Interesting discussion Steelers’ Nation had over on Twitter yesterday. Debating over the greatest athlete in team history. Wanted to bring the conversation over to you guys and throw the question your way – who is #1?
Defining “athlete” isn’t a black and white term. I’d like to think it isn’t simply who was the fastest, speed isn’t an all-encompassing term, but I’ll leave it up to you. Whether it’s the player with the most athletic profile, the best multi-sport star, or the guy who simply made more “wow” plays than you’ve ever seen before.
Let me know your top five list in the comments below. Here are several options to consider.
Rod Woodson – One of the more obvious choices of this list. Woodson was a tremendous athlete at corner and safety. The recovery from his torn ACL to play in the Super Bowl is one of the quickest and most remarkable medical comeback I can recall. What he did outside of football is just as impressive. Woodson was a track and field star, a two-time All-American at Purdue, held the NCAA 60 meter record for years, and qualified for the 1984 Olympics.
Troy Polamalu – Polamalu gets dinged only slightly for not being that multi-sport star but on the field, he was as freaky as they come. He could cover the entire field, starting the play at the line of scrimmage and wind up 40 yards deep still making the play at its end. Few could leave fans – or quarterbacks – in awe like #43.
Kordell Stewart – Known as “Slash,” he is one of just a few players over the last couple decades to play quarterback and receiver. He eventually settled in at QB but could’ve had a successful career as a full-time receiver too. He had an incredible arm, breakaway speed, and just plain fun to watch.
Ryan Shazier – Linebackers aren’t supposed to run in the 4.3’s. That’s reserved for corners, running backs, and wide receivers. But Shazier ran 4.38 at his Ohio State Pro Day and has some of the wildest workout numbers ever seen. 42 inch vertical, 10’10” broad, 25 reps on the bar. He translated that onto the field, running sideline to sideline and making it look effortless.
Big Daddy Lipscomb – Let’s go a little old school. “Big Daddy” (his first name was Gene) become one of the league’s first 300 pounders who could move. For two seasons, he teamed up with Ernie Stautner to be one of the top interior DL duos in football. SI once called him “the fastest interior linemen in the league.” He became a professional wrestler as a way to stay in shape during the offseason, too.
Jerome Bettis – Overall, Bettis isn’t the best athlete on this list but pound for pound, he might be near the top. Few big backs were gifted with the feet and lateral agility he had. I’m not sure when we’ll see the next Bettis, if we ever do. He rode those wheels all the way to Canton.
Jon Kolb – Not a lot of linemen are going to qualify and Kolb was more brute strength than actual athleticism. But he was far from slow and was a contender for the Strongest Man Competition in the mid-70s.
Lynn Chandnois – Hitting up a couple more old-school picks. Chandnois was widely considered one of the greatest athletes in Michigan history, a multi-sport star in high school before focusing on football in college and the pros. An electrifying runner, receiver, and returner, he still ranks third all-time in kick return average in NFL history.
Paul Moss – Real big deep cut but you know I can’t help but nerd out. He was part of the inaugural Steelers’ (then called the Pirates) squad in 1933, leading the team and league in receiving yards. Famed sportswriter Grantland Rice called him the greatest end/receiver of his era. He was a terrific basketball player, backing up John Wooden at Purdue, golfer, tennis player, bowler, and was briefly signed by the Chicago White Sox.
Martavis Bryant – Ok, let’s jump back into modern day. Bryant didn’t have the most successful career thanks to off field problems but he was a freaky dude in the open field. Guys as big as him shouldn’t be that fast but he could run away from an entire defense.
Carlton Haselrig – Sleeper pick here. Only started 36 games for the Steelers but made the Pro Bowl in 1992. Highly accomplished wrestler, winning six NCAA titles at Pitt-Johnstown. And the guy basically didn’t even start wrestling until college. Incredible.
Levon Kirkland – Shoulders so big you could land a jet on them, he was *listed* at 275 pounds but moved like someone half his weight. He reportedly only ran a 4.92 prior to the draft. He’s an example of “football speed.” Not sure there will be a body type like his again. Not playing linebacker, anyway.
Lynn Swann – Likely high on the list for those who had the pleasure of watching him play. Incredible balance and footwork thanks to a dance and ballerina background, Swann was as smooth as they came. Easily could be top five here.