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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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