In professional sports, there usually isn’t a lot of stability. The owners change, the coaches change and the players have an extremely high turnover. You might be able to put together a good run of 10 years if you’re lucky as a professional franchise, but sustaining it for several decades is next to impossible. There is one franchise, however, that never seems to have more than a year or two of struggles and that’s the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Throughout the entirety of the Steelers franchise, the team has been owned by the Rooney family and they make sure to stick with what’s working. Since 1969, the Steelers have had just three head coaches: Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin. For comparison’s sake, the Raiders have had nine since 2002 alone.
The Steelers are usually good at finding stability at the quarterback position, as well. They have struck gold with a pair of quarterbacks that have each brought multiple Super Bowls, but what about the gaps in between the two and beforehand? Here, we will rank all 28 of the starting quarterbacks that the Steelers have during the Super Bowl era.
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28 George Izo
We start our list with a quarterback that was actually taken with the second overall pick out of Notre Dame back in 1960, before the Super Bowl era. George Izo would play his first season with the Cardinals before joining the Redskins for four seasons, where he did not see much playing time. Izo would then start three games in Detroit before starting the Super Bowl era with the Steelers in 1966.
Izo would get to play in four games during that season, starting two of them. There was not much success as Izo averaged just 4.4 yards per attempt en route to an 0-2 record with 360 passing yards, two touchdowns and eight interceptions. Izo would retire after the 1966 season, becoming a businessman and got involved with military relations.
27 Jim Miller
Most people remember former Michigan State quarterback Jim Miller for his time with the Chicago Bears in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Before that, however, Miller was a sixth round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Miller did not start a game in his rookie season (though he made three appearances) and then started one game in his second season. Overall, Miller finished with an 0-1 record with Pittsburgh, throwing for 520 yards with two touchdowns and five interceptions.
Miller then bounced around the league for a few seasons before landing in Chicago in 1999 and it would be the first time he saw the field since his days in Pittsburgh. As a Bear, Miller had a lot more success with a 15-11 record and 34 touchdowns compared to 26 interceptions, including an 11-2 season in 2001.
26 Dennis Dixon
Out of all of the players on our list, there were a few that were very exciting to watch in college and Dennis Dixon is certainly among them. The former Oregon Duck was an All-Pac 10 player that was a finalist for both the Davey O’Brien and Maxwell Awards in 2007, though he was not expected to make a huge impact in the NFL. The Steelers were able to scoop him up in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
Dixon was brought in to be a backup for Ben Roethlisberger, but was able to manage three starts in his career, where he finished with a 2-1 record. Dixon also threw for 402 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in his brief career, while adding 56 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground.
25 Scott Campbell
While Dennis Dixon might have been a big name in college, the same could not be said for Scott Campbell. The Purdue grad had to wait until the seventh round of the 1984 NFL Draft to hear the Steelers call his name. Campbell was brought in mainly to serve as the odd man out in the battle for starting position between Mark Malone and David Woodley. Though he didn’t start in his rookie year, Campbell got a chance in 1985.
It was that season when Campbell started two games, not winning either of those contests. His numbers on the season were about what you’d expect from a third stringer, as he finished with 612 yards, four touchdowns and six interceptions. Outside of that season, he had just 109 yards with one more touchdown an interception each. Campbell would then join the Falcons for several seasons before retiring after 1990.
24 Byron Leftwich
After having quite a bit of success when he was with Jacksonville, Byron Leftwich would land with the Falcons for one season before joining the Steelers in 2008. Though he would get in five games and throw for 303 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, Leftwich did not start a game that year. Leftwich then went to the Buccaneers for a season before returning to Pittsburgh in 2010.
Leftwich would stick around for three seasons in his second stint and would end up starting one game in 2012. Leftwich finished his Steelers career with a total of 617 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Unfortunately for Leftwich, the Steelers would lose his only start against the Ravens in 2012.
23 Todd Blackledge
The first two things you think about when it comes to Todd Blackledge are his broadcasting career and his college career where he was the 1982 Davey O’Brien Award winner. In between those two chapters of Blackledge’s career, he was in the NFL for several seasons after being the seventh overall pick by the Chiefs in 1983. Blackledge was underwhelming with the Chiefs and joined the Steelers as a backup in 1988.
Blackledge played in Pittsburgh for two seasons and he would get the start five times in that span. Blackledge won two of the five games he started in, throwing for 776 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions while adding a rushing touchdown. Blackledge would end up retiring despite being under 30, and then went into the broadcasting world.
22 Ron C. Smith
We now go back to the very beginning of the Super Bowl era for another quarterback that just gets into timeline for our list. Ron C. Smith was a late round pick out of Richmond that would play his rookie season with the Rams in 1965. Smith did manage to get into a game, but had no starts and didn’t put up any numbers. The next year, Smith would join the Steelers in the first year of the Super Bowl era, 1966.
Smith was able to start in seven games for the Steelers that year, throwing for 1,249 yards, eight touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Smith, despite putting up some solid numbers for the time, did not start in another NFL game again, making his final appearance at just 24 years old.
21 Kent Nix
We now go back to the late 1960s, when thus TCU quarterback was picked up by the Green Bay Packers in 1966. After never making the roster in Green Bay that season, Nix was...nixed...and made his way to Pittsburgh. There was a lot of excitement for Nix as he had a hot start, but never really found his footing. Nix would play three seasons in Pittsburgh, but started just 12 games.
Nix would finish his Steelers career with a 3-9 mark, throwing for 2,597 yards for an average of just 5.8 per attempt. Nix was also a turnover machine, throwing 33 interceptions compared to just 14 touchdowns, with 19 of those coming in his nine starts in his first season. Nix would play two more years with the Bears and then one with the Oilers before calling it a career after 1972.
20 Landry Jones
There are only two quarterbacks currently on the Steelers roster to start for the team and you can probably guess that the other one is ranked a bit higher. For now, we focus on Landry Jones, the former fourth round pick from Oklahoma that was taken in 2013. Jones would end up getting his first two starts in year three after injuries to Ben Roethlisberger, and he would finish 1-1 in those games with 513 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions.
Jones has also had to make a start for the Steelers in 2016 due to an injury. Through week 13 of the 2016 NFL season, Jones has an 0-1 record with 281 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Though it’s not clear what’s in the future for Landry, he at least has been a serviceable backup for the Steelers.
19 Mike Kruczek
For those that question Terry Bradshaw’s belonging on the list of all-time greatest quarterbacks, Mike Kruczek typically gets brought up as an argument point. The Boston College product was drafted in the second round by the Steelers in 1976 and was thrust into the starting position for six games when Bradshaw was injured. Kruczek threw for just 758 yards on the season with three interceptions and no touchdowns, but did rush for more than 100 yards and had two touchdowns.
Despite the less than impressive numbers, Kruczek had a 6-0 record as a starter. That would be the only time Kruczek started for the Steelers, as he was relegated to backup mode once again for three more seasons, adding just over 200 yards and three more interceptions. He would not throw a single touchdown in his career, even after getting a start in Washington in 1980.
18 Michael Vick
We all remember former first overall pick Michael Vick’s career as an Atlanta Falcon, where he posted an impressive 38-28-1 record. Then, Vick would find himself on the wrong side of the law and missed two full seasons due to his off-field issues. Vick would then have a bit of a revival with the Eagles for several seasons before heading to the Jets in 2014, where he would start just three games.
The Steelers brought in Vick for the 2015 season and he would end up getting the start in three games. Vick managed to win two of those three games, tossing for 371 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Vick wasn’t his usual self as a runner, but still did manage to post 99 rushing yards in 2015. For his age, the Steelers got what they needed from Vick, although his overall career is certainly among the best on the list.
17 Steve Bono
The mid 1990s saw the temporary emergence of an aging quarterback named Steve Bono that people had mostly forgotten about at that point. Well before he posted 21 wins in a two year span with the Chiefs, Bono was once a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bono was a free agent from Minnesota at the time, joining Pittsburgh in 1987 where he would get his first three NFL starts.
Bono would win two of the three games, throwing for 438 yards while scoring five times compared to two interceptions. Bono appeared in two more games after the season (with no starts), adding 110 more yards, another touchdown and two picks. Bono then joined the 49ers after his two years with the Steelers, eventually playing for the Chiefs, Packers, Rams and Panthers.
16 Kent Graham
Kent Graham was one of those names that you instantly recognize as one of the many spot starters of the 1990s. Graham waited until the eighth round to get drafted by the Giants in 1992, spending three seasons with New York. Graham would then join the Lions for a season before heading to Arizona for two years, then returning to the Giants. After two more seasons in New York, Graham became a Steeler for the 2000 season.
Graham got to start in five games that season as Kordell Stewart missed time, and Graham would go 2-3 in those games. Graham also threw for 878 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Those five starts would end up being his final five, as Graham played in just three more NFL games for the Redskins before retiring after the 2002 NFL Season.
15 Joe Gilliam
After the Steelers drafted Terry Bradshaw in 1970, there was an open competition for the starting job. Bradshaw would end up splitting with Terry Hanratty for two seasons before taking all 14 starts in 1972. That same season, Joe Gilliam joined the quarterback ranks for the Steelers and would get occasional playing time, but didn’t make his first start until the 1973 season, where he went 0-1 with two touchdowns and six interceptions.
In 1974, Gilliam would get more chances as he started in six games, posting a 4-1-1 mark with 1,274 yards, four touchdowns and eight interceptions. Gilliam stuck around for one more season, though he didn’t make anymore starts, finishing his career with 2,103 yards, nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Gilliam would try to play professionally with other teams, but it just didn’t work out. Sadly, addiction got the best of Gilliam and he would pass away from a cocaine overdose in 2000.
14 Charlie Batch
The first four years of Charlie Batch’s career were spent in Detroit, not too far away from where he went to college at Eastern Michigan. Batch started in 46 games between 1998 and 2001 for the Lions, winning 19 of those games and putting up some solid throwing stats. In 2002, Batch would join the Steelers where he would take a back seat to Tommy Maddox and Kordell Stewart before the Ben Roethlisberger era started.
Batch spent a decade with the Steelers in what was mainly a backup role, though he would end up getting nine starts in his Steelers career. Batch went 6-3 in those games, and had an overall 2,069 passing yards as a Steeler with 12 touchdowns and interceptions, each. Batch retired after the 2012 season when the Steelers cut him in lieu of Landry Jones.
13 David Woodley
We have highlighted a lot of quarterbacks so far that are probably way before your memory, so we’ll pull it back into the 1980s for you. David Woodley was a late round pick-up by the Dolphins out of LSU in 1980, and he spent four seasons in Miami where he posted an impressive record of 27-12-1. Woodley was then traded to the Steelers and entered a quarterback competition in the post-Terry Bradshaw era.
Woodley started 13 games over his two seasons in Pittsburgh, finishing with a 7-6 mark, 2,630 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. Woodley was only 27 years old when he decided to hang up his cleats since Chuck Noll told him that he wouldn’t be the starting quarterback in 1986 despite Green Bay willing to give him a shot.
12 Terry Hanratty
Terry Hanratty was a big fish at Notre Dame during their golden era, but not so much in his NFL career. Hanratty was a two-time All-American in South Bend, but had to wait until the 30th overall pick in 1969 to hear the Steelers call his name. Hanratty would get five starts in his rookie season, losing all of them while throwing eight touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
The next year, Hanratty was replaced by the other Terry (Bradshaw) and was relegated to the bench for most of his career. Hanratty would end up starting six more games, finishing with a career 6-11 record in Pittsburgh with 24 touchdowns and 34 interceptions. Hanratty played one season with Tampa Bay in 1976 before calling it quits, throwing for just 32 yards that season.
11 Cliff Stoudt
When you’re a quarterback, you never want to get drafted to be somebody’s backup, especially when it’s a franchise player that probably won’t let you see the field. That was the case for Cliff Stoudt, a 1977 fifth round pick by the Steelers that was selected to be a backup for Terry Bradshaw. Stoudt stuck around as a backup for three seasons before finally getting his chance in 1983.
Stoudt had started just one game before, but he would get 15 of them in 1983, going 9-6. Stoudt also had 2,553 yards, 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. Stoudt could have likely stuck around as the starter, but decided to find greener pastures in the new USFL. Stoudt eventually returned to the NFL in 1986, playing for four more seasons. However, Stoudt would start just four more NFL games.
10 Dick Shiner
If we were listing the greatest names for Steelers quarterbacks of all-time, you can bet that Dick Shiner would be the top spot. Shiner spent the 1960s and early 1970s as a journeyman quarterback in the NFL, playing his first three seasons in Washington before making a pit stop in Cleveland. In 1968, Shiner joined the Steelers roster,and he would stick around for two seasons.
Unfortunately for Shiner, he didn’t do a lot of winning. In 20 starts over two seasons, Shiner finished with a record of 3-16-1, throwing for 3,278 yards with 25 touchdowns and 27 interceptions. Shiner wasn’t a bad quarterback, but the Steelers weren’t quite a complete team yet at that point. Shiner would end up playing for the Giants, Falcons and Patriots before retiring after the 1974 season.
9 Mike Tomczak
After having a solid season in his final year at Ohio State, Mike Tomczak had to see his name never get called during the 1985 NFL Draft. Fortunately for Tomczak, he would get picked up by the Bears to be Jim McMahon’s backup, where he got a Super Bowl ring as a rookie. Tomczak then became a starter the next season for seven games and played a total of six years with Chicago.
After quick stops in Green Bay and Cleveland, Tomczak started his Steelers career in 1993. He would end up playing one full season as a starter in 1996 where he went 10-5. Tomczak had a decent record at 15-12, and he threw for 6,649 yards, 37 touchdowns and 43 interceptions, ending his career after the 1999 season.
8 Bubby Brister
Most people simply know Bubby Brister as the guy that came in for John Elway for four games in 1998 as the Broncos ended up winning a Super Bowl. However, Brister was already toward the end of his career at that point and he was a longtime Steeler before then. Brister was a Steelers third round pick in 1986 and he spent seven seasons with the team. It wasn’t until his third season that Brister saw significant starting action and he wasn’t terrible.
Brister had a 28-29 record in his seven seasons, tossing for 10,104 yards, 51 touchdowns and 57 interceptions. There was nothing really exciting about Brister, as even his best season was a 9-7 record with 2,725 yards, 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. If you were to look up mediocre yet serviceable quarterbacks in the dictionary, Brister’s photo should be included.
7 Mark Malone
Now we’re starting to get to some names that millennials are more likely to know, starting with Mark Malone. Malone was one of the quarterbacks that was tasked with ushering in the post-Terry Bradshaw era and he was a first round pick by the Steelers out of Arizona State in 1980. Malone waited patiently for his turn and would become the full-time starter in 1984 after the Charlie Stoudt experiment.
Malone started at least eight games for four consecutive seasons, though his record was not all that impressive at 21-24. Malone finished with 8,582 passing yards, 54 touchdowns and 68 interceptions. Malone would wind up with the Chargers in 1988 where he started for one season, then played one more year with the Jets. Malone, however, has been more known for his broadcasting career these days.
6 Tommy Maddox
We meet our first Steelers quarterback on the list to regularly start in the 2000s, but Tommy Maddox’s NFL career started back in the early 1990s. Maddox was a backup with the Broncos, Rams and Giants before taking a break from football. Maddox had started an insurance business and was still practicing his throws when he got a call from the Arena Football League. He stayed for one season and then joined the doomed-from-the-start XFL, winning the league’s MVP Award.
The Steelers noticed Maddox’s play in the XFL and decided to give him a shot in 2002. Maddox did not disappoint despite some low expectations, going 7-3-1 in his first season. Maddox played for three more years, but was once again relegated to the bench once Ben Roethlisberger arrived. All in all, Maddox would finish his Steelers career with a 15-16-1 record, 7,139 yards, 42 touchdowns and 40 interceptions.
5 Bill Nelsen
As you can see from this list so far, the Steelers have had some hits at quarterback, but they went through a lot of starters in the 1960s when they were struggling. Bill Nelsen is another name you can put on the list of mediocre 1960s starters, as he played with Pittsburgh from 1963 to 1967. Nelsen, despite his best efforts, could hardly ever lead the Steelers to victory, finishing with a 6-15-2 record.
The numbers, for the era, were actually pretty impressive from Nelsen. Nelsen would throw for 4,440 yards (a 7.5 yards per attempt average). He did throw 27 touchdowns with 30 interceptions, but that was to be expected back then. Belsen finished his career with five seasons in Cleveland, where he found a lot of success, posting a 34-16-1 record with Pittsburgh’s biggest rival.
4 Kordell Stewart
For those of us born in the 1980s, the first Steelers quarterback that a lot of us remember is Kordell Stewart, A.K.A. Slash. Stewart already had a career highlight while at Colorado for tossing a hail mary pass against Michigan for an upset win, but he wouldn’t be drafted until the second round in 1995 by the Steelers. Stewart didn’t start until his third season, but did get significant playing time thanks to his speed.
Stewart spent eight seasons with the Steelers, and had a 46-29 record as a starting quarterback. He would also throw for 13,328 yards, 70 touchdowns and 72 interceptions. In case that wasn’t enough, Stewart was also dynamic with the ball as he collected 2,561 rushing yards (and 35 touchdowns) as well as 658 receiving yards (and five touchdowns). Stewart spent one season with the Bears afterward, then two with Baltimore before retiring.
3 Neil O’Donnell
So far, Tommy Maddox has been the only regular Steelers starter on our list with more touchdowns than interceptions (barely), but now we meet someone that is far on the other side of the spectrum. Neil O’Donnell was the Steelers’ third round pick in 1990 out of Maryland and he would end up starting eight games in his rookie season, though it could have gone better.
The next year, O’Donnell would have a breakout season, going 9-3 with 2,283 yards en route to his only Pro Bowl appearance. O’Donnell spent a total of five seasons in Pittsburgh, finishing 39-22 with an impressive 12,867 yards and a 68 to 39 touchdown to interception ratio. Of course, O’Donnell would end up signing with the Jets, where he spent two seasons before ending his career with one season in Cincinnati and then five years in Tennessee.
2 Terry Bradshaw
We finally get to the argument on the list where people on both sides will actually know what they’re talking about. Terry Bradshaw comes in at number two on the list, despite his impressive resume. Bradshaw spent his entire career with the Steelers, winning four Super Bowls (and two Super Bowl MVP Awards). He was also a three-time Pro Bowler and the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in the 1978 season.
At the time of his retirement, there were plenty of people saying that he was the greatest quarterback in NFL history and was definitely worthy of the first overall pick that the Steelers used on him back in 1970. We know that the game has changed, but his numbers (and being on stacked teams) keep him out of the number one spot. Still, 27,989 passing yards, 212 touchdowns and 210 interceptions is pretty impressive, as is the 107-51 record.
1 Ben Roethlisberger
In our opinion, the Steelers currently have the greatest starting quarterback in franchise history, Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger was the 11th pick back in 2004 out of Miami (OH) and wound up seeing plenty of playing time in his rookie season when he went 13-0 in the regular season. Despite a changing roster, Roethlisberger has been a constant for Pittsburgh. He is also one of the toughest (if not the toughest) players in the NFL.
Through the first 12 games of the 2016 NFL season, Roethlisberger’s record is better than Bradshaw’s at 121-60. He also has 46,249 passing yards, 297 touchdowns and 158 interceptions. Roethlisberger holds just about every franchise record for quarterbacks outside of most interceptions thrown (thanks to Bradshaw) and rushing yards (thanks to Slash). Still, Roethlisberger has added 1,211 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground, just as the cherry on top.
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