Five Pittsburgh Steelers have been included to the initial list of 2022 Pro Football Hall of Fame candidates, the Hall announced Wednesday. Among the 122 players named by the Hall, the five Steelers are: WR Hines Ward, TE Heath Miller, NT Casey Hampton, LB Hardy Nickerson Sr, and K Gary Anderson.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 22, 2021
Ward has been down this road several times before, advancing as far as a semifinalist but never cracking finalist territory and still falling short of a place into Canton. A Steeler his entire career, 1998 to 2011, Ward set franchise records across the board with 1,000 career receptions, 12,083 yards, and 85 touchdowns. He’s just as known for his blocking, physicality, and smile as much as he was his abilities as a receiver. Ward won two Super Bowls with the Steelers and was named MVP of Super Bowl 40.
Miller is regarded as the best tight end in team history or at the least, right up there with Elbie Nickel. An old-school player who could’ve played alongside Nickel, Miller served as Ben Roethlisberger’s safety blanket, catching 592 career passes for 6,569 yards and 45 touchdowns during his career spanning from 2005 to 2015, all spent with Pittsburgh. He was one of the league’s best blockers and most well-rounded tight ends, a skillset the team searched for years after his retirement and have hopefully found with rookie Pat Freiermuth.
Hampton was the man in the middle of some elite Steelers’ defenses. A fire hydrant at listed 6’1″, 325 pounds (and every Steelers’ fan knows he was a couple cheeseburgers heavier than that) Hampton started 164 games for Pittsburgh. His stats weren’t gaudy, 398 total tackles and only nine career sacks, but with Hampton in the middle, teams didn’t run the ball against the Steelers. Consider this. The year before Hampton was drafted, the Steelers had the #12 ranked run defense. In his first two years with Pittsburgh, their run defense jumped to #1 in the league. Hampton was a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl champ.
Nickerson was drafted by the Steelers in the fifth round of the 1987 draft, spending six years with the team. With Pittsburgh, he started 61 games and recorded 426 total tackles along with 9.5 sacks and one interception. His game flourished once he signed with Tampa Bay for the 1993 year, becoming a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro. He spent 16 years in the NFL, playing until he was 37, starting 15 games for the Green Bay Packers his final year in the league.
Finally, there’s Anderson, one of the most successful kickers of his time. Initially drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1982, he was picked up by Pittsburgh as a rookie and served as the team’s placekicker until 1994. Three times with the Steelers he was named to the Pro Bowl and in 1985, led the NFL with 33 made field goals. He remains the team’s all-time leader in field goals made (309) and extra points made (416) while his 78.2% field goal rate was excellent for that era. His 1,343 points are, of course, the most by any Steelers’ kicker, too. Anderson would go on and play in the NFL until 2004.
Though deserving, the odds of any one of these five names ending up in Canton for 2022 are low. Ward may still have the best chance but it’s difficult for most receivers to get inducted, especially as the competition increases around him. Miller was a tremendous player but probably not Hall of Fame level, while Hampton’s numbers, though no fault of his own, aren’t going to look good on a resume. Nickerson will be part of a crowded field, while kickers rarely get into Canton unless they are one of the all-time greats. Anderson is not.
First-time players to appear on this list include WR Steve Smith, LB DeMarcus Ware, and NT Vince Wilfork. This list of 122 will be trimmed down to 25 semifinalists in November with the final 15 to be determined come January.