in his left hand.
Stewart credits Colorado coach Rich Neuheisel with helping him to improve his game as a quarterback. The summer before his senior season, Stewart worked closely with Neuheisel, as the coach had done with Troy Aikman when Neuheisel coached at UCLA. Stewart later told Sports Illustrated : "If I'd had [Neuheisel as a coach] since my freshman year, I would have gone in the first round [of the NFL draft]. He taught me about coverages and gave me confidence." Stewart's work with the coach paid off, for Colorado enjoyed one of its best seasons ever, finishing with a 11-1 record and going on to beat Notre Dame, 41-24, in the Fiesta Bowl. After the Fiesta Bowl victory, Stewart, who passed for 226 yards and rushed for another 143, was named the game's MVP. For his four years at Colorado, Stewart compiled a brilliant record of 6,481 yards passing for thirty-three touchdowns and 1,289 yards running for another fifteen touchdowns.
Declares for 1995 NFL Draft
Stewart declared for the 1995 NFL draft as a quarterback despite suggestions from pro scouts that he would probably enhance his chances for an early pick if he signaled a willingness to play other positions. Stewart refused to do so and was selected by the Steelers in the second round of the draft. Although he was hopeful of getting a shot as starting quarterback, Stewart was listed as fourth-string quarterback after the end of the exhibition season. After sitting out the first few games of the 1995 season, Stewart was put to work by coach Cowher at three different positions on offense—quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. Cowher's decision to utilize Stewart's versatility paid dividends for the Steelers, who finished the 1995 season with a record of 11-5 and faced off against the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX. Despite an impressive performance by Stewart, the Steelers fell to the Cowboys, 27-17.
During his second season with the Steelers, Stewart still was used sparingly at quarterback, passing for only 100 yards. He rushed for 171 yards and five touchdowns and was selected as an alternate for the Pro Bowl. Before the 1997 season began, coach Cowher made it clear that Stewart would be starting as quarterback. Stewart proved himself equal to the task, passing for a total of 3,020 yards and 17 touchdowns to lead the Steelers to the AFC Central Division title. Pittsburgh went on to lose narrowly, 24-21, to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game.
Steelers Fare Poorly in 1998, 1999
Despite creditable performances from Stewart in both 1998 and 1999, the Steelers ended those seasons with losing records of 7-9 and 6-10, respectively. Pittsburgh bounced back in 2000 with a season's record of 9-7. In 2001 the Steelers had its best season in several years, ending with a record of 13-3 and making it to the AFC Championship Game, which they lost, 24-17, to the New England Patriots.
|PIT: Pittsburgh Steelers.|
|1972||Born October 16 in New Orleans|
|1984||Loses mother to liver cancer|
|1990||Graduates from John Ehret High School in Marrero, Louisiana|
|1990-94||Attends University of Colorado|
|1994||Picked by Pittsburgh Steelers in second round of NFL draft|
With two weeks left in the 2002 regular season, the Steelers held first place in the AFC North Division, with a record of 8-5-1, but Stewart spent much of his time on the bench. After a disappointing start to the season, coach Cowher in early October benched Stewart as quarterback in favor of Tommy Maddox, former star of the Arena League and the XFL. Although the move cast his future with the Steelers into doubt, Stewart seemed confident he'd return to the game as a starting quarterback, if not in Pittsburgh than elsewhere in the NFL. "I can't control what other people do," Stewart told the Associated Press. "I've proven myself time and time again, so to express myself and explain myself again, what would that benefit? … If this is the direction they want to go, fine, so be it, but everybody else knows, and this organization knows, what I can do."
Awards and Accomplishments
|1990||Named Louisiana's Most Valuable Player in High School Football|
|1990||New Orleans Player of the Year|
|1990||Named to Louisiana All-State Football Team|
|1994||Named to All-American Second Team by Associated Press|
|1995||Named Most Valuable Rookie by Pittsburgh Steelers teammates|
|1995||Led Steelers to Super Bowl|
|1995||Joe Greene Great Performance Award|
|1996||Voted an alternate to Pro Bowl|
|1997||Selected as an alternate to Pro Bowl|
|1998||Led Steelers to AFC Championship Game|
|2001||Picked to play in the Pro Bowl|
Address: Kordell Stewart, c/o Pittsburgh Steelers, 100 Art Rooney Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15212-5721. Phone: (412) 697-7181.
"Kordell Stewart." Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 21. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999.
"Kordell Stewart." Sports Stars, Series 1-4. U•X•L, 1994-1998.
Pompei, Dan. "Happily Ever After Returns to Slash's Tale." Sporting News (December 10, 2001): 24.
Silver, Michael. "In Control: Kordell Stewart Demanded His Coach's Support and Excelled When He Got It, But Can He Lead the Steelers to a Title?" Sports Illustrated (January 14, 2002): 40.
"Bill Cowher." Steelref.com. http://www.steelref.com/cowher.html (December 19, 2002).
"Kordell Stewart: Bio." NFL.com. http://www.nfl.com/players/playerpage/1054/bios (December 17, 2002).
"Kordell Stewart: Career Highlights." Steelers.com. http://www.pittsburghsteelers.com/team/playerbio.cfm?player_id=4923 (December 17, 2002).
"Kordell Stewart, Career Stats." NFL.com. http://www.nfl.com/players/playerpage/1054 (December 17, 2002).
"Kordell Stewart, Quarterback." Pro-Football-Reference.com. http://www.football-reference.com/players/StewKo00.htm (December 17, 2002).
Sketch by Don Amerman