|Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press|
|Kaye Cowher (right) was at Bill's side to celebrate the Steelers' Super Bowl XL victory in February 2006.|
Kaye Cowher, a former college and professional basketball player and the wife of former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher, died Friday of skin cancer. She was 54.
Cowher died in her native North Carolina, where the family relocated at her urging during her husband's final year as Steelers coach in 2006, one season after the team won Super Bowl XL. The Cowhers had lived in Raleigh since then.
"Kaye was such a loving and compassionate person and she was the foundation of our family," Bill Cowher, now an NFL analyst with CBS, said in a statement Saturday. "Kaye was always at my side throughout my career as a player, coach, NFL analyst and, most importantly, as a parent to our three daughters Meagan, Lauren and Lindsay. They will miss their mother dearly.
"Kaye was the rock that we could all lean on in the tough times," Cowher added. "She was looked up to by so many people and I cannot say enough about what Kaye meant to our family. Her memory will never be forgotten. We would like to thank everyone who has kept our family in their thoughts and prayers and for those who have reached out to express their condolences. It is clear that Kaye touched a lot of lives."
The Cowhers met at North Carolina State, where Bill played linebacker before beginning his NFL career. They married in 1981, after the former Kaye Young played alongside her twin sister, Faye, in college and during a three-season Women's Professional Basketball League career.
After leading N.C. State to a 29-5 record and the first Atlantic Coast Conference women's title in 1978, Kaye and her sister played one season with the New York Stars and two with the New Jersey Gems in a league that was a forerunner to the WNBA. The sisters filmed a Wrigley Doublemint gum commercial during their WPBL careers.
All three of the Cowhers' daughters played or are playing college basketball. Meagan and Lauren played at Princeton University, and Lindsay currently plays at Wofford College.
At the time of her death, Kaye Cowher served on the North Carolina State Board of Visitors, which advises the school's chancellor and board of trustees. The Cowhers returned to Raleigh even before Bill Cowher's NFL coaching career ended partly because of their close ties to the university and the friends they made during college.
A private funeral service will be held Monday in North Carolina.
Kaye Cowher and other family members often were seen cheering from a private box at Steelers home games during Bill Cowher's 15 seasons as coach from 1992 to 2006. The Steelers lost four AFC championship games -- all at home -- before finally winning the Super Bowl, and Kaye Cowher was repeatedly seen consoling her husband following those defeats.
"We were saddened to learn of the loss of Kaye Cowher," Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a statement released by the team. "Kaye was a very private person who was very devoted to her family. Kaye made many friends in our organization and our community. She will be missed by the many people whose lives she touched. On behalf of the entire Steeler family, we extend our condolences to Bill, his daughters and their family."
The Cowher family asked that anyone interested in making a donation on Kaye's behalf be directed to Family Resources of Pennsylvania, a charity that tries to prevent and treat child abuse by strengthening families and neighborhoods. The organization can be contacted by calling (412) 363-1702 or online at www.familyresourcesofpa.org.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.