Fisher unfazed but Cowher irked by Terrible Towel stomp
Long after Tennessee dismantled Pittsburgh to clinch the top seed in the AFC, Titans coach Jeff Fisher finally saw the tape of players LenDale White and Keith Bulluck stomping on the Steelers' signature symbol, the Terrible Towel.
Fisher didn't see any news value in the antic, but it hit a nerve in one former Steelers coach.
"Why would it be a big deal? That if we play [the Steelers] again, they'll play harder? I don't think so," Fisher told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen. "They always play hard.
"I mean, I know we weren't happy to have 10,000 people in our stadium waving those yellow towels. It's a tremendous commentary on the great fan base the Steelers have, but I'm sure our guys didn't like it. They're a good football team. They have our respect, and I'm sure we have their respect. But this isn't a big deal to me."
Not for Bill Cowher. A CBS-TV studio analyst since resigning as Steelers coach nearly two years ago, Cowher became animated on the air while watching Bulluck and White trample the towel after Tennessee's 31-14 victory in Nashville clinched the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Defensive end Jevon Kearse also was caught on camera pretending to use one to blow his nose.
Cowher admonished White by saying, "You've got to learn. ... I wouldn't do this, I wouldn't go there," and said Bulluck should know better because "you are a veteran, Bulluck."
During an appearance Monday on "ESPN First Take," Bulluck said: "No disrespect to the Pittsburgh Steelers organization or the players on that team," referring to the stomp. "It's not anything personal or disrespectful. It's just the attitude you've got to take" in a game of such magnitude.
In Tuesday's edition of The (Nashville) Tennessean, Fisher defended his players, explaining that "they don't understand the significance or the meaning of the towel itself to the organization, the Steelers history or the Steelers fans."
However, Fisher also added that the towel incident "was unnecessary, in my opinion."
"When players do things as a result of celebrations, they have to be careful as to not hurt the team," Fisher said.
The moment produced a flashback for Cowher, who was well known for his competitiveness and respect-the-game mentality while coaching Pittsburgh from 1992 to 2006.
"That looks like a pregame talk the night before to me," Cowher said, his eyes lighting up and his voice rising. "If [we'd] meet in the postseason, I know what I'm pulling out the night before the game."
Cowher's implied message to the Titans: There's a way to win in the NFL and that wasn't it, and you might regret the sideshow should the Steelers return to Nashville for the AFC Championship Game in four weeks.
The Titans' lack of respect for the Steelers' symbol almost seemed enough to motivate Cowher to return to the sideline, if only for one game. Almost.
"I don't care, I don't care. ... That's just our stand," Bulluck said. "Anybody that's going to come through here in the playoffs, we plan to stomp them out."
Still, Cowher emphasized, "It's one game, it's one game," and the Titans' victory will have no effect should the teams stage a rematch.
Cowher was speaking from experience.
Three years ago, Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh wiped his shoes with a Terrible Towel after Cincinnati won 38-31 in Pittsburgh in early December to all but clinch the AFC North. When the teams met again a month later in Cincinnati, the Steelers -- motivated by Houshmandzadeh's shoe-wiping display -- won 31-17 for the first of their three conference road playoff wins that led to the Super Bowl.
Afterward, a revved-up Cowher was caught by NFL Films mocking the Bengals' "Who Dey" chant in the locker room by yelling, "We Dey, We Dey, We Dey!"
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.