Prior to the 1966 season, the United States had two major professional football leagues, the National Football League (NFL) and American Football League (AFL) with the NFL being the more popular of the two. In fact, when the AFL began its' rise to the top, it was not even considered a threat until the 1960s when the AFL signed a contract with NBC to televise its' games beginning in 1965. The AFL also began growing in popularity as teams were being relocated to new markets that turned out to be quite profitable.
Once the NFL saw the AFL as a true threat, something had to be done and the NFL came up with a merger agreement that would combine the two leagues, forming one league with two conferences. This agreement also included an AFL-NFL World Championship Game that would put each league's champion against one another to be crowned the best team in football. After Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, was the one who coined the term, "Super Bowl."
The first Super Bowl occurred in 1967 and matched up the Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs at the Los Angeles Coliseum in California. By 1975, six teams would be crowned Super Bowl champions, two of them twice, before the Pittsburgh Steelers would begin a dynasty that would last for the next six years when they wound up winning four of the six Super Bowls between 1975 and 1980.
Led by one of the greatest defenses in NFL history, also known as the "Steel Curtain," the Pittsburgh Steelers saw great success throughout the 70's, winning Super Bowls IX, X, XIII, and XIV. They would not return until 1996, in Super Bowl XXX, where they lost to the Dallas Cowboys 27-17, marking the first Super Bowl loss in franchise history.
During the 2004 NFL Draft, the Steelers used their first round draft pick, 11th overall, on Miami of Ohio's QB, Ben Roethlisberger. The following season, his rookie year, they got back to the big game and actually won Super Bowl XL. A couple years later, they would win a classic battle against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.
After losing Super Bowl XLV in 2011, the Steelers have not been back since but have a real shot this year and will face the Miami Dolphins in the AFC Wild Card round this weekend.
Before they start their big run to another Super Bowl, let's take a look back at the 8 Best and 7 Worst Steelers to Win a Super Bowl ever.
21 Best: James Harrison, LB (XL, XLIII)
As far as Steelers fans are concerned, James Harrison is one of their all-time greatest linebackers and continues to star on a defense that could send them back into another Super Bowl in a few weeks. But for the rest of us, he might not deserve to be ranked over some of the other players from the 70s like Mike Webster or Mel Blount. He gets this ranking because he had one play in both of the Super Bowls they won that was one of the greatest ever.
With the Steelers winning 10-7 and just before the two-minute warning, Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception that was brought back to the Steelers 34-yard line. It gave the Cardinals an excellent chance to go into the half with at least a tie. They got all the way down to the Pittsburgh one-yard line and with 18 seconds left, Kurt Warner dropped back to pass but was picked off by James Harrison, who took it 100 yards in the opposite direction for the score. It became one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history and was a clear game-changing moment that led to the Steelers comeback in the fourth quarter.
20 Worst: Nate Washington, WR (XL, XLIII)
Most NFL fans remember the name Nate Washington because he was the star receiver in Tennessee for a few years even though they rarely made much of an impact in the league. He started his career in Pittsburgh after signing with them as an undrafted free agent. But he would not even make a reception until the postseason when he had a 13-yard catch in the AFC Championship game. He lined up in the slot but was hardly used much, if at all, unless Hines Ward was injured, like he was in 2008. That was when Nate had his biggest playoff impact.
However, he still only had his name called once in two Super Bowl victories after he made an 11-yard catch, his only in the Super Bowl. After leaving the Steelers, he would go on to play for the Tennesse Titans and Houston Texans before retiring in 2014.
19 Best: John Stallworth, WR (IX, X, XIII, XIV)
As far as Super Bowl winning Hall of Fame wide receivers go, John Stallworth is probably one of the best, ever. As a rookie, he failed to do very much in his first Super Bowl appearance, Super Bowl IX. He returned in 1975, his second season, and also failed to light up the scoreboard. Through his first two Super Bowls, he only had five receptions for 32 yards.
But then he got a little more seasoning and experience and showed up big for both Super Bowl XIII and XIV. With only six catches in both games combined, he had 236 yards and three scores. He averaged 39.3 yards per reception in both games including two big plays, one in each, of 75 yards and 73 yards. His big play ability helped the Steelers secure their third and fourth Super Bowl wins in a six-year period.
18 Worst: Craig Colquitt, P (XIII, XIV)
One of the most underrated positions in football is the punter. He is responsible for keeping the opponent pinned down deep in their territory, giving his team the advantage in field position, which is usually a key factor in wins versus a loss. So why include Craig Colquitt on the list of the worst Pittsburgh Steelers to ever play for a Super Bowl winning Pittsburgh team?
Because he was only used five times in two Super Bowls. He had three punts with an average of 43 yards per punt in Super Bowl XIII and in Super Bowl XIV, he put two more punts on the board with an average of 42.5 yards per punt. Both are respectable averages but he spent most of his time watching the Super Bowl rather than participating in it. He was not even ranked in the top ten in punting in the NFL during the regular seasons for each of those Super Bowl seasons.
17 Best: L.C. Greenwood, DE (IX, X, XIII, XIV)
Do not assume that all of the most deserving NFL players are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame because you would end up very disappointed, and maybe even sad.
L.C. Greenwood was one of the most dominate defensive ends in Pittsburgh Steelers history and played during a time that the NFL did not track sacks during the regular season. His five sacks in Super Bowls would be an NFL record but since the stat was not tracked by the NFL officially, he does not get any credit for it. He even had four sacks in Super Bowl X, which would be another NFL record.
So for some reason, he remains out of the Hall of Fame. Nine of his Pittsburgh Steelers teammates during their dynasty title run in the '70s are in the Hall of Fame but not him and no one can explain it. He has been a finalist six times without making it in. If anyone deserves to be inducted, it has to be the anchor on the defensive line that is considered the greatest defense in the history of football.
16 Worst: Reggie Harrison, RB (IX, X)
As with most NFL players that never quite make it, Reggie Harrison was a star running back in college. He played for the University of Cincinnati from 1971 to 1973, rushing for 2,197 yards and 25 touchdowns, including 11 in his final season with the Bearcats. He was drafted in the ninth round of the 1974 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals but ended up in Pittsburgh by Week 11 of that same season, just in time for a chance at winning a Super Bowl ring.
He only played from 1974 until 1977, an extremely short career. There are not very many NFL players that played four seasons or less and won two Super Bowls. That is an extremely short list and Reggie Harrison is right at the top of it.
15 Best: Hines Ward, WR (XL, XLIII)
For 14 seasons, Hines Ward was a WR for the Pittsburgh Steelers starting 190 games, of a possible 217. He was one of the most reliable receivers the Pittsburgh Steelers ever had up until that point averaging 71 receptions, 863 yards, and six touchdowns a season, for 11 consecutive years.
He was also a major contributor during the 2005 and 2008 seasons, both in which they won the Super Bowl, and also 2010, the year they lost Super Bowl XLV to the Green Bay Packers. He was so good during Super Bowl XL that he left with the Super Bowl MVP award following a 5 catch, 123 yard, and one touchdown performance. He also added one rushing attempt for 18 yards.
14 Worst: Terry Hanratty, QB (IX, X)
The name sounds familiar because he was a star quarterback at Notre Dame before he got to the NFL. He was a two-time All-American and three-year starter with the Fighting Irish and even won a National Championship in 1966. The Steelers drafted him in the second round of the 1969 NFL Draft to become their starting quarterback but ended up replacing him the following year when they took Terry Bradshaw with their first overall pick.
During the 1970 season, Terry Hanratty spent time splitting starts with Terry Bradshaw until he eventually was turned into a career backup only starting seven games after that season. He watched as the Steelers went to Super Bowl IX and X, winning both of them, without ever throwing a pass. His two Super Bowl rings are among the most ever for a backup QB with one team.
13 Best: Franco Harris, RB (IX, X, XIII, XIV)
Franco Harris was never the prototypical NFL running back but he became a Hall of Famer in Pittsburgh after he helped lead their rushing attack for almost ten years, including four Super Bowls. He ended his NFL career with 12,120 rushing yards, 91 touchdowns, 307 receptions, 2,287 receiving yards, and nine receiving touchdowns.
His greatest Super Bowl performance was Super Bowl IX when he rushed 34 times for 158 yards, and a touchdown. It was such a great performance, he was named the Super Bowl MVP. Over the next three Super Bowls he played in, he ended up with 67 carries for 196 yards, and three touchdowns.
He owns several Super Bowl career rushing records including the most carries, most rushing yards, and he was second in rushing touchdowns with four, behind the record-holder Emmitt Smith, who has five.
12 Worst: Ben Roethlisberger, QB (XL, XLIII)
In his three Super Bowl appearances, Ben Roethlisberger had good, but not great performances, leading them to two wins and one loss. He had the unfortunate task of leading the Pittsburgh Steelers as a rookie and had his worst Super Bowl performance going 9-for-21 with only 123 yards, no passing touchdowns (he had one rushing score), and two interceptions. That is expected from a kid out of college stepping into the biggest spotlight in sports. So he would bounce back over the next two Super Bowls going 21-for-30 with 256 passing yards, one touchdown, and one interception (He also played in a third game but they lost).
He makes the list of worst Steelers to win a Super Bowl because of his lackluster performances in both of their wins with Big Ben at the helm. His best games were hardly ever during the Super Bowl, rather, they were during the regular season. But he was fortunate enough to have a great team around him to cover up for his mistakes.
11 Best: Lynn Swann, WR (IX, X, XIII, XIV)
For his career, Lynn Swann has 336 receptions, 5,462 yards, and 51 touchdowns and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His numbers are far from the best ever at the wide receiver position and is, in fact, not even close. He ranks 113th all-time for career receptions, 112th in receiving yards, and 93rd in receiving touchdowns. So why is was he inducted into the most prestigious club in the history of sports?
Because he was more than just the numbers, he was an amazing WR that could make a tough catch look easy in a time when the NFL was more about running the football than passing it. And, and this is the most important, he was one of the greatest postseason performers in the history of football. For his postseason career, he has 48 receptions, 907 yards, and nine touchdowns, and that is including the four Super Bowl rings he owns too.
10 Worst: Loren Toews, LB (IX, X, XIII, XIV)
The former eighth round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers played 11 seasons from 1973 until 1983 as a backup linebacker for much of his career. He started 24 games between 1977 and 1978 but outside of that span, he was mainly used as a second or third linebacker option.
For his entire career, he has 2.5 sacks, four interceptions, and 10 fumble recoveries making him a veteran journeyman more than anything else. If he were to play today, he would not be around for 11 seasons putting up those type of numbers.
He falls into the top spot for one reason, he has four Super Bowl rings without being a major contributor along the way. He filled in for injured players and got playing time during the big game, but he never really did much beyond that making him one of the lowest rated players to win four Super Bowls of all time.
9 Best: Santonio Holmes, WR (XLIII)
All it takes is one big game, one great season, or one huge catch to become a hero to millions of fans all around the world. For Santonio Holmes, it all happened in 2009 when he had arguably the greatest game of his professional career and on the NFL's biggest stage, the Super Bowl.
During Super Bowl XLIII, the Steelers looked as though they had the game won with only seven minutes left, up 20-7, and a defense that had shut down the Arizona Cardinals offense for much of the game. But after the Cardinals scored 16 points in five minutes, they trailed 23-20.
That was when Santonio Holmes turned into a Super Bowl legend. Up until 2:25 remaining in the game, Santonio Holmes had 5 catches for 58 yards. On the final drive of the game, Ben Roethlisberger connected with Santonio Holmes four times for 73 yards and a score. It was that final score that helped the Steelers win and what an amazing catch it was for Holmes. He caught the ball in the back of the endzone using the very tip of his toes while hanging onto the ball and becoming a Super Bowl MVP, and Steelers legend.
8 Worst: Roy Gerela, K (IX, X, XIII)
After playing college football at New Mexico State, the Canadian kicker was drafted in the fourth round of the 1969 AFL Draft by the Houston Oilers. He was drafted six rounds before L.C. Greenwood, Pittsburgh Steelers legendary defensive end. He ended up spending two years with the Oilers before signing with the Steelers in 1971.
But his NFL career was anything but a joyous celebration of game-winning field goals. He is one of the worst kickers the NFL has ever seen because normally, when a kicker makes only 60.1% of his field goals, he would not be around very long. Roy played 11 seasons total in the NFL, eight of them in Pittsburgh.
When it came to the Super Bowl, he was mostly useless. The three-time Super Bowl champion only made two of his six field goal attempts, a 33.3% FG-made percentage, just a horrible percentage to own as a kicker. He was the worst between 30-39 yards out, only making one of his four attempts.
1 Best: Terry Bradshaw, QB (IX, X, XIII, XIV)
Some may argue that Terry Bradshaw would not be a four-time Super Bowl champ without the Steelers incredible defense that featured four future Hall of Famers and was so good at stopping the opposition, it became known as the "Steel Curtain." But those people are wrong because without Terry Bradshaw, the Steelers might have had a great defense but would they have scored any points?
There is a huge difference in being a game manager with a stout defense like Trent Dilfer and being a Super Bowl MVP like Terry Bradshaw. The difference is that a game manager will not last four ten seasons and four Super Bowls. At some point, the wins and losses must fall on the backs of players like Franco Harris and Terry Bradshaw and not just because they have a great defense.
So as a four-time Super Bowl champion, and two-time Super Bowl MVP, Terry Bradshaw is our pick as the greatest Pittsburgh Steelers QB of all time.
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