All Time Top 25 Stillers by Guest
Monday, Dec 27, 2010
Any discussion of the Greatest Steelers of all time is likely to spur much debate. I’ll throw my hat into the ring, but I’m not stopping at 10 because there are too many great players that deserve some recognition here in a list of this type. So here’s my Top 25.
Please note that I formulated this list prior to learning what the NFL Network and Smizik had to say; once I heard that NFL Network was doing this, I wanted to do my own without being biased by their list, and so I put it together prior to their show last week.
My criteria are simple:
- Length of Steeler career – for this analysis, I discarded any player that did not play a majority of his career as a Pittsburgh Steeler – so that excludes Hall of Famers like John Henry Johnson or Bobby Layne
· - Stature among a player’s peers during their career – this takes into account number of Pro Bowls, All Pro selections, HOF status, Player of the Year (POY) awards, etc. In my analysis, All Pro designation is more important than Pro Bowl selections, which are typically a measure of fan popularity rather than skill.
· - Team leadership
· - Stature among the Steeler Nation – a subjective measure of a player’s standing as the “face of the Steelers” – did they represent the blue collar, steel mill-tough mentality of our region? Guys like Stautner, Greene, Lambert, Ward, and Bettis – you get the idea. Kind of like what Still Mill uses for the weekly Hard Hat award.
· - Individual statistics – this takes into account historical context, for example career # of yards rushing, # of receptions, # of interceptions, etc. when compared to all-time NFL player statistics.
· - Contributions to championship teams
Things that had NO bearing on my list were things like how well they got along with the media, how much charity work they did, how many autographs they signed, or how good is their relationship with the team now (see Bradshaw, for instance). Could they play, and did they dominate?... that’s about it.
Here we go! Number of pro bowl selections appear in parenthesis after the player’s name.
1 Joe Greene (10), 5 All Pro 1st team, 3 All Pro 2nd team, 2 Def POY, HOF
2 Jack Lambert (9), 7 All Pro 1st team, 1 All Pro 2nd team, 1 Def POY, HOF
3 Ernie Stautner (9), 9 All Pro, HOF
4 Rod Woodson (11 – most of any def. back), 6 All Pro 1st team, 2 All Pro 2nd team, 1 Def POY, HOF
Really, these first four were very tough to rank, and I’d be ok with putting any one of them at #1 overall. Joe Greene probably gets the nod strictly by virtue of the fact that he ushered in the whole 70’s era dominance and was an exceptional team leader during that time period. However, a guy like Lambert (my all time favorite Steeler) definitely lent to that dominating persona that the Steelers had back then. He just frightened other players and who can forget his seek and destroy approach on every play? He could hit you in the mouth or cover you out of the backfield; he could do it all. Put simply, that 70’s era and mentality doesn’t happen without one or the other of those two great players.
Stautner (who I never saw play) by all accounts was just an incredibly dominating force and he did it for 14 or so years while hardly ever missing a game. Nine All Pro selections – is that a record?! I would have loved to see him on those great Steeler teams of the 70’s. The fact that he plied his trade on some very bad teams is even more impressive. If they had Defensive POY awards back then, I’m sure he would have had multiple.
I would probably put Woodson up as the single greatest athlete who has ever played on the Steelers and maybe in the NFL, period. Corner, Safety, Punt Returner, he could do it all. His eleven pro bowl selections lead the team. One of the fastest players of his era and he had all of those INT TDs (12)! Worst personnel move in Steeler history when they let him go, only to see him have many productive years after that.
Yeah, you could say those first four guys are all 1a, 1b, 1c, and 1d, and not necessarily in that order.
5 Mel Blount (5), 4 All Pro 1st team, 2 All Pro 2nd team, 1 Def POY, HOF – he singlehandedly changed the rules for coverage in the NFL, and that says a lot about how he was perceived by his peers at the time. Another fierce intimidator on those great 70’s teams and he just shut down entire halves of the field.
6 Mike Webster (9), 7 All Pro 1st team, 2 All Pro 2nd team, HOF – probably the least-skilled player in the top 10 but he made up for it in sheer will. Another key part of the Steeler “persona” of the 70’s and a key offensive leader. His nine total All Pro selections are tied with Stautner for most in team history, and he could rightfully be listed even higher than #6. Strongest man in the NFL for years. I cut Mike’s grass as a teenager and once saw him lift three 90-lb. bags of concrete at one time with just his hands. Picked them off the tailgate like it was a sack of flour and carried them across the yard! That’s 270 pounds of dead weight, folks! Scary strong.
7 Terry Bradshaw (3), 1 All Pro 1st team, 1 All Pro 2nd team, 1 NFL MVP, 2 Super Bowl MVP, HOF – I initially did not think I’d have Bradshaw this high, but his contributions to those Super Bowl teams cannot be minimized. Didn’t get selected to too many pro bowls or All Pro teams, but he was a clutch, money player as his two Super Bowl MVP awards attest. They simply don’t win all those Super Bowls without this guy.
8 Jack Ham (8), 6 All Pro 1st team, 2 All Pro 2nd team, 1 Def POY, HOF – His eight total All Pro selections say it all and are very near the top of the Steeler list. Not a big talker or intimidator, but such a cerebral player. I believe he truly made it possible for all those physical intimidators like Greene, Lambert, Blount, et. al. to play that way. He was just always where he was supposed to be and he probably made up for some of their over-zealousness sometimes.
9 Hines Ward (4), 3 All Pro 2nd team, 1 Super Bowl MVP – A real throwback to another era. Ward is another player without all the top accolades but is quietly moving up the all time lists in several statistical categories. But, let’s face it…he’s up this high because he quite simply is on the level of a Greene or Lambert in the leadership and “face of the Steelers” categories. Next to Lambert, I’d have to say he’s a close second on many fans’ all-time favorite player lists. Greatest blocking WR in NFL history, WITHOUT QUESTION. That cannot be underestimated, and it’s telling that he (like Mel Blount) is responsible for a rules change…to protect the DEFENSIVE players from injury, nonetheless! He’s just a complete player and I still to this day have never seen him run out of bounds to avoid a hit like all the lame prima donnas do nowadays. Brian Billick paid him the highest compliment when he said, “if I had 11 Hines Wards on offense or defense, I’d never lose a game.” I couldn’t agree more. It will be a travesty if he doesn’t make the HOF someday.
10 Jerome Bettis (6), 2 All Pro 1st team, 1 All Pro 2nd team, HOF? – Another player that should be a shoe-in for the HOF. He did more as a big back in my opinion than HOF player Earl Campbell, and he did it for a very long time. Tough as nails and another one who’s very high on many favorite Steeler lists. Bettis probably had my favorite play of any Steeler in history when he ran over Brian Urlacher at the goal line in the snow the year they won Super Bowl 40. Bettis was on his last legs, had to come into the game late, and he just destroyed Urlacher like he was a middle school linebacker. If you get a chance to watch that play again, notice how he just discarded him…truly one of the most dominating man-to-man plays in NFL history. Bettis didn’t contribute much to his lone Super Bowl victory, but if he had a quarterback and a coach who could actually put together an intelligent scheme during his prime years with the Steelers, he probably would have three or four rings.
11 Dermontti Dawson (7), 6 All Pro 1st team, HOF? – If this guy doesn’t make the HOF, it will also be a travesty. There was no other center even close to him when he played, and I challenge you to find many other offensive lineman in history with six 1st team All Pro selections…I’d bet most of them are in the hall already. It’s too bad he never won a ring…see the discussion about Bettis and coaching, above.
12 Franco Harris (9), 6 All Pro 1st team, 1 All Pro 2nd team, 1 Super Bowl MVP, HOF – Many will pan having Franco this low, but I just can’t seem to find a reason to elevate him over those above him. He has all the stats and awards, no doubt, but I just never saw him as “the guy” at his position during his time in the league…at least not like some of the others above him. He was certainly clutch in the playoffs and authored the most well-known play in history (the Immaculate Reception). But, would you ever consider him the “face” of the Steelers like a Ward or a Bettis enough to put him above them? I don’t. However, I wouldn’t have heartburn if I was forced to move him up to seven or eight on this list…but no higher.
13 Troy Polamalu (5), 2 All Pro 1st team, 1 All Pro 2nd team, HOF? – Definitely in my top three or four favorite Steelers of all time. Probably one of the most skilled and cerebral players in team history. He’s not overly fast, but he diagnoses plays better than any player I’ve ever watched in the NFL, and that’s what allows him to be great. For all the players who’ve been thought of as “the face of the Steelers” over the years, he’s the only one that doesn’t have that “intimidator” mentality, and that says something about his unique talent. We’ll see how long his career goes and whether he moves up higher on this list over time.
- After this point, it starts to get dicey in that a lot of players are too close or similar in stature, but I’ll try.
14 Alan Faneca (9), 6 All Pro 1st team, 3 All Pro 2nd team – maybe a surprise to some but you cannot deny nine total All Pro teams, folks. Fact is, he could rightfully be ranked in the top 10 on that basis alone. Until his last year as a Steeler, he was a monster on the O-line, and he led the way during all those years when Bettis was pounding the rock. He’s played a few years longer than he should have, but a definite dominant force for most of his career.
15 John Stallworth (4), 1 All Pro 1st team, 1 All Pro 2nd team, HOF – got to go with Stallworth over Swann at this juncture, simply because he played longer and he made some equally clutch catches in all those Super Bowls.
16 Lynn Swann (3), 1 All Pro 1st team, 2 All Pro 2nd team, 1 Super Bowl MVP, HOF – Swann probably should not be in the HOF based on his statistics, but he sure was a player who had the flair for the dramatic, and on that alone he lives in the minds of many Steeler fans forever. His acrobatic leaps in the Super Bowl really are the lasting image (along with Lambert pumping his legs up and down!) of many Steeler fans from that era. But can a guy with only 336 receptions really be any higher than this? I don’t think so. That’s only three years’ worth of catches among top WR’s in today’s NFL.
17 LC Greenwood (6), 2 All Pro 1st team, HOF? – Here’s a guy who gets forgotten in many HOF conversations but he should be in there. Along with Greene and Ham, he completely shut down the right side of opponents’ offenses for years and they may not have won as many Super Bowls without big LC around.
18 Andy Russell (7), 1 All Pro 1st team, 3, All Pro 2nd team – a great player in his own right as seven pro bowls will attest, but I think Russell gets lost a bit in that transition era between the poor teams of the 60’s and the dominating teams of the 70’s, as his career was coming to an end just when the team started on their big run.
19 Donnie Shell (5), 3 All Pro 1st team, 1 All Pro 2nd team - amazingly, undrafted out of college but went on to be part of the Steeler’s dominating defensive backfield in the 70’s. Four total All Pro Selections says a lot about this big-hitting player. Who can forget him drilling the big Earl Campbell on MNF and putting him out of the game with busted ribs? Classic image…
20 Greg Lloyd (5), 3 All Pro 1st team – the scariest player in the NFL for much of his career. Definitely in the mold of the fearsome intimidators that the Steelers seem to have at least one of no matter the year. Near the top of many fans’ favorite players list. Won the AFC Defensive player of the year in 1994. The lack of any Super Bowl victories in his era hurts him relative to many players above him from about #13 on down.
21 Aaron Smith (1) – Aaron Smith this high, you ask? Yes. Absolutely. I could argue that he should be at least five spots higher than this. He does not get all the accolades but players and coaches around the league know how great he is. Bill Belichick once gushed (during Super Bowl 40 pre-game) that he absolutely loved Aaron Smith and thought he was one of the best players in the league, period. Peter King obviously thinks so, and I agree. He’s been around a long-time too, and he represents the tough Steeler mentality as well as anyone ever has. If he was more of an intimidating and demonstrative personality, fans might hold him in a much higher stature than they do now.
22 Ben Roethlisberger (1) – Got to put Ben in the top 25. Statistically, he compares very favorably with or better than most if not all of the HOF Quarterbacks, and he’s still fairly young. If not for Brady and Manning in the AFC during his era, he might have many more pro bowl selections than just the one. He might have 5 or 6 rings when it’s all said and done, and is there a QB in the league in the last 20 years that’s tougher than Big Ben? I don’t think so. Big Ben is the one player on this list that could legitimately move up to the hallowed grounds of the top 5 or 6 Steelers of all time by the time his career is over.
23 James Harrison (3), 2 All Pro 1st team, 1 All Pro 2nd team, 1 Def POY – I love this player, and he could go higher than this as well. It’s too bad he took 4 or 5 years to really get established as a player, otherwise we might be looking at one of the greatest of all time at outside linebacker. I hope he can play at his current level for a couple more years. Anybody with a Defensive POY award has to be ranked in this list of all time Steeler players.
24 Joey Porter (4), 1 All Pro 1st team, 3 All Pro 2nd team – a great leader for the Steelers during his career with the team. Towards the end, he was more bark than bite, and he probably should be out of the league by now, but he definitely was the emotional leader of the team during the early 2000’s.
25 Carnell Lake (5), 1 All Pro 1st team, 3 All Pro 2nd team – Lake gets forgotten but four total All Pro selections cannot be denied. Any man that can move from safety to corner for a season – and play it at a Pro Bowl level - is one talented player, and for a few years there he had no peers at his position.
Other players that got serious attention for the top 25 were:
James Farrior (2), 1 All Pro 1st team – his longevity really helps him in this discussion of greatest Steelers players.
Levon Kirkland (2) 1 All Pro 1st team, 1 All Pro 2nd team
Mike Wagner (2), 1 All Pro 1st team, 3 All Pro 2nd team
Casey Hampton (5)
So there are 15 Defensive players and 10 Offensive players in my Top 25. I think that is about right considering the Steelers have always been identified as a defensive team. I was not looking to “even it up” so to speak, it just fell out that way for me.
There are probably some others that could be considered and hopefully I didn’t miss any noteworthy players. Some of the 70’s Offensive Lineman come to mind, as does Dwight White and Fats Holmes, both of whom were two-time All Pro Selections. I obviously didn’t put any old time players in beyond Stautner…I just don’t see football in those days as anything even resembling the modern era, and so it’s difficult for me to go there. I’ll let someone else do that analysis.