The offseason makes for the perfect time to introduce some fun series here at Steelers Depot.
You’re undoubtedly reading Alex Kozora’s scouting profiles on current Steelers, as well as Matthew Marczi’s exit interviews and stock reports on players throughout the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster. So today, I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring and introduce a new series I’ve been kicking around for some time.
Obviously, the Steelers have a long, illustrious history with a plethora of Hall of Famers in its history. You’ve seen the All-Time teams that have been built that has included Hall of Famers, but what about building a Steelers All-Time Team, excluding Hall of Famers?
Sounds fun, right? I thought so too.
Today, I’m going to kick off the series, which will run all offseason long. Just some parameters that I will lay out in each article of this series in case readers jump into it at any point and want to understand how and why this team is being put together. I am using non-Hall of Famers, but Hall of Honor players in Steelers’ history are eligible.
That does mean I am keeping guys like Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison off this list, as I believe they both are locks to get into Canton in the near future. I will keep Hines Ward eligible, though, because I don’t think he’ll make it into the Hall of Fame.
Offensively, I will set it up using 11 personnel, meaning one running back, one tight end, no fullback, and three wide receivers, mainly because I would want to see this group play in today’s game.
Defensively, I’m using the traditional 3-4 scheme, so no slot cornerback or anything like that. Just a base 3-4. I’ll also select a kicker, punter, and return specialist, giving me 25 players to write about.
Does that make sense? Hopefully I laid that out clear enough.
With that said, today I will start at the quarterback position. The decision to ultimately go with the player I chose was a difficult one, but I think it gives this all-time team the best opportunity to compete.
That quarterback? Kordell Stewart.
Stewart was vastly underrated in Pittsburgh, as he was a true dual-threat quarterback that was well ahead of his time. If he were playing in today’s game, he’d be a superstar. Instead, “Slash” came along in the late 90s where the expectation was you were a drop back, pocket passer or you were nothing at all.
Stewart, in a sense, changed the game for the Steelers under offensive coordinator Chan Gailey in 1997 as Stewart finally got his shot at quarterback. That season, Stewart helped pilot the Steelers to an 11-5 record as he threw for 3,020 yards and 21 touchdowns, though he did turn the ball over at an alarming rate, throwing 17 interceptions that season. That said, Stewart did a lot of damage on the ground, rushing for 476 yards and 11 touchdowns as the Steelers reached the AFC Championship Game.
Though Stewart imploded in the 1997 AFC Championship Game against the Denver Broncos, throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble, the future looked rather bright for the young dual-threat quarterback.
Instead, Gailey left for the Cowboys and Stewart’s top receiver in Yancy Thigpen left in free agency for Tennessee, leaving Stewart without his offensive coordinator and his Pro Bowl receiver. Stewart and the Steelers struggled in 1998 and 1999, leading to the Steelers bringing in Kent Graham for the 2000 season, ultimately naming the veteran quarterback the starter to open the season.
That proved disastrous as the Steelers got off to a 1-3 start and Graham got hurt, forcing Stewart back into the lineup. Miraculously, the Steelers recovered from that dreadful start to finish 9-7, just missing the playoffs.
Stewart’s performance in the 2000 season ultimately led to his true breakout in 2001, as he led the Steelers to a 13-3 record, throwing for 3,109 yards, 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and added a career-high 537 rushing yards and five touchdowns as the Steelers reached the AFC Championship Game once again.
Things fell apart in the AFC Championship Game again for Stewart, as he threw another three interceptions and fumbled twice, losing one as the Patriots stunned the top-seeded Steelers, 24-17.
Though the performances in the pair of AFC Championship Games by Stewart left a sour taste in the mouths of Steelers fans, looking back on Stewart’s career all these years later shows just how talented and ahead of his time he truly was.
During his eight-year career with the Steelers, Stewart threw for 13,328 yards, 70 touchdowns and 72 interceptions. Those numbers don’t look great overall, but when you add in the 2,561 rushing yards and 35 touchdowns on the ground, you get to see the bigger picture with Stewart. Like I wrote earlier, if he plays in today’s game, he’s a true star, much in the same vein of a Lamar Jackson-type.
Heck, Stewart even earned MVP votes in 2001, and was voted into the Pro Bowl that season. He truly was a special talent. It’s a shame he was never given a full shot at the starting job, passing from three seasons in which he started all 16 games. Two of those three seasons resulted in trips to the AFC Championship Game.