This originally was going to be a top-ten list, then I realized there are some players I would have to leave out that are much too good for just an “honorable mention.” The Black and Yellow are one of the most storied franchises in NFL history. From the Rooney Family, to the first Steel Curtain and the four Super Bowls of the 70’s, to Bill Cowher, to the new Steel Curtain, to the two Super Bowls of the new millenium. Many great players have suited up for the Steel City, and here are the top fifteen of all time.
15. Rocky Bleier #20:
Robert “Rocky” Bleier was a man of small stature who played much bigger. After his rookie season in 1968, Bleier was drafted to Vietnam. He was wounded in war, for which he received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. This level of toughness was the trademark of his career. He returned to the Steelers in 1973 weighing a midisculke 180 pounds, his war injuries not letting him even walk without pain. He was waived twice, but returned in 1974 weighing 212 pounds, and earned a starting spot in the backfield that was not relinquished until his retirement in 1980. He was a member of all four Steelers Super Bowl title teams of the 70’s. He was known mostly for his blocking ability, but was also an effective rusher behind Franco Harris. At the time of his retirement, he was the fourth leading rusher in Steeler history. Career stats: 3,865 rushing yards, 136 receptions, 1, 294 receiving yards, 25 touchdowns.
14. Mel Blount #47:
Mel Blount was the first prototype of the physical style of cornerback play we see today. At 6 foot 3, 205 pounds, Blount was a master of the bump-and-run, had a high IQ in zone awareness, and the ability to stop the run. He was easily the first do-it-all defensive back, and was a fixture at corner for the Steel Curtain of the 1970’s. Largely due to Blount’s physical play, what became known as “The Mel Blount rule” was intitiated in 1977, making bump-and-run legal only within five yards. Blount was a six-time All-Pro, five-time Pro Bowler, four-time Super Bowl Champion, and the 1976 Pro Bowl MVP. In 1978, Blount intercepted a pass in Super Bowl XIII, which led to the Steelers go-ahead score and 35-31 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. Career stats: 57 interceptions for 736 yards and 2 TD’s, 13 fumble recoveries and 2 TD’s. NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 1975.
13. Lynn Swann #88:
Swann was an intricate piece offensively for the Steelers’ dynasty of the 1970’s. His acrobatic and clutch catches (view) quickly made him a fan-favorite, and that still holds true to this day. Swann was a three-time Pro Bowler, four-time Super Bowl champion, and his Super Bowl performances became the trademark of his career. He returned from a concussion to play in Super Bowl X, where he recorded four catches for 161 yards and a touchdown. He was named MVP of the game as the Steelers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 21-17. Three seasons later, Swann torched Dallas again in the Steelers’ 35-31 Super Bowl victory, recording seven receptions for 124 yards and the final touchdown of the game. A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he will always be remembered as “The Great 88.” Career stats: 336 receptions, 5,462 yards, and 51 touchdowns.
12. LC Greenwood #68
Greenwood was a beast at defensive end, period. He sculptured the mold for future Steelers players at the position. His play enabled the the other members of the 70’s Steel Curtain to flourish. He was well-known for his exceptional play in Super Bowls, tallying five total sacks and three passes defended. Greenwood was a member of all four championship teams from the decade, led the Steelers in sacks six times, was a six-time Pro Bowl selection, an All-Pro selection two times, and is member of the Steelers’ all-time team. Greenwood was well-known for the gold shoes he wore on the field, and his uncanny 4.7 speed for a defensive end. Career stats: 73.5 sacks, 14 fumble recoveries, and 1 safety.
11. Troy Polamalu #43
Polamalu is a name regularly mentioned in debates about the greatest safeties ever to play the game after only eight seasons in the NFL. His football instincts are unmatched, he can come from anywhere on the field to intercept or break up a pass, snuff out a running play, or sack the quarterback. He has been the biggest play-maker and staple of the Steelers secondary since his 2003 debut. Many will say that one man can not make a drastic difference, but the Steelers’ record without him in the lineup speaks volumes about Polamalu. Over the last two seasons, the Steelers were a mere 6-7 without him, but a staggering 16-4 with the Tazmanian Devil in the lineup. His interception for a touchdown in the 4th quarter sealed the Steelers’ victory in the 2008 AFC Title Game (view), punching their ticket to the Super Bowl and subsequent victory. Career Accolades: 6x Pro-Bowler, 3x All-Pro, 2x Super Bowl champion, Steelers MVP (2010), and the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2010-2011. Career regular season stats: 515 tackles, 27 interceptions, 71 passes defended, and 2 touchdowns.
10. Terry Bradshaw #12
“The Blonde Bomber”, quarterback Terry Bradshaw is a fixture in Steelers lore and was the general behind the four Super Bowl wins of the 1970’s dynasty. Known for his physical toughness and leadership skills, Bradshaw’s stats weren’t overly impressive, but he got the job done at the most crucial of times. The Steelers drafted him with the number one pick in the 1970 draft, and won the starting job in his second season. In 1974, Bradshaw claims that his life had bottomed out, and after admittedly re-committing his life to God, went on the best stretch of his career during the Steelers’ domination of the NFL. Bradshaw had his best season in 1978, throwing for 28 touchdowns and 2,915 yards, making the Pro-Bowl, All-Pro, and All-AFC first team squads. In the Steelers 21-17 victory over Dallas in SBX, Bradshaw threw for 209 yards, including one of the best Super Bowl throws ever seen, a 64 yard strike to Lynn Swann that catapulted Pittsburgh to the win. He had his finest Super Bowl performance in XII, completing 17 of 30 passes for a (then) record 318 yards and four touchdowns as the Steelers again defeated Dallas 35-31. A fan-favorite for his whole career, Bradshaw epitomized the blue-collar toughness the Steel City is known for. Career accolades: 3x Pro-Bowler, 4x Super Bowl champion, 2x Super Bowl MVP, member of 1970’s all-decade team. Career Stats: 27, 989 yards and 212 touchdowns.
9. John Stallworth #82
Stallworth was Terry Bradshaw’s go to guy, especially in big situations. He is most noted for his plays made in the post-season and in the Steelers’ four Super Bowl victories of the 1970’s. In the Steelers’ 35-31 win over the Cowboys in SBXIII, Stallworth caught a record-tying 75 yard strike from Bradshaw, and finished the game with 3 catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns. In Super Bowl XIV, Stallworth again struck long, hauling in a 73 yarder (view) that paved the way for the Steelers’ 31-19 win over the Rams. Stallworth holds the Super Bowl record for yards per catch (24.4). He recorded 12 post-season touchdowns and holds the record for consecutive post-season games with a reception (17). Strangely, Stallworth sometimes flies under the Lynn Swanna radar, but his career accolades and stats cannot be ignored. Accomplishments: 4x Pro Bowl Selection, 4x Super Bowl Champion, and 1984 NFL Comeback Player of the Year. Career Stats: 537 receptions, 8,723 yards, and 63 touchdowns.
8. Ben Roethlisberger #7
In my opinion, when his career is over, Ben will hold more accolades and already has better stats than the beloved Terry Bradshaw. However, the four Super Bowls are what keeps Bradshaw atop most lists of Steeler greats. Roethlisberger is arguably the only franchise quarterback the Steelers have ever given the reigns, and he has not disappointed. With two Super Bowl wins since his debut in 2004, and nearly a third this past season (2011), Big Ben has taken his place among the NFL elite. His memorable promise to win Jerome Bettis a Super Bowl (XL) after talking him out of retirement shows the kind of leader and player Ben is. He holds a plethora of career individual team records: highest winning percentage (.712), highest passer rating (92.5), highest completion percentage (63.1), the most 300, 400, and 500 yard passing games and several others, including the biggest contract in Steeler history (102 million). Career stats: 22,502 yards, 144 touchdowns, and a 92.5 passer rating.
7. Hines Ward #86
Drafted in 1998 out of Georgia, Ward quickly made his imprint on the Steelers. He holds all of the major Steeler receiving records, including receptions in one season (112), total receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. “Pyscho” Ward is also considered the best blocking receiver to ever lace up the cleats (view), bringing the Steeler defensive mentality to the offensive side of the ball. His career accomplishments include: 4x Pro-Bowl selection, 2x Super Bowl Champion, 3x Steelers Team MVP, and MVP of Super Bowl XL in which Pittsburgh defeated Seattle 23-10. Career Stats: 954 receptions, 11,702 yards, and 83 TD’s.
6. Franco Harris #32
Franco Harris may very well be the most beloved Steeler ever by the fans. He was the centerpiece of the smashmouth style of football the 70’s Steelers were known for. In his 1972 rookie season, he was named Rookie of the Year after gaining 1,055 yards on 188 carries and scoring ten touchdowns. It’s all history from there, as Harris became one of the premiere back in the league. He was selected to nine consecutive Pro-Bowls, and rushed for 1,000 or more yards in eight straight seasons. In Super Bowl IX, Harris rushed for 158 yards and a score in the Steelers 16-6 victory over the Vikings, and earned the game MVP Award. In all four Super Bowl wins of the decade, Harris was a major contributor, totalling 354 yards and 4 TD’s overall in the big game, the four touchdowns being tied for second most all-time. Harris is best known for “The Immaculate Reception (view)”, one of the most miraculous and amazing plays in NFL history. The Steelers were trailing the Raiders 7-6 with 22 seconds remaining in the 1972 AFC Divisional Playoffs. On the play, QB Terry Bradshaw was forced from the pocket, at which point Harris streaked upfield. Bradshaw launched the ball in the direction of receiver John Fuqua, who was met by Raiders defender Jack Tatum, who broke the play up. As the ball began to head to the turf and end the Steelers’ season, Harris came out of nowhere to scoop the ball at the last second and take it in for the score. The crowd went wild, and forever placed Harris at the front of the list of Steeler greats. Career accomplishments: 9x Pro-Bowler, 7x All-Pro, 4x Super Bowl Champion, 1972 Rookie of the Year, 1976 Man of the Year Award, 1x Super Bowl MVP. Career Stats: 2,949 carries, 12,120 yards, 4.1 yards per carry, 91 touchdowns.
5. Rod Woodson #26
Woodson was drafted 10th overall by the Steelers in 1987, and remained with the team until 1996. He quickly established himself as a shutdown corner and dangerous punt returner. He was the cornerstone of the Steelers defense throughout the 90’s, and is the best defensive back to ever wear the Black and Yellow. He was an 11-time Pro Bowl Selection, including three after his departure from Pittsburgh. Career Accomplishments: Hall of Fame Member, 2x AFC Champion, 1X Super Bowl Champion with Baltimore, 7x First Team All Conference, 6x All-Pro, 1x Defensive Player of the Year, Member of the NFL 75th Anniversary Team, Member of the 1990’s All-Decade Team. Career Stats: 71 interceptions, 12 interception returns for TD’s (NFL Record, view), 32 fumble recoveries, 17 total touchdowns.
4. Jerome Bettis #36
“The Bus” was the Steelers’ savior and face of the franchise during his tenure. He had a powerful, bull-dozing running style (view), accompanied by surprising grace for a 5-11, 252 pound halfback. I call him a savior because he came to the Steelers after the release of the troubled Bam Morris, and sparked an offense that had no identity. Bettis himself had asked to be traded from the Rams, for whom he played his first three seasons in the league, so being signed by the Steelers was a match made in Heaven for both sides. I put Bettis above Harris simply because Harris had the much better supporting cast and played against more inferior competition than Bettis, yet The Bus still put up eye-popping stats and became a much-loved player in Pittsburgh. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in his first six seasons as a Steeler (1996-2001). His final five seasons in Pittsburgh were marred by injuries, however he still managed to make the Pro-Bowl in 2004 after replacing the injured Duce Staley and running for over 100 yards in six of the final eight games. Bettis was considering retirement after 2005, at which point QB Ben Roethlisberger talked him out of it and promised to get him to the Super Bowl. This promise came true as the Steelers made it to the big game in the ’05-’06 season, where they would defeat Seattle in Bettis’ hometown of Detroit. It was definitely a crowning moment for The Bus, and completed his legacy as one of the greatest Steelers of all-time. Accomplishments: 1993 Rookie of the Year, 6x Pro-Bowler, 2x All-Pro, 1x Super-Bowl Champion, 1996 Comeback Player of the Year, 3x Steelers team MVP, 5th leading rusher in NFL history, member of Steelers’ all-time team. Career Stats: 13,662 yards, 94 TD’s, and 3.9 yards per carry.
3. Jack Lambert #58
Lambert is regarded as one of the most ferocious-hitting, yet smart and graceful middle linebackers in history (view). Hesymbolizes the hard-hitting, intimidating attitude that has become the identity of the Steelers to this day. Initially regarded too small to play linebacker in the NFL at 6-4 and 220 pounds, Lambert quickly erased any doubts with his play on the field after debuting in 1974. He was a member of all four Super Bowl championship teams, was selected to the Pro-Bowl 9 times, was a 7 time All-Pro, and is a member of the 1970 and 1980’s all decade teams, as well as the NFL 75th Anniversary Team. He averaged in amazing 146 tackles per year in his first ten seasons in the league. Career Stats: 1,479 tackles. 23.5 sacks, and 28 interceptions.
2. Jack Ham #59
Ham is widely considered one the best outside linebackers to ever play football, and started a legacy at the position in Pittsburgh that is still carried on today. He won the starting spot as a rookie in 1971, and his mix of intelligence and blazing speed quickly made him a force to be reckoned with (view). He recently beat out Lawrence Taylor for the award of best outside linebacker of all time at a sportswriter’s forum, and with good reason. His career stats show his knack for the big play. Ham is a member of the “20/20” club (20 sacks, 20 interceptions), joining only eight other people in history to achieve this accomplishment. He was a violent hitter, his football instincts were unmatched, and he was rarely caught out of position. Career accolades: 8 consecutive Pro-Bowls, 6x All-Pro, member of NFL 75th Anniversary Team, 4x Super Bowl Champion. Career Stats: 25 sacks, 32 interceptions, and 21 fumble recoveries.
1. Joe Greene #75
Charles Edward Greene, affectionately known as “Mean” Joe Greene by the Steeler faithful, was drafted first overall by the Steelers in 1969 and immediately became the most dominant defensive lineman in football, and perhaps ever. He commanded double and triple teams, and is considered the backbone of the Steeler defensive identity and mindset (view). He is arguably the most important player in team history, his zero tolerance for losing and attitude on the field quickly rallied the “Steel Curtain” around him, catapulting them to greatness throughout the 70’s. He made 11 straight Pro Bowls from 1969 to 1979, and was a Steeler his whole career until his retirement in 1981. Career Accolades: 11x Pro-Bowler, 8x All-Pro, 4x Super Bowl Champion, 2x Defensive Player of the Year, 2x Defensive MVP, member of the NFL 75th Anniversary Team and 1970’s All Decade Team, Member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Career Stats: 166 tackles, 78.5 sacks, 1 interception.