Since coming into existence in 1933, the Pittsburgh Steelers have become one of the most beloved franchises in all of sports history.
They have a fan base that is second to none, one that travels thousands of miles to see their team play on any given Sunday.
Year after year they are at or near the top of merchandise sales, even when they may not be at the top of their division, a sign of just how loyal the fans of the organization are.
The franchise has paid their fans back with not only a NFL record six Super Bowls, but also with memorable players, games and moments that have gone down as some of the most important in the history of the game.
While the franchise had their years of struggle as they tried to find that perfect formula, they finally found it with the hiring of a coach in 1969, when the Rooney family gave the keys of the team to Baltimore Colts assistant coach Chuck Noll.
Noll’s style of coaching along with the drafting of a number of future Hall of Fame players paid off when the team finally made it to the promise land, winning their first Super Bowl in 1974, beating the Minnesota Vikings 16-6 in Super Bowl IX.
The Steelers dominated the rest of the 1970’s, winning four championships and becoming the standard for all other NFL teams.
Everything the dynasty team of the 70’s did started to fade as their many Hall of Fame players started to retire and get older, and the 1980’s was an era that most Steelers fans would rather forget.
When Bill Cowher took over for Noll in 1992, the franchise had somewhat of a rebirth, as the passion of the fans was re-ignited with Cowher’s fiery emotion on the sidelines, and a group of young, hungry players.
Cowher finally won a Super Bowl in 2005, and after he walked away in 2006, it was Minnesota Vikings assistant Mike Tomlin who again took the team to the top of the mountain with a title win in Super Bowl XLIII, topping the Arizona Cardinals.
While many players have come and gone from the organization, there’s only a handful that can be considered the ‘best ever.’ Here’s a take on the best 15 in the history of the club, a list that surely can be debated with the many Hall of Famers the organization has produced in the 81 years of its existence
15 Rod Woodson, CB, 1987-1996
Woodson entered the league with the 10th overall pick in 1987, and changed the way the Steelers defense played, using his athletic ability to make big plays both on defense and in the return game for the black and gold.
During his eventual Hall of Fame career that spanned over 17 seasons with four different teams, Woodson went to the Pro Bowl 11 times, was a six-time All-Pro, and was named the Steelers MVP three times.
He tore his ACL on opening day in 1995, and begged the team not to put him on injured reserve, and it paid off when he came back and played for the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX just 19 weeks later. In his 17 seasons he recorded 71 interceptions as well as 32 fumble recoveries.
Woodson retired after the 2003 season in Oakland, and six years later was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
14 Hines Ward, WR, 1998-2011
Ward played the position of wide receiver like a defensive player, laying out defensive backs and safeties while also making huge plays during an era when the Steelers were one of the top teams in the NFL.
Drafted in the third round of 1998, not many could have predicted a career that spanned 217 games, 1,000 catches, 12,083 yards and 86 total touchdowns. Ward also took home the MVP award when the Steelers topped the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 in Super Bowl XL.
He earned the respect of his teammates as a leader, taking home the Steelers MVP award three times, and earning four Pro Bowl honors in his 14-year career, all with Pittsburgh.
Ward’s biggest season came in 2002 when he caught 112 passes for 1329 yards and 12 touchdowns, all numbers career highs. He caught 80 or more passes in six seasons, and in 2005 became the Steelers all-time leading receiver when he caught his 538th pass in a win over the Cleveland Browns.
In 2007 he broke two more Steelers records, breaking the touchdown record with his 64th touchdown, and then a few weeks later broke the club’s all-time yardage record in a win over the St.Louis Rams.
He also remains to this day one of the most popular players in the history of the franchise, and it’s no surprise to see a number of #86 jerseys at Heinz Feld on any given Sunday.
13 Troy Polamalu, S, 2003-
For the last 12 years Polamalu has played the game as fearless as any player in the NFL. He’s been known to fly over the top of offensive lines to try and disrupt quarterbacks, to making one-handed interceptions.
Polamalu has played the game at a high level from almost the moment the team moved up in the first round of the 2003 draft to select him 16th overall. He has made the Pro Bowl eight times, is a five-time All-Pro selection, and in 2010 was the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
In 2007 he was handed the biggest contract in the history of the franchise, showing just how much the team valued his play on the field, as well as his character off of it. He’s picked off 32 passes and has scored three touchdowns in his career with the Steelers.
He was the driving force for the team to make it to the Super Bowl in 2008, making the defining play in the AFC Championship game, picking off Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco and taking it back for a touchdown in the fourth quarter in the team’s 23-14 win.
While he may be as well known for his 32-inch hair as his aggressive play on the field, Polamalu is on his way to a bust someday in Canton, Ohio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Along the way there’s no doubt he will have a few more memorable plays left despite being 33 years old at the start of the 2014 season.
12 Dermontti Dawson, C, 1988-2000
Bill Cowher called Dermontti Dawson the best athlete to ever play the center position. Known for quickness and strength, Dawson was the core of the Steelers' offensive line and a rock in the middle for a team that loved to run the ball up the gut.
He learned from another Hall of Fame center in Mike Webster, playing guard his rookie season after being drafted in the second round of the 1988 season. Webster left after the 1988 season, and the team plugged Dawson in the middle, and he dominated for most of the next 12 seasons before he walked away from the game at the age of 35.
Dawson was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, and was selected as part of the NFL 1990's All-Decade Team. He was never the most vocal player on the roster, but always not only had the respect of his teammates, but opponents as well.
The center got the highest honor a player could get when he was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
11 Jerome Bettis, RB, 1996-2005
While Jerome Bettis has yet to make it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there’s no question that he remains one of the most popular players in the history of the franchise. He was part of maybe the best draft day trade in history when the Steelers acquired him from the Los Angeles Rams for some forgettable draft picks.
Bettis took over the running back position for the Steelers and for the next 10 seasons was a big force as the team made a number of runs at the Super Bowl, finally paying off in his last season when he helped the team win Super Bowl XL in his hometown of Detroit.
The career for “The Bus” included six Pro Bowls, as well as winning the Steelers team MVP award three times. He remains sixth in the NFL as far as all-time leading rushers go. His best season came in 1997 when he ran for 1,665 yards and seven touchdowns. Six times with the Steelers he went over 1,000 yards rushing in a season.
An impressive stat line of 13,662 yards and 91 touchdowns places Bettis right at the top as one of the very best running backs in the history of the franchise.
10 Ben Roethlisberger 2004-
“Big Ben” has won two Super Bowls with the Steelers, and is well on his way to being the best QB in the history of the franchise, as he continues to break records set by Terry Bradshaw during the 1970’s.
Ben has usually been fantastic during an era when the Steelers offense has struggled, and he’s taken more hits due to an inefficient offensive line and his style of trying to hold on to the ball and make plays when clearly there are none.
As he plays at a MVP level in 2014, he also continues his march to being one of the top ranked QB’s in the game. He’s currently ninth all-time in NFL passer rating at 92.6, fifth in yards per attempt (8.06) and has the fourth highest career winning percentage as a starter at .710.
He’s been selected to a pair of Pro Bowls, and was selected as the team’s MVP in the 2009 season. Roethlisberger also remains the youngest quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl as he led the Steelers to a victory in Super Bowl XL at the age of 23.
Despite taking a lot of big hits in his career, Roethlisberger has never played less than 12 games in a season, and continues to show toughness playing when he’s hurt.
9 Jack Ham, OLB, 1971-1982
To this day Jack Ham remains considered one of the greatest outside linebackers to ever line up at the position. The eight-time Pro Bowler was a second-round pick of the Steelers in 1971, and won the left OLB spot as a rookie.
He was on the outside of the famed ‘Steel Curtain’ defense that dominated games in the 1970’s and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. He was a six-time first team All-Pro selection from 1974 to 1979, and in 2011 went into the Pittsburgh Football Hall of Fame.
Ham used his speed and his smarts to his advantage, and during his playing days amassed 25 sacks, 21 fumbles recovered and 32 interceptions. His 53 takeaways remain an NFL record for a player not playing a defensive back position.
The linebacker was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988, and in his honor the Steelers no longer issue his number 59 to rookies or players that join the team.
8 Lynn Swann, WR, 1974-1982
The Steelers' first round pick of their famous 1974 draft, Lynn Swann would have a Hall of Fame career that included amazing catches and a Super Bowl MVP award for his incredible game against the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl X.
Coming from USC, Swann had to get accustomed to playing for a team that stressed defense first, with eventual Hall of Fame players butting heads with the offense every day in practice. He learned quickly that to play ‘Steeler Football’ which meant you had to be tough, and he learned that even more in 1975 when he was knocked out of the AFC Title Game against the Oakland Raiders.
He wouldn’t stay down, and recovered to make a comeback to take the field in Super Bowl X, and made four great catches in the game, two of which are still shown frequently on NFL Films to this day.
That day he caught four passes for 161 yards and took home the MVP in the 21-17 win. He had a big day a few years later in Super Bowl XIII, another win over the Cowboys in which he caught seven passes for 124 yards and touchdown in the 35-31 win.
In his career, Swann caught 336 passes for 5,462 yards and 51 touchdowns. He went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.
7 Mike Webster, C, 1974-1988
The anchor of an offensive line that not only opened up holes for Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris, but also kept quarterback Terry Bradshaw clean and upright as he looked downfield for his two favorite targets.
Webster never missed a beat as the leader of the line, playing in every game from 1976 to 1985. He came to Pittsburgh after being picked in the fifth round of the team’s legendary 1974 draft, and over 16 seasons missed just four games.
‘Iron Mike’ as he was known, was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and a nine-time All-Pro. He was picked for both the 1970’s and 1980’s NFL All-Decade teams, and went into the Hall of Fame in 1997.
His number 52 has never been re-issued by the Steelers since he left the team in 1988, playing his last two seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs.
6 John Stallworth, WR, 1974-1987
John Stallworth always seemed to take a backseat to Lynn Swann, but by the time his career was over, he had undoubtedly stepped out of Swann's shadow. He pulled in 537 receptions for 8,723 yards and 63 TDs in his career, numbers that stood for the franchise lead until surpassed by Hines Ward.
The three-time Pro Bowl selection was the Steelers fourth-round pick in their historical 1974 draft. He became the starter in his second season with the Steelers, and never gave up the spot until he walked away from the game following the 1987 season.
His finest statistical season came in 1984, when he put up 1,395 yards on 80 catches with 11 touchdowns, helping the Steelers reach the AFC Championship game.
Stallworth was given the games highest honor in 2002 when he was placed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
5 Mel Blount, CB, 1970-1983
Mel Blount changed the game when it came to the cornerback position, as eventually the NFL instituted the ‘Mel Blount rule,’ the rule that stands today in which defensive players are not allowed to harass players past five yards.
It didn’t stop Blount from being one of the best corners that ever played the game. He was a physical marvel, using all of his 6'3", 205 pound frame to shut down receivers and also make big hits on offensive players if they were able to come up with the ball.
He was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1975, a year in which the Steelers defense helped the team win their second Super Bowl. Blount’s career ended with 57 interceptions and two touchdowns, and he went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989.
During his career he was honored with five Pro Bowl selections and four All-Pro selections. The four-time Super Bowl champion was also on the 1980’s NFL All-Decade team as well as the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team.
4 Jack Lambert, MLB, 1974-1984
Many scouts thought that Jack Lambert was too small to play linebacker in the NFL. Opposing quarterbacks, as well as those those scouts, learned the hard way that nothing could be further from the truth.
Lambert was a dominant force for the Steelers during his 11-year career, playing at a level that raised the Steelers defenses to legendary status. Over a nine-year span Lambert was selected to nine Pro Bowls, and no one in the game was as intimating as Lambert, who struck fear into opposing offenses.
He was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1976, a year in which many say the Steelers had their all-time best defense, a unit that allowed just 138 points and put up a remarkable five shutouts in their final nine games.
Upon leaving the game in 1984, Lambert ended his career with 23.5 sacks and 28 interceptions. He went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.
3 Franco Harris, RB, 1972-1983
While the Steelers' foundation in the 1970’s was defense, the team never won anything until Franco Harris came along. He was the workhorse back of a Steelers backfield that helped the team win four Super Bowls in the 1970’s.
Harris went to nine straight Pro Bowls, leading the Steelers in all-time rushing with 12,120 yards, and also put up 1,000 plus yards in eight seasons. He put up 1,556 yards in 19 posteason games, and is the main character in the most famous play in NFL history – the ‘Immaculate Reception,’ a play that won the Steelers their first ever playoff game in 1972 against the Oakland Raiders.
His 91 career touchdowns rank 10th in history, tied with fellow Steeler Jerome Bettis. He went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.
2 Terry Bradshaw, QB, 1970-1983
The leader of the Steelers offense during their legendary era of the 1970’s, it took some time for Terry Bradshaw to become the quarterback that would eventually win four Super Bowls for the Steelers.
He was the first pick in the 1970 draft, and while he became the starter in 1971, he didn’t truly start to play his best football for another few years, being pulled by coach Chuck Noll on more than one occasion. Once he did start to play better, he helped the Steelers offense reach its potential throwing to players like Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.
Bradshaw’s best season was 1978 when he led the NFL with 28 touchdowns and the team to a 14-2 record on their way to winning their third Super Bowl. He was the NFL MVP that season. He also was the Super Bowl MVP in wins in Super Bowls XIII and XIV.
The QB was 14-5 in 19 postseason games for the Steelers, and was 107-51 as the starter for the Steelers under center. His bust went on display in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989.
1 Joe Greene, DT, 1969-1981
No one dominated games the way ‘Mean Joe’ Greene did back during his prime in the early to late 1970’s. He was the Steelers first draft pick under new coach Chuck Noll in 1969, and to this day is considered one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history.
Greene was an 10-time Pro Bowl selection, and two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He was the leader of the famous “Steel Curtain” the Steelers defensive line that dominated games during their four title runs in the 1970’s.
In 181 games Greene amassed 78.5 sacks to go along with 16 fumble recoveries. He changed the way the game was played, introducing the stunt 4-3 defense, lining up at an angle to take on multiple blockers at a time.
It’s hard to imagine anyone else at the top of the list for the Steelers as the best player in the history of the organization. He went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.
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