Twelve busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame can trace their entire journey back to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But for many fans, there are some who have been shunned. L.C. Greenwood is a popular name. And so is Donnie Shell. Tony Dungy, in the spirit of baseball season, recently went to bat for the former safety.
Dungy explained Shell’s value and impact to the Dallas Morning Star’s Rick Gosselin, a member of the Hall of Fame committee.
“Donnie played in the box and was like another linebacker as a run defender. He was probably the most physical player on a physical defense and also had 51 interceptions. He covered Hall-of-Fame tight ends like Ozzie Newsome man-to-man and covered wide receivers in the nickel package. He patrolled the deep zones. He could do it all.”
He pointed out the team traded away Glen Edwards, who made two Pro Bowls in his final three seasons, in order to elevate Shell into the starting lineup.
Our own Lucas Campbell recently profiled Shell, mixing in his post-football career – he now runs a company called Donnie Shell Consulting – and his bid to finally make it into the Hall.
He started 162 games over a 14 year career with the Black and Gold. During that span, he picked off 51 passes, made five Pro Bowls, and three All-Pro teams. He’s only the third Steeler in team history to break the 50 interception mark, and his total is a record still within the top 35 in league history.
Shell was a vital part to the team’s Super Bowl victories in 1978 and 1979, starting every single regular season game, picking off eight passes, and recovering seven fumbles. In the 1978 AFC Championship game, he picked off a pass in a rout of the Houston Oilers, helping to send the team to Super Bowl XIII where they would defeat the Dallas Cowboys.
Dungy is arguably the best spokesperson Shell could have. Few knew him better. The two played alongside each other for the 1977 and 1978 campaigns. He got his coaching start in Pittsburgh, serving as the team’s defensive backs coach and then defensive coordinator from 1981 to 1988.
Only once has Shell appeared on a finalist ballot, making it into the top 15 in 2002. Wide receiver John Stallworth was enshrined that year. Only seven strictly safeties have been sent to Canton. Though ever hopeful, the odds seem to decrease as each season passes.
Perhaps even Gosselin was swayed, offering at the end of his article that “Shell has the credentials that could, would and should make him the eighth.”
Steelers’ nation would emphatically agree.