In the spirit of the offseason, Dave Bryan and I are undertaking the daunting task of ranking the top 100 Pittsburgh Steelers‘ history. And we mean the complete history. 1933 to today, they’re all on the table. Dave and I came up with our own lists and then worked together to come up with one “master” group. So you’ll see that one reflected below, with a quick side note of where each player was at in our personal rankings. That way, you all have something to be outraged over.
We’re going to continue our list by looking at the players ranked 59 through 50. This will be the last full list we do. Starting with player number ten, Dave and I will go back and forth one at a time until we hit #1.
Ready, set, rank.
19. James Harrison/LB – 2002-Present
I can’t think of any player in this era who has personified being a Pittsburgh Steeler more than James Harrison. Tough. Physical. Fearless. A winner. All apt words but they don’t do his career justice. By the end of his career, this season, he’ll have likely surpassed Jason Gildon as the franchise’s sack record. Three more sacks will give him 77.5 and do just that.
For a three year stretch, and arguably four, he was the most dominant defensive player in the league. 16 sacks, 7 forced fumbles, an interception, and a safety in 2008, named the league’s DPOY as a result. Of course, his biggest play that season came in the Super Bowl, a 100 yard dash to the end zone, cementing himself in Super Bowl lore forever.
Statistically, he was even better in the team’s next trip back, racking up four sacks in three games, including one in the Super Bowl loss to Green Bay.
For my money, Harrison had the greatest defensive performance I’ve ever witnessed. His 3.5 sack and interception harassment of the Baltimore Ravens in 2007, a cast of all-time greats on hand to witness during the team’s 75th anniversary celebration. I bet they couldn’t have been prouder.
Dave’s Rank: 26th
Alex’s Rank: 13th
18. Donnie Shell/S – 1974-1987
Arguably one of the top two Steelers eligible but not in Canton. Many, like Tony Dungy, have pleaded his case. And it’s a pretty easy one to make. 14 seasons, 162 starts, and 51 career interceptions. He won four Super Bowls, went to five Pro Bowls, and named to the AP’s All-Pro team three times.
From 1977 to 1986, Shell picked off at least three passes, including a season-high of seven in 1980. That included two off Ken Stabler in the home opener, a 31-17 win over the Houston Oilers.
He may never get into the Hall but ask any Steelers’ fan and they know the answer. He belongs.
Dave’s Rank: 18th
Alex’s Rank: 14th
17. Dermontti Dawson/C – 1988-2000
Just another Hall of Fame Steelers’ center. For Pittsburgh, it’s normal. For any other franchise, he might be a Top Five player. The resume certainly backs it up. 181 starts. An iron man who went ten straight seasons starting all 16 games. Incredible. Not even Mike Webster, who bears that nickname, can say that.
Dawson racked up all the accolades. He earned 7 Pro Bowl berths and was named to the All-Pro team six seasons. He was at the pivot for Barry Foster’s record setting season, a top five rushing attack in the NFL. And there for most of Jerome Bettis’ best years. A lot of guys need to thank Dirt for paving the way.
Dave’s Rank: 16th
Alex’s Rank: 14th
16. Jack Butler/CB – 1951-1959
If you know me, you know Butler is one of my all-time favorite dudes. Old school as they come, giving the shortest Hall of Fame speech in history when finally elected in 2012. On a per-game basis, there’s no player in Steelers’ history who forced more turnovers than Butler. 52 interceptions in 103 games. Let’s stack that up with Mel Blount.
Jack Butler: INT every 1.98 games
Mel Blount: INT every 3.5 games
Butler was a physical presence too and known as one of the hardest hitters of his era. He was named to the league’s All-Pro team three times, including in 1957 when he led the league with ten interceptions. In six of his nine seasons, he picked off at least five passes.
He would certainly be the franchise’s all-time interceptions leader if not for a gruesome knee injury that ended his career. He would go on to be the Director of BLESTO scouting for 45 seasons. The Steelers are still a member of the organization (they represent the “S” in the acronym) and he has sons who work for the team.
Dave’s Rank: 16th
Alex’s Rank: 20th
15. L.C. Greenwood/DT – 1969-1981
Another hat tip to Bill Nunn, who uncovered Greenwood at Arkansas Pine-Bluff, making him a 10th round selection in 1969. He was a staple on the Steel Curtain, ending his career with 135 starts, six Pro Bowl bids, four Super Bowl rings, and a partridge in a pear tree.
If I had one wish, it would to have sack information for the entire NFL’s history. Greenwood had a ton of them but there is no recognized figure. We do know in the playoffs, he had 12.5, including five en route to the team’s second Lombardi in 1975. Four, count ’em four, came in the Super Bowl win over Dallas. Beat up the Cowboys and win a ring? That’s all I need to hear.
Dave’s Rank: 17th
Alex’s Rank: 15th
14. Rod Woodson/CB – 1987-1996
Some would argue he should be higher. On talent alone, he’s one of the best to play his position. He would move on to other cities, taking advantage of free agency, but most of his career was still spent in Pittsburgh. 125 career starts, 38 interceptions, and 16 forced fumbles. All 13.5 of his career sacks came in Pittsburgh, part of Dom Capers’ blitz-heavy defense.
He was also an excellent return man, leading the NFL in kick return average in 1989. He had four career return touchdowns, two apiece on punts and kicks.
With the Steelers, he made six straight Pro Bowls from 1989-1994, earning an All-Pro selection five times. Woodson would make an additional trip to Hawaii in 1996.
I believe his approximate value, given by Pro Football Reference, of 20 in 1990, is the highest a Steeler has ever had in a single season. Truly one of the most accomplished and talented players of his era.
Dave’s Rank: 15th
Alex’s Rank: 11th
13. Hines Ward/WR – 1998-2011
A Steelers’ lifer and a smile you’ll never forget. If Jack Lambert was Count Dracula in cleats, then Hines Ward was a linebacker in a receiver’s jersey. His numbers may not be the best relative to the rest of the NFL but they’re still the best in team history. 1000 receptions. 12083 yards. 85 touchdowns.
He didn’t often get to play in pass heavy offenses. They were the team of the power running game, driven by The Bus. But when the team leaned on throwing the ball more often, Ward’s numbers went up. 1329 yards in 2002. Another 1165 the following year.
Even in years when he was targeted fewer, he still had a nose for the end zone. 11 touchdowns in 2005. At least six for the next four seasons.
And of course, one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history. Hopping into the end zone against the Seattle Seahawks, grinning ear to ear, named Super Bowl MVP and finally getting the franchise one for the thumb.
That doesn’t even begin to mention his vicious hits. One of the only receivers of his era who could have an entire highlight reel dedicated to it. There are many to choose from, like furniture shopping at Ikea. And like Ikea’s furniture, Ward left everything a little broken.
Here’s my favorite, his KO on Ed Reed in 2007.
I could say more but I mean, what can top that clip?
Dave’s Rank: 8th
Alex’s Rank: 23rd
12. John Stallworth/WR – 1974-1987
A small school. A slick track. That combination led Stallworth to fall into the 4th round and allowed Pittsburgh to snag one of the biggest steals in their history. Lynn Swann was the acrobat but Stallworth was the speedster, most famous for his over-the-shoulder catch against the Los Angeles Rams in the 1979 Super Bowl.
He had the numbers and longevity, pacing Swann in every statistical category. He had three 1000 yard seasons. Swann never had one. He had eight playoff touchdowns during the dynasty years. Swann, just seven. Swann’s career ended after 1982. Stallworth had his best statistical season two years later, catching 80 balls for nearly 1400 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Stallworth made just three Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team but Steelers’ fans know his value.
Dave’s Rank: 11th
Alex’s Rank: 12th
11. Jack Ham/LB – 1971-1982
Ok, I’m going to admit it. I think Ham is a little too low and I’m more inclined to put him where Dave ranked him, you’ll see that below, instead of just outside the top ten. I look forward to your hate mail in the comments.
Of course, there’s nothing to hate about Ham, Dobre Shunka. 160 starts, the most by a linebacker in Steelers’ history. 32 interceptions, the most by any linebacker in franchise history and still sitting him tied for 8th place. He’s tied with Troy Polamalu. That’s insane, the highest compliment to Ham. Five more interceptions came in his 16 playoff games.
He and Lambert teamed up, along with Andy Russell, for one of the fiercest linebacker corps in the NFL. From 1974 to 1979, the dynasty era, Ham made the Pro Bowl and All-Pro team every year.
In a lineup of elite linebackers, Ham is right at the top.
Dave’s Rank: 7th
Alex’s Rank: 15th