1. Terry Bradshaw: My primary reason for selecting Bradshaw for the #1 slot on this list is simple: I am certain that Pittsburgh could've done without any one player on their roster and still won all 4 Super Bowls...except for Terry Bradshaw. In spite of his early growing pains, he was the one indispensable player on a team that was a veritable who's who in the Hall of Fame. His list of credentials is long, but a number of key attributes stand out in my mind. Without question, Bradshaw was among the best pure athletes to ever play QB in the NFL. Frankly, the guy probably could've played RB or LB at a pro level had he not had that rocket for an arm. . . an arm that was unquestionably the strongest in the league (and one of the strongest of all time, for that matter). Terry's special knack for the bomb sometimes overshadows the fact that he also possessed fantastic mobility & speed, great field presence, superb touch and accuracy, and in spite of
some ridiculously bad press that labeled him otherwise, was a very savvy QB (remember, he called his own plays!). Bradshaw was also among the league's best running QBs during the early part of his career (though not in the agile style of Kordell Stewart -- Terry's method of running more closely resembled Earl Campbell's than Kordell's) who could simply bulldoze defenders when he ran with the ball. And talk about TOUGH! Consider that Bradshaw played 11 games in '77 with a cast on his broken left wrist (and won his first of back-to-back team MVPs that year, to boot). While his stats for the most part are not terribly impressive (especially early in his career), his numbers in the playoffs & Super Bowls are outstanding (was voted MVP of Super Bowls XIII and XIV, one of only two QBs to win back-to-back MVP honors). Statistics, however, don't come close to accurately portraying Bradshaw's greatness. There are just too many intangibles with Terry. . . he was truly a special player, and the key to Pittsburgh's success during the '70's. CLICK HERE to visit "Bradshaw's Bullet", our Terry Bradshaw tribute website.
2. Joe Greene: Four Super Bowls... Ten straight Pro Bowls... A slot on the NFL's All-Time Roster... a Hall of Fame Inductee... The list goes on and on. As new head coach Chuck Noll's first draft choice in 1969, Joe Greene was the foundation upon which the greatest dynasty in NFL history (perhaps sports history) was built. One of the greatest defensive linemen ever to play the game, Greene also possessed great leadership qualities that allowed him to continue to be a key figure on the team even when his abilities began to fade. "Mean Joe" was without question Pittsburgh's heart and soul throughout the "glory years". I didn't become an avid fan as a kid until about '75, so I unfortunately missed seeing Greene during much of his prime. Even so, I remember him as being the best of the best and always, above all else, a class act. People often mention Joe as being a somewhat of a shadow of his former self by the time he collected his 4th Super Bowl ring. I disagree. He was incredible during the post-season battles of '78 and '79, especially in his manhandling of Houston's Earl Campbell in the '79 AFC Championship game. If that was the play of a man who was over the hill, I can only imagine what a terror he must've been in his prime!
3. Jack Lambert: The man who loudly proclaimed that "all QB's should wear dresses", Lambert was the centerpiece of the best linebacker corps in NFL history! How can I possibly say enough about Lambert? This guy was just plain scary! Dubbed "Count Dracula in cleats" by the Cowboy's "Hollywood" Henderson, Lambert was a player who was undersized for a MLB and, incredible as it may seem, was not selected until the 2nd round of the '74 draft. But the rest of the NFL soon discovered what the Steelers already knew. . . "Splat" Lambert, toothpick legs and all, was IMMENSE when it came to heart. Right from the start, Lambert served as the enforcer and intimidator for the Steelers, and quickly became their emotional leader on defense. Smart, quick, and unbelievable against both the run and the pass, Lambert was, to quote Joe Greene, "always the most focused person on the field." For me, living in Ohio in the heart of what was formerly known as "Browns Country", some of my most cherished childhood memories are of watching Lambert absolutely demolish Brian Sipe! Lambert was truly one of my all-time favorite players. To quote another of Lambert's former teamates (I'm not sure who to credit this one-liner to),"Lambert is so mean, he doesn't even like himself!" Maybe so, but he LOVED football. CLICK HERE to visit our Jack Lambert tribute.
4. Jack Ham: A sharp contrast to Lambert's emotional style of play, Ham was Pittsburgh's humble poster child for calm. A cerebral LB, Ham was perhaps a notch higher on a personal performance level than Lambert game in and game out because of his unparalleled consistency. In addition to being superb at containing the rush (it was nearly impossible to run outside on Ham), he was the absolute best LB I have ever seen against the pass. His performance in the '74 AFC Championship game was a masterpiece which immediately comes to mind. He was without question the key player in that contest (which was probably the most pivotal game in franchise history), intercepting two critical Stabler passes and terrorizing Oakland all afternoon, almost to the point that Madden must have wondered if Ham was somehow sneaking into the Raider's huddles! While he lacked the emotional fire of Lambert (which is why Lambert is rated slightly above Ham for total impact), Ham was a true student of the game and perhaps the best prepared LB to ever suit up. "Dobre Shunka" (Polish for "the Great Ham") simply didn't make mistakes!
5. Franco Harris: It all fell together for the Steelers when Franco arrived as a first round draft pick in '72. I must confess, however, that while I liked him, I was never a huge Franco fanatic as a kid. I guess I always cringed a little when chose to run out of bounds instead of putting his head down and just blasting people the way Earl Campbell (my favorite runner of all time) did. But watching those old games again as an adult, my perspective has changed a little. What I've come to realize is that Franco was almost ridiculously consistent (due in large part to his durability afforded by not taking all of those unnecessary hits), and missed games were few and far between. In hindsight, it was certainly much better to have Franco healthy and playing than to have him using his body as a battering ram and either cutting his career short as Campbell did, or just flat out missing action constantly because of nagging injuries (as Barry Foster did). And perhaps more than any other player on the team, Franco took things to a higher level in the post season. From the time Franco arrived in '72, the Steelers made the playoffs a record eight straight times (a truly incredible feat when you consider that most of those appearances came in an era when there was only ONE wildcard card team allowed into the playoffs, not three like today). Coincidence? Not likely.
6. Lynn Swann: Perhaps the most eclectic blend of athleticism, grace, class, and style that the sports world has ever seen! Without question one of the top handful of WR's to ever play the game. It is simply DISGRACEFUL that this guy has not yet been inducted into the Hall of Fame (thanks to IDIOTS like Peter King). Lynn Swann could dominate a game like few other receivers I've ever seen. He was unstoppable, even though he drew constant double and sometimes triple teaming. Of course, we all remember Swann's legendary performance in Super Bowl X (who can forget the "Levitating Leap"), not to mention his great performances in other HUGE games (of course, Super Bowls XIII, and XIV come to mind). But one of the games that really sums up Swann's power over enemy defenses is the '78 playoff game vs. Denver in which Lynn had only two catches while his counterpart John Stallworth amassed ten catches in that game, setting a new post season record. TEN catches, folks! And still, Denver was so afraid of Swann that they refused to stop double and triple teaming him to take away Stallworth. That is RESPECT! When they finally did leave Swann in man-to-man coverage midway through the 4th quarter, he made a TD grab that is one of the great catches in playoff history. Swann was absolutely the most acrobatic and best clutch wide receiver of all time. Unfortunately, multiple concussions (along with a fat contract offer from ABC Sports) persuaded Lynn to end his career somewhat prematurely, or he would've already been enshrined in Canton.
7. John Stallworth: So who was better? Swann or Stallworth? The joy of the question is that one even has to ask it! Not before nor since has a team been blessed with a tandem of wide receivers comparable to Swann and Stallworth. John came of age a few years after Lynn (largely due to a string of nagging injuries early in his career and the presence of Frank Lewis), and consequently ended up spending much of his time somewhat unjustly playing second fiddle to Swann. Stallworth was a superb route runner and had incredible hands, but it was his consistency, his ability to break tackles and turn short passes into long gains, and his unparalleled long ball skills that set him apart. While I consider Swann to be the better of the two (by a narrow margin) due to some of his singular abilities, Stallworth's performance in '79 has got to be regarded as the finest single season by a Steelers wide receiver ever. Why is this guy not in Canton?
8. Mel Blount: At 6'4", 205 lbs., his guy would be a huge CB even by today's standards; in the 70's, he was an absolute giant! Blount was so good that the NFL made rule changes in '78 (a.k.a., the Mel Blount rule) in an effort to contain his supremacy of the "bump and run" technique. The new rules didn't effect Blount in the slightest, much to the chagrin of QB's around the league, and he was every bit as effective in the new "pass-happy" era that followed. One has to wonder what his career interception totals would've been had other teams been willing to throw the ball his way more often. Not that Blount was immune to being burned occasionally. He was actually benched for his poor performance against Cliff Branch in the '74 AFC Championship game and Brian Sipe (Cleveland) had a knack for catching Blount out of position. But any truly great CB is going to get toasted now and then simply because they are so frequently left in man-to-man coverage with wide receivers. And Blount was among the best at single coverage that I've ever seen. And Dallas fans, don't give me this Dione Sanders crap. .. Dione can't tackle to save his life, and his run support is pitiful. Blount, on the other hand, frequently body slammed RB's (not just puny WR's) and was well known for his great open field tackles, something few corners can claim. He played the most difficult position in the game as well as anyone in NFL history.
9. Rod Woodson: As the sign at Three Rivers has read for several years (and sadly will say no more), "Rod is God". Without a doubt, the best pure athlete in Steelers history. How does he stack up to Blount? Blount has the edge by the sheer length of his career and his incredible durability. But healthy and in his prime, my personal choice would be Woodson. I have never seen a DB with the ability to so completely dominate a game as Rod. Some games that come to mind are the '93 match up with New Orleans (the best performance I have EVER seen by any DB) and the '94 Monday Night game vs. Buffalo. Rod was (it kills me to talk about the guy in the past tense) head and shoulders the best player of the last 10 years for the Steelers, and I am truly going to miss him. In the dismal late 80's and early 90's, Rod WAS the team. While his play at CB alone is enough to earn him a spot on the list, his fantastic kick return ability adds even more punch to his resume'. As Sam Wyche once said, "Rod Woodson is the best punt returner I'll EVER see." Sadly, Rod's '95 ACL tear will prevent us from ever knowing what heights he might've reached had he remained healthy as Blount did. Even so, Rod is certain to one day reside in Canton.
10. Mike Webster: The hardest working man in team history! The prototypical center for the late 70's and early 80's. It's stunning in light of today's elephant-sized offensive linemen that "Iron Mike" was only 6'1" and only weighed in at a petite 250 lbs., somewhat small even by 70's standards! A icon of consistency, the guy never missed a game until quite late in his career (Webby played in 177 consecutive games before missing the first four games of the 86 season with a dislocated elbow) and set franchise records for most seasons (15) and games (220) before finishing his career with KC (egads!) in 89-90. Webster relied on outstanding mobility and quickness and was a superb pass protector as well as being an excellent straight-ahead blocker and trap blocker. Was a student of the game, and in addition to calling the offensive line adjustments at scrimmage, I can remember numerous times when he would turn to Bradshaw and suggest plays and even occasionally call a time out before the play clock expired. The ultimate NFL center.
11. L.C. Greenwood: Part 3 of the best left side in NFL history (along with Greene and Ham) and hopefully a future Hall of Fame member. Definitely the Steelers best pass rusher during the 70's and the most consistent member of their incredible front four. At 6'6" and 250 lbs., "Hollywood Bags" seemed a bit too lanky to be a defensive end. But what L.C. lacked in mass he made up for with surprising quickness and agility, preferring to sidestep his adversaries rather than trying to overpower them. And he used his unusual height with great effectiveness…just ask Fran Tarkenton. Greenwood could've very easily been named the MVP in Super Bowl IX, batting 3 passes, terrorizing Tarkenton all afternoon, and generally creating mayhem in the Viking backfield.
12. Donnie Shell: Ah, the Torpedo. This guy could HIT! Probably my most vivid memory of Shell was his vicious hit on Earl Campbell in '78. It was a game late in the season, the playoff implications were heavy, and Shell was in his first full season as a starter. Houston had already beaten the Steelers on Monday Night earlier in the year in a brutally physical game (weren't all Pittsburgh/Houston games brutal back then?), but Shell's hit surpassed anything seen in that previous meeting. Campbell crashed through the line for nice yardage, spun off the tackle of another Steeler (can't remember whom), and POW!!! Shell came flying out of nowhere and planted his helmet firmly in Cambell's ribcage, lifting Cambell off of his feet and slamming him into the turf. Campbell left the game with sore ribs (and if memory serves, they might have even been broken), and the Steelers went on to win 13-3. Shell played his entire career with the same intensity, and also racked up a huge number of interceptions (51). This guy deserves real consideration for Canton.
13. Dermontti Dawson: More Hall of Fame potential from the current crop. In all honesty, I know very little about Dermonti Dawson. I know nothing of his personal life. I know nothing of his beliefs. I know nothing of his personality. What I DO know is that he has without question been the best center in the league for the last 5 years or so. Here's a guy who absolutely refuses to make mistakes. He's not the "pancake" blocker that some guys are…he just always seems to be in the right place at the right time. The most vivid example of his style in my mind came in the '94 playoff game against Cleveland. From the center position, Dawson pulls to the outside, then proceeds to run down the sideline almost stride for stride with Barry Foster for a huge gain. While trotting along next to Barry, Dawson puts 3 Browns defenders on their butts. THAT'S impressive!
14. Greg Lloyd: Speaking of guys who can hit, Greg Lloyd's level of rage was rivaled only by that of Jack Lambert! In hisprime, he was strong against the run, but was an incredible pass rusher with a knack for slapping the ball out of the QB's hand. This guy caused more fumbles than anyone I've ever seen (with the possible exception of the great L.T.). The emotional heart and soul of for the Steelers during most of the 90's, his stock dropped a bit in '97 when he failed to ever truly recover from his '96 ACL tear and then suffered thorough a subsequent season-ending staff infection late in the '97 campaign. Although the infection literally threatened to end Greg's life, he fought back & returned to pro football. The Steelers released Lloyd before the '98 season, and he went on to play for the Panthers.
15. Carnell Lake: Another victim of free agency (who left Pittsburgh for huge bucks in Jacksonville), Carnell was a total team player (as demonstrated by his alternation between from safety and corner during the '95 through '98 campaigns--should've won team MVP in '95 instead of O'Donnell). Superb speed and athleticism, textbook tackling technique, a vicious hitter, and overall, intelligence. I'll never forget the play he made vs. Cinci when he raced down the field to catch WR Carl Pickens (who was on his way to a certain TD) from behind, and rather than just tackle him in the end zone, he punched the ball out of Pickens' grasp at the 2 yard line. The ball bounced out of the back of the end zone and the Steelers took over possession at the 20. That play knocked the wind out of Cinci and the Steelers went on to win the game. I find it simply amazing that Carnell was a linebacker in college, and now he's playing corner the majority of the time! If he keeps up his current level of play for another year or two, he'll pave his way to Canton.
16. Andy Russell: Why is Russell rated below Greg Lloyd? Perhaps it's because Russell was at the twilight of his career when I was at the dawn of my fan-dom. Perhaps it's because he played next to Ham and Lambert. Then again, Russell made the Pro Bowl year after year even while toiling on LOUSY Steeler teams, so what do I know? I remember Russell as making very few mistakes. The guy was very "Ham-like" in a lot of ways, and my research tells me he was possibly even more of a student of the game than Ham. While I'm not necessarily comfortable with his placement this low on my list, I'll suffer the consequences.
17. Dwight White: A key ingredient of the "Half Ton of Trouble". Perhaps Mad Dog's most memorable moment came in Super Bowl IX when, suffering from pneumonia, he somehow dragged himself out of his hospital bed and proceeded to kick butt for the rest of the afternoon (and recorded the first safety in Super Bowl history). Unfortunately, I missed much of White's prime playing years, and by '78 he was sharing time at DE with John Banaszak, but Dwight was still among the angriest men in pro football.
18. Ernie Holmes: This guy was incredible. In many ways, I think he was best defensive lineman in the NFL in '75, even better than Greene and Greenwood. The guy was absolutely relentless! But "Arrowhead" was just too crazy to endure. The guy actually shot at a police helicopter in '71 or '72 (among other things). By '78 he was overweight and was traded away surrounded by scandal. From things I've read his life is still pretty much a mess, unfortunately. Nonetheless, the guy was incredible for a few frightening years.
19. Levon Kirland: Pedro, thanks for pointing out Kirkland's absence from this list! Jeez! I can't believe I overlooked him... a HUGE mistake. Then again, until the last season or two, most of the NFL has overlooked him as well. With the likes of Lloyd and Green and Brown grabbing the headlines, reserved Mr. Kirkland was always simply labled as "the other linebacker". Two consecutive Pro Bowls (and a 3rd one he should've gone to) have changed all that. One could easily make the argument for Kirkland as the Steelers' defensive MVP (along with Lake), and frankly, Levon deserved real consideration for team MVP the last couple of years. Size, speed, consistency, and above all, intelligence have made Kirkland the new heart and soul of Pittsburgh's defense. Undeniably the best run-stopping MLB in the league, and arguably the best overall at his position. His ranking on this list is climbing with each passing season. Thank God he's on our side!
20. Jon Kolb: Another somewhat smallish offensive lineman that just "trapped the crap" out of opposing defenders. The only offensive lineman I could name as a kid other than Mike Webster (I didn't give O-linemen much credit as a child... I just didn't understand), Kolb really became a standout in '78 after consecutively destroying Lyle Alzado, Elvin Bethea, and Harvey Martin in the playoffs and Super Bowl. Equally adept at both run and pass blocking.
21. Larry Brown: Okay, I guess I also knew Larry Brown's name when I was a kid, but that was mostly due to the fact that he caught a TD pass as a tight end in Super Bowl X. As a marginally wiser adult, I've watched game after game and it has become very clear to me that Brown was probably the best pass protector in Steelers history. I can't honestly recall Brown ever personally being responsible for allowing a sack. He also was called for very few holding penalties. Desirable qualities for a tackle, eh?
22. Sam Davis: I've gotta keep all of these linemen together as a group. After all, that's really the way I viewed them growing up. It wasn't "John Kolb this" and "Larry Brown that". . . we always spoke of the line collectively (with the exception of Webster). Sam Davis was outstanding at both run and pass blocking and was an incredible pulling guard. In typical Steelers fashion, he was an undersized offensive lineman with exceptional quickness.
23. Louis Lipps: I feel a little sorry for this guy. A great WR in his own right, Lipps had the misfortune of following the tough act of Lynn Swann and sharing top billing with John Stallworth. Louis won team MVP twice, is second on the team's all-time receiving list, and still his name very rarely comes up when discussing great Steelers of the past with fellow fans. While he's not on the same level with the Swann's and Stallworth's of the world (who is?), he's without a doubt the 3rd best WR in team history.
24. Mike Wagner: One of the 70's unsung heroes. I have two lasting images of Wagner...the first and most obvious is his brilliant interception in S.B. X which set up the FG that gave the Steelers their first lead, and next to Swann's performance and Harrison's punt block, was probably the key play of the day. The other image is from the '78 AFC Championship. Mike Barber beat his man and was wide open in the middle, but Pastorini got pressure and threw it over Barber's head. Wagner was so totally focused on coming up and making the tackle that he didn't realize the ball went about 5 yards over his head and he just destroyed Barber. Ripped his knee to shreds. Barber is carried off the field shaking his fist at Wagner (who he repeatedly called "Webster" in a post game interview) like it was a cheap shot. But on the replay, you could see that Wags was focused on the tackle the whole time (since Barber was so wide open) and the shot was absolutely clean. That makes two more points about Wags...he had a spotless reputation as a tough but clean player, and most people seem to have no idea who he was! Sound familiar, Mr. Gekko?
25. Rocky Blier: It's not Rocky's mind-boggling statistical accomplishments or overwhelming physical talents (he didn't possess any) or even incredible big game performances that win him a top twenty-five spot on my list. In fact, it's precisely his lack of any of these attributes (although he did have some notable moments in big games) that so totally endears him to me. Rocky did it on nothing but heart, guts, and courage. Blier's personality permeated the whole organization during the 70's, and in many ways he was a reflection of "the Chief" himself. If I were making a list based on depth of character, Rocky would win hands down.
Okay, now for the oldsters. I'm sure I've left a number of great players out and I didn't place them in their rightful order within the list because frankly, I'm not the least bit knowledgeable about these guys. I never saw them play and have very little information about their careers, but in order to give them their just due (and avoid crucifixion for leaving them out), I've at least named them!
26. Ernie Stautner: A Hall of Famer. From what I've read, Stautner was an incredible defensive lineman (2nd only to Joe Greene in team history) who also played on the offensive side of the ball in the 50's and early 60's. The quote that sticks in my mind is "the first truly dominant defensive Steeler". (from "The Pittsburgh Steelers-The Official Team History" by Abbey Mendelson)
27. Jack Butler: Another outstanding player from the 50's. Intercepted a staggering 52 passes in his 9 year career. Also holds the team record for most picks in a game with 4.
28. John Henry Johnson: Hall of Fame running back from the '60's. It's difficult for me to make statistical comparisons because the numbers are so different, but by all accounts, he was a great one.
29. Bobby Layne: Hall of Fame QB (and apparently a HOF carouser). Played with the Steelers from '58 to '62. Finished his career with 196 TD passes!
30. Bill Dudley: Hall of Fame halfback, tailback, and kicker. In '42 alone, he led the NFL in rushing, and led the team in passing yards and TD's.
And just one more. . .
31. Gary Anderson: Tough to put a kicker on this list, but Anderson was superb. Gotta give credit where credit is due.