Please note that I formulated this list prior to learning what the NFL Network and Smizik had to say; once I heard that NFL Network was doing this, I wanted to do my own without being biased by their list, and so I put it together prior to their show last week.
My criteria are simple:
� - Stature among a player�s peers during their career � this takes into account number of Pro Bowls, All Pro selections, HOF status, Player of the Year (POY) awards, etc. In my analysis, All Pro designation is more important than Pro Bowl selections, which are typically a measure of fan popularity rather than skill.
� - Team leadership
� - Stature among the Steeler Nation � a subjective measure of a player�s standing as the �face of the Steelers� � did they represent the blue collar, steel mill-tough mentality of our region? Guys like Stautner, Greene, Lambert, Ward, and Bettis � you get the idea. Kind of like what Still Mill uses for the weekly Hard Hat award.
� - Individual statistics � this takes into account historical context, for example career # of yards rushing, # of receptions, # of interceptions, etc. when compared to all-time NFL player statistics.
� - Contributions to championship teams
Things that had NO bearing on my list were things like how well they got along with the media, how much charity work they did, how many autographs they signed, or how good is their relationship with the team now (see Bradshaw, for instance). Could they play, and did they dominate?... that�s about it.
Here we go! Number of pro bowl selections appear in parenthesis after the player�s name.
1 Joe Greene (10), 5 All Pro 1st team, 3 All Pro 2nd team, 2 Def POY, HOF
2 Jack Lambert (9), 7 All Pro 1st team, 1 All Pro 2nd team, 1 Def POY, HOF
3 Ernie Stautner (9), 9 All Pro, HOF
4 Rod Woodson (11 � most of any def. back), 6 All Pro 1st team, 2 All Pro 2nd team, 1 Def POY, HOF
Really, these first four were very tough to rank, and I�d be ok with putting any one of them at #1 overall. Joe Greene probably gets the nod strictly by virtue of the fact that he ushered in the whole 70�s era dominance and was an exceptional team leader during that time period. However, a guy like Lambert (my all time favorite Steeler) definitely lent to that dominating persona that the Steelers had back then. He just frightened other players and who can forget his seek and destroy approach on every play? He could hit you in the mouth or cover you out of the backfield; he could do it all. Put simply, that 70�s era and mentality doesn�t happen without one or the other of those two great players.
Stautner (who I never saw play) by all accounts was just an incredibly dominating force and he did it for 14 or so years while hardly ever missing a game. Nine All Pro selections � is that a record?! I would have loved to see him on those great Steeler teams of the 70�s. The fact that he plied his trade on some very bad teams is even more impressive. If they had Defensive POY awards back then, I�m sure he would have had multiple.
I would probably put Woodson up as the single greatest athlete who has ever played on the Steelers and maybe in the NFL, period. Corner, Safety, Punt Returner, he could do it all. His eleven pro bowl selections lead the team. One of the fastest players of his era and he had all of those INT TDs (12)! Worst personnel move in Steeler history when they let him go, only to see him have many productive years after that.
Yeah, you could say those first four guys are all 1a, 1b, 1c, and 1d, and not necessarily in that order.
5 Mel Blount (5), 4 All Pro 1st team, 2 All Pro 2nd team, 1 Def POY, HOF � he singlehandedly changed the rules for coverage in the NFL, and that says a lot about how he was perceived by his peers at the time. Another fierce intimidator on those great 70�s teams and he just shut down entire halves of the field.
6 Mike Webster (9), 7 All Pro 1st team, 2 All Pro 2nd team, HOF � probably the least-skilled player in the top 10 but he made up for it in sheer will. Another key part of the Steeler �persona� of the 70�s and a key offensive leader. His nine total All Pro selections are tied with Stautner for most in team history, and he could rightfully be listed even higher than #6. Strongest man in the NFL for years. I cut Mike�s grass as a teenager and once saw him lift three 90-lb. bags of concrete at one time with just his hands. Picked them off the tailgate like it was a sack of flour and carried them across the yard! That�s 270 pounds of dead weight, folks! Scary strong.
7 Terry Bradshaw (3), 1 All Pro 1st team, 1 All Pro 2nd team, 1 NFL MVP, 2 Super Bowl MVP, HOF � I initially did not think I�d have Bradshaw this high, but his contributions to those Super Bowl teams cannot be minimized. Didn�t get selected to too many pro bowls or All Pro teams, but he was a clutch, money player as his two Super Bowl MVP awards attest. They simply don�t win all those Super Bowls without this guy.
9 Hines Ward (4), 3 All Pro 2nd team, 1 Super Bowl MVP � A real throwback to another era. Ward is another player without all the top accolades but is quietly moving up the all time lists in several statistical categories. But, let�s face it�he�s up this high because he quite simply is on the level of a Greene or Lambert in the leadership and �face of the Steelers� categories. Next to Lambert, I�d have to say he�s a close second on many fans� all-time favorite player lists. Greatest blocking WR in NFL history, WITHOUT QUESTION. That cannot be underestimated, and it�s telling that he (like Mel Blount) is responsible for a rules change�to protect the DEFENSIVE players from injury, nonetheless! He�s just a complete player and I still to this day have never seen him run out of bounds to avoid a hit like all the lame prima donnas do nowadays. Brian Billick paid him the highest compliment when he said, �if I had 11 Hines Wards on offense or defense, I�d never lose a game.� I couldn�t agree more. It will be a travesty if he doesn�t make the HOF someday.
10 Jerome Bettis (6), 2 All Pro 1st team, 1 All Pro 2nd team, HOF? � Another player that should be a shoe-in for the HOF. He did more as a big back in my opinion than HOF player Earl Campbell, and he did it for a very long time. Tough as nails and another one who�s very high on many favorite Steeler lists. Bettis probably had my favorite play of any Steeler in history when he ran over Brian Urlacher at the goal line in the snow the year they won Super Bowl 40. Bettis was on his last legs, had to come into the game late, and he just destroyed Urlacher like he was a middle school linebacker. If you get a chance to watch that play again, notice how he just discarded him�truly one of the most dominating man-to-man plays in NFL history. Bettis didn�t contribute much to his lone Super Bowl victory, but if he had a quarterback and a coach who could actually put together an intelligent scheme during his prime years with the Steelers, he probably would have three or four rings.
- After this point, it starts to get dicey in that a lot of players are too close or similar in stature, but I�ll try.
14 Alan Faneca (9), 6 All Pro 1st team, 3 All Pro 2nd team � maybe a surprise to some but you cannot deny nine total All Pro teams, folks. Fact is, he could rightfully be ranked in the top 10 on that basis alone. Until his last year as a Steeler, he was a monster on the O-line, and he led the way during all those years when Bettis was pounding the rock. He�s played a few years longer than he should have, but a definite dominant force for most of his career.
15 John Stallworth (4), 1 All Pro 1st team, 1 All Pro 2nd team, HOF � got to go with Stallworth over Swann at this juncture, simply because he played longer and he made some equally clutch catches in all those Super Bowls.
19 Donnie Shell (5), 3 All Pro 1st team, 1 All Pro 2nd team - amazingly, undrafted out of college but went on to be part of the Steeler�s dominating defensive backfield in the 70�s. Four total All Pro Selections says a lot about this big-hitting player. Who can forget him drilling the big Earl Campbell on MNF and putting him out of the game with busted ribs? Classic image�
20 Greg Lloyd (5), 3 All Pro 1st team � the scariest player in the NFL for much of his career. Definitely in the mold of the fearsome intimidators that the Steelers seem to have at least one of no matter the year. Near the top of many fans� favorite players list. Won the AFC Defensive player of the year in 1994. The lack of any Super Bowl victories in his era hurts him relative to many players above him from about #13 on down.
24 Joey Porter (4), 1 All Pro 1st team, 3 All Pro 2nd team � a great leader for the Steelers during his career with the team. Towards the end, he was more bark than bite, and he probably should be out of the league by now, but he definitely was the emotional leader of the team during the early 2000�s.
James Farrior (2), 1 All Pro 1st team � his longevity really helps him in this discussion of greatest Steelers players.
Levon Kirkland (2) 1 All Pro 1st team, 1 All Pro 2nd team
Mike Wagner (2), 1 All Pro 1st team, 3 All Pro 2nd team
Casey Hampton (5)
So there are 15 Defensive players and 10 Offensive players in my Top 25. I think that is about right considering the Steelers have always been identified as a defensive team. I was not looking to �even it up� so to speak, it just fell out that way for me.
There are probably some others that could be considered and hopefully I didn�t miss any noteworthy players. Some of the 70�s Offensive Lineman come to mind, as does Dwight White and Fats Holmes, both of whom were two-time All Pro Selections. I obviously didn�t put any old time players in beyond Stautner�I just don�t see football in those days as anything even resembling the modern era, and so it�s difficult for me to go there. I�ll let someone else do that analysis.