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Columnist Ron Cook: Josh: No kick with Cowher

Tuesday, July 28, 1998

By Ron Cook, Post-Gazette Sports Columnist

A bigger, stronger, 16 pounds heavier Josh Miller showed up at Steelers training camp determined to even the score from last season by kicking his chief antagonist all over the St. Vincent College campus.

"I'd rather be a Mike Tyson puncher than an Oscar de la Hoya puncher," Miller said. "The more power you have, the better off you are."

Relax, folks. Miller plans on striking the football.

Only the confounding football.

"I sure didn't add the weight so I could pull a Sprewell."

Aren't you glad to know The Jaw is safe?

"People don't want to believe it, but we get along just fine," Miller said of his much-discussed, much-analyzed relationship with Bill Cowher. "I just happened to give him a lot of ammo last season. It wasn't like he got bored and looked at his watch and said, 'I think it's time to scream at Josh now.' When you goof as bad as I did, you deserve to get yelled at."

Cowher dutifully obliged on a number of occasions when the football played mean tricks on Miller. The incident everyone remembers happened early in the season during a Monday night loss in Jacksonville when Miller twice failed to pooch punts inside the Jaguars' 20. Cowher gave him such a vicious, X-rated, verbal beating on the sideline that millions in America's living rooms were shocked. Even Al, Frank and Dan wanted to hide their eyes.

"People say to me, 'I wouldn't take that from Cowher,"' Miller said. "I tell them, 'Oh, yeah? What would you do? Quit?'

"They say, 'You must feel really stupid when he does that.' I tell them, 'I'm kicking for the Pittsburgh Steelers. There's nothing stupid about that. I have one of 30 (such) jobs on the planet. What have you ever done in your life that's so important that someone cares so much to yell at you?'

"People can think what they want. This is the last time I'm going to talk about it. It's a new season now."

Are you getting the idea that Miller, a middling talent, wasn't thrilled about being the most infamous punter in the NFL?

"It did get pretty ridiculous," Miller said. "With the spotlight on Cowher every second during games, people couldn't wait to see how he'd react when I punted. If I hit the ball good, their reaction was like, 'Oh, damn.' They were ticked off."

That's a tough way to kick, but Miller survived, even flourished at times. Cowher was the first to give him high-fives after two punts in a victory at Baltimore in October. (He saved his kisses for Kordell Stewart that day.)

Cowher also greeted Miller with a high-five three weeks later after a 72-yard punt late in regulation of an overtime victory against Jacksonville.

Then, there were Miller's two pooch punts that were downed inside the 5-yard line late in the Steelers' 7-6 win against New England in the playoffs. Those kicks left 'em cheering wildly at Three Rivers Stadium. Earlier in that game, the crowd booed Miller hard after he shanked a punt and had another partially blocked.

"I know who I have to please," Miller said. "It's Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe, not Billy who's sitting in Section 16, Row F and was eating a roasted pig three hours before the game."

Now that's a Tyson punch right there.

"I just roll with all of it," Miller said. "No one likes to get yelled at on national television, but if I took everything personally, I wouldn't be able to enjoy the fact that I busted my butt and made it to the NFL. That's why I try to enjoy every day. If they release me tomorrow, I'll be able to say I had fun."

Don't get Miller wrong. He plans on staying for a while. That's why he put so much into his punishing off-season workouts. He thinks the extra weight and strength will help him kick better, more consistently. So what if the Steelers brought free-agent punter Matt George to camp? Miller says he's ready for the competition.

He's even ready for another season of Cowher.

"I wouldn't trade him for any coach in the league," Miller said. "He's such a competitor. You want a guy like that on your side."

If not in your face.

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