Which Steelers Had The Best Debuts In History?

If you’re a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, or at least just generally aware of what is going on over at PNC Park, you know yesterday was Austin Meadows’ debut in a major league uniform. One that went very well, picking up the first two hits (and first stolen base) of his career.

That in mind, here are the Pittsburgh Steelers with the best debuts in history. We’re only counting the home grown players, like Meadows is as a Pirate. The top eight, listed by year.

T.J. Watt – 2017 

Pretty easy one to remember. And a memorable one at that. Watt was dominant against the Cleveland Browns, a team-first two sacks in a Week One debut and an equally impressive leaping interception dropping into coverage. It would go on to be a highlight on the box score, his only interception of the year and the most sacks he had in a single game, ending the rookie campaign with a total of seven.

Antonio Brown – 2010

Brown didn’t put up gaudy numbers his rookie year, you can thank being an overlooked 6th round pick for that, but he made a splash right away. His firs touch went for six, coming on a kickoff reverse that Brown finished off against the Tennessee Titans. He added a 21 yard punt return that game for good measure. Where greatness began.

Heath Miller – 2005

Granted, it was just one catch but Miller made it count, just like he did with all the rest. A three-yard touchdown also against Titans, his first score and first points of the season for the Steelers, tying things up at 7. It’d be the first of 45 career scores for Heeeeeeeeath. 

He is one of only two Steelers’ tight ends in history to record a touchdown reception in his first game. The other, inexplicably, was Matt Spaeth in 2007.

Joey Porter – 1999

This one was a little less impactful but still just as impressive. Porter came in for mop-up duty with the Steelers blowing out the Cleveland Browns on Sunday Night football. On one of his first snaps, Porter dipped under left tackle and seven-time Pro Bowler Lomas Brown, sacked Tim Couch, and knocked the ball out, which was recovered by Pittsburgh’s Nolan Harrison. Check out a clip of it.

After the play, lead announcer Mike Patrick declared a star in the making. He couldn’t have been any more right.

Darren Perry – 1992

To be honest, I’m not sure when Perry’s interception came in a W against Warren Moon and the Houston Oilers. Mostly on account of being -1 years old in 1992. But Perry notched his first of 32 picks, bringing it back 34 yards as the Steelers edged out Houston 29-24.

It was one of five interceptions on the day for Moon, tied for the most he ever threw in an NFL game (the other also came against the Steelers one year earlier).

“We were an 11-point underdog today,” Cowher said after the win. “I’m not sure that anyone in America gave us a chance. Except us.”

Pittsburgh would go on to finish 11-5 that year, one game better than Houston, though both were bounced in the playoffs by Buffalo.

Perry picked off six passes in 1992, far and away the most by any Steeler rookie in the post-merger era.

Lynn Swann/Louis Lipps – 1974/1984

No debut list would be complete without either of these two names appearing. Lipps had the numbers, Swann the big plays. Lipps went off versus the Kansas City Chiefs with 183 yards on six catches and two scores, though the Steelers fell by 10.

Arguably, it was the second-greatest Week One debut in NFL history, only trailing Anquan Boldin’s 10/217/2 line two decades later. Certainly set every Steelers’ record.

Those 183 yards are still the second most by a Steeler at any point in his rookie season, just broken by JuJu Smith-Schuster last year.

Swann was more subdued but only slightly. Two catches for 94 yards and a touchdown in a 30-0 walloping of the Baltimore Colts. The touchdown was a 54 yard pass from Joe Gilliam, the first Steelers’ touchdown of the season. He added a couple of nice punt returns too.

Johnny Lattner – 1954

A name you probably haven’t heard of. Lattner, a the Steelers’ first pick that year, shined the brightest, and really, for the only time, in his debut. A running back, he caught six balls for 87 yards and a 14 yard touchdown via Jim Finks to knock off the Green Bay Packers 21-20.

That would be his only year in football, making the Pro Bowl, before serving in the Air Force and suffering a knee injury in a pickup football game there, ending his professional career.

At the time, he was just the third Steelers rookie with 1000 all-purpose yards and still today, is just one of 17 in franchise history.

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