Today, I wrote an article in regards to Troy Polamalu making it into the Hall Of Fame as a first-ballot candidate. It’s a legitimate discussion, as he’s going to get in regardless, it’s just a question of when. However, as great as Polamalu was, he may not even be the first Steelers’ safety in-line when it comes to getting inducted.
As it currently stands, there are 23 Pittsburgh Steelers’ busts in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame, with #24 coming this summer when running back Jerome Bettis gets enshrined. There is another one who’s been waiting a long time to get in, and based on his career statistics as well as his resume, he appears to be a shoe-in at some point.
Donnie Shell, the Steelers’ hard-hitting safety of the 1970s, has only made the top-15 in balloting once, in 2002. Looking back over his career sheds some light to the type of player he was, as well as how deserving he is at getting into Canton. His 51 career interceptions trump not only Polamalu’s, they’re better than a couple other safeties currently inducted, including Ken Houston and Willie Woods.
Not only that, there’s the fact that Shell owns four Super Bowl rings, an asterisk that usually carries some weight with it during the voting process among the Hall’s committee. As a starter on that tenacious “Steel Curtain” defense, Shell may have been overshadowed by the likes of a Jack Lambert or a Joe Greene, but his contributions were many nonetheless. It’s no coincidence that like many firsts in life, his first Super Bowl was in fact his favorite.
“They hadn’t won in about 40 years,” Shell said of Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl IX victory, according to Teresa Varley of Steelers.com. “When we won it everybody gave the Super Bowl Trophy to Mr. Art Rooney, Sr. I think that was the fondest memory I had. Just to see him get that with all of the hard work, dedication and sacrifice he put into the team.”
After his retirement in 1987, Shell walked away from the team as one of the longest-tenured Steelers ever. A wonderful highlight to sum up Shell’s playing style occurred on December 3, 1978 whenever Shell, nicknamed the “Torpedo”, made literally a bone-crushing tackle on Houston Oilers’ star running back, Earl Campbell, breaking his ribs in the process. It’s a play that not only summed up this era of football, but a play that summarizes the Steelers’ brand of football in general, and that’s physical.
Nowadays, Shell owns his own consulting business, aptly called “Donnie Shell Consulting”.
From 1994 up until 2009, Shell was the director of player development for the Carolina Panthers. However, even while with Carolina, he always had his eyes on Pittsburgh.
“They were family-oriented and community minded,” Shell said of Pittsburgh, according to Varley. “Look at me now, I am giving back and helping. Mel Blount, John Stallworth, Tony Dungy, we are all doing the same thing and were influenced by that. It rubbed off on you. That is who the Steelers were. They did those community things.”
In a way, he was almost a blend of Ed Reed and Polamalu, two more safeties who will be awaiting their call to Canton in the coming years. He possessed a keen ability in coverage with his ball-hawk skills but yet he could lay the wood with the best of them. And although he may be lost amongst the bigger names of this Steelers’ era, at his retirement he had the most interceptions ever for a safety.
As a member of the Steelers’ All-Time team, Shell left his mark on Pittsburgh, and now it’s time he gets his due.