For nearly a century that the Pittsburgh Steelers have been in the NFL, there has been no shortage of great players. From high Super Bowl turnovers to record-breaking performances, these players have captivated NFL fans with their skill and talent. To find out which of them are the most beloved, here are five of the best Steelers players of all time.
Americans take football so seriously that half of them have ended a friendship over an on-field rivalry. A survey of 2,000 U.S. football fans examined how respondents celebrate game day, finding that 52 percent have called it quits with a friend because they support their favorite team’s rival. When their team loses, it takes an average of three days to get over the loss. Still, that hasn’t stopped fans from continuing to cheer for their favorite team from their favorite place.
Fans of the Steelers know that the team has a storied history of producing some of the NFL’s most iconic and talented players. From the legendary quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who led the team to four Super Bowl victories in the 1970s, to the indomitable Franco Harris, whose “Immaculate Reception” remains one of the most memorable plays in football history, the Steelers have consistently showcased top-tier talent. More recently, Ben Roethlisberger, the franchise’s all-time leading passer, has continued the tradition of excellence, solidifying his place among the greats of the league.
So, which athletes stand out in Steelers history? StudyFinds did the research, consulting 10 football and sports-related websites to bring you a list of the best Steelers players of all time. Our list comprises the five most frequently listed football legends from across these sites. Were your favorite Steelers players left off the list? Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!
The List: Best Steelers Players, Per Sports Experts
1. Jack Lambert
Jack Lambert was the physical embodiment of Pittsburgh Steelers football during the 1970s. “A man who once said, ‘Give me a six-pack and let’s go play ’em again,’ Lambert brought a physical and intimidating edge to a Pittsburgh defense that was already pretty frightening heading into the 1974 season. But with Lambert in the lineup, the Steelers’ defense became arguably the greatest unit in NFL history,” says CBS Sports.
Lambert was a linebacker from 1974 to 1984, a nine-time Pro Bowler, six-time first-team All-Pro, and Hall of Fame Class of 1990. “In the 28 years that I helped evaluate prospects for the Cowboys, Lambert was the highest-rated defensive player I ever saw. He looked like Ichabod Crane, tall and thin, but when making a play on the football field, he got there in a hurry and was nasty. We haven’t seen a player like him since,” states Former VP of Player Personnel for the Cowboys, Gil Brandt.
According to Not In Hall Of Fame, “Lambert was arguably the final piece of the puzzle to create the Steelers dynasty, as Lambert, Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, and Franco Harris would win the Super Bowl that year. As we know, that would be the first of four Super Bowls of the decade, and Lambert was at the heart of all of them.”
2. Rod Woodson
For the first 10 years of his career, Rod Woodson played over 100 games for the Steelers. “Woodson holds the record for the most fumble recoveries by a defensive player and the most interceptions returned for touchdowns. He was selected for several All-Time teams and received the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 1993,” according to Steel City Underground.
He was the most reliable cornerback in the NFL during his time. He broke multiple records that have remained unbeaten. “The shutdown corner won Defensive Player of the Year in 1993. The Steelers let him walk in free agency in 1996. Big mistake. He moved to safety with the Baltimore Ravens and had a career comeback. Woodson won the Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2000 as a star on the greatest defense of all time,” says Yardbarker.
Woodson’s signature moment as a Steeler came in Super Bowl XXX. He tore his ACL in the season’s opening game and returned in time for the big game just 19 weeks later. “Woodson ranks third all-time with 71 career interceptions. Perhaps more impressively, he was able to parlay his many takeaways into 13 defensive touchdowns. That mark is tied with Charles Woodson and Darren Sharper for the most in league history,” states the Bleacher Report.
3. Franco Harris
Franco Harris will forever be known for his role in what may be the greatest play in NFL history called “The Immaculate Reception.” “By improbably corralling a deflected pass and taking it the distance, Harris helped the Steelers to their first playoff win and put an end to 40 years of futility. However, Harris meant much more to the Steelers than simply one great play. Harris ran for more than 12,000 yards in his career and topped the 1,000-yard plateau eight times, an NFL record at the time of his retirement,” says Bleacher Report.
Franco was the Steelers leading rusher fullback in the 1970s. “Harris won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1972 and went to nine Pro Bowls. At one point, Harris was so dominant that he ran for 1,000 yards or more in six seasons in a row. The workhorse back carried the Steelers offense to four Super Bowl victories,” informs Yardbarker. Harris’ exceptional performance on the field not only earned him numerous accolades but also solidified his status as one of the greatest running backs in NFL history. His ability to consistently deliver under pressure made him a crucial asset to the Steelers’ success during that era.
With running back Franco Harris and the powerful Steelers offensive line of the 1970s, it finally led to championships. “When people talk about ‘Steelers football,’ they mean intimidating defense and the ability to control the ball with the running game. It’s a tough, hard-nosed style of play that grinds opponents down and makes them wish they were someplace else by the time the fourth quarter comes around. This has been part of Steelers lore since the 1950s,” states Sports Illustrated.
4. Joe Greene
Otherwise known as “Mean” Joe Greene, Greene was one of the most intimidating players of his time. “Joe was the anchor of the strongest defense the Steelers have ever had, which ultimately led to the four Super Bowl victories of the ‘70s. Greene was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year twice. He was the NFL Man of the Year in 1979, an eight-time All-Pro, and one of the few NFL players to have their jersey number retired from all forms of professional play,” says Steel City Underground.
In addition to Chuck Noll, nobody was more important to the Steelers’ legendary turnaround than Joe Greene. “Greene was initially displeased to be joining a subpar squad, and he took out much of his frustration on his opponents. One such incident included an altercation with Dick Butkus, the famed and frightening Bears linebacker,” informs Bleacher Report. This altercation showcased Greene’s fierce determination and set the tone for his dominant career. Despite his initial displeasure, Greene’s relentless drive and talent ultimately helped elevate the Steelers to become one of the most successful teams in NFL history.
Considered by some as the man who started it all, Greene stayed within the NFL, transferring his talent. “After football, Joe Greene became an assistant coach with the Steelers and other teams for 16 years and later served as Special Assistant to Player Personnel for the Steelers,” says Sports Illustrated. During his coaching career, Greene continued to demonstrate his passion for the game and his ability to inspire players. His contributions off the field were just as valuable as his on-field achievements, making him a true football icon.
5. Terry Bradshaw
Known as the Blonde Bomber, Bradshaw overcame a slow start to his career to become the first quarterback to win four Super Bowls. “Bradshaw was the second player to win two Super Bowl MVP awards while throwing for a combined 627 yards and six touchdowns in Pittsburgh’s wins in Super Bowls XIII and XIV,” says CBS Sports. Bradshaw’s success on the field was not limited to his Super Bowl victories. Throughout his career, he was also a two-time All-Pro selection and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989.
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Before Roethlisberger became one of the most beloved quarterbacks in Steelers history, there was Bradshaw at the helm of the team who helped the black and gold dominate. “Terry Bradshaw made his debut in 1970, and the next decade would be the franchise’s most successful ever. He led the team to a Super Bowl win in 1975, the team’s first-ever,” shares Rookie Road.
Bradshaw’s passing numbers might not catch your eye compared to what quarterbacks do today; he topped 3,000 yards just twice in his career. But nfl.com explains that “Bradshaw had tremendous ability as a thrower and a great arm. He had speed like a jackrabbit. And he was tough as all heck. The total package made him one of the best QBs of all time. Bradshaw was named NFL MVP in 1978 and was the MVP of two Super Bowls.”
You might also be interested in:
- Steelers Wire
- CBS Sports
- Not In Hall Of Fame
- Rookie Road
- Steel City Underground
- Bleacher Report
- Sports Illustrated
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