Monday, February 7, 2022

The Franchise 9: Pittsburgh Steelers

Note: I'm a hack! I started writing this post on Thursday. On Saturday, ran a piece on the Top 15 Steelers to mark Ben Roethlisberger's retirement. Our lists are different, so it was an interesting read. But the timing of this post with that article was entirely coincidental.
Outside of the New England Tom Bradys, the Pittsburgh Steelers are the most successful franchise in the Super Bowl Era. They have made eight trips to the big game, under three head coaches with three different quarterbacks, behind only New England's 11. Their six wins are tied with the Patriots for most Super Bowl wins by a franchise. What separates the Steelers from the Patriots in this regard is the fact that Pittsburgh is the only team to play in the Super Bowl at least in every decade from the 1970s to the 2010s. They missed out on the first three Super Bowls (the 60s) and have yet to make it in the first three games this decade. Other than that, they have represented the AFC in every decade. As a result, the Hall of Fame is loaded with Steelers. There were some great players left off of this list, but even with all the talent cast aside, this team would be one of the best Franchise 9 teams you could find.

1. Terry Bradshaw, QB (2014 Topps Valor)

At first glance, Terry Bradshaw's stats don't jump off the page. He's second on the Steelers' all-time passing list, but his yardage total has been more than doubled by the next guy on this list. His career 70.9 passer rating would get him fired in today's game. But his record as the team's QB was 107-51, good for a gaudy .677 percentage and an average of 11 wins per season. And let's not forget the 4-0 Super Bowl record. No, by today's standards, his numbers look pedestrian, but in his time he was a three-time Pro Bowl, MVP-winning, All-Pro superstar.

2. Ben Roethlisberger, QB (2013 Topps Strata)

Big Ben just announced his retirement a week ago. We've seen the last of the Steelers' all-time leading passer. He spent the entirety of his career in Black and Gold, winning two Super Bowls while passing for 64,088 yards and 418 TDs. He was voted to six Pro Bowls and took home the Rookie of the Year award.

3. Franco Harris, RB (1983 Topps)

With 11,950 yards, Franco Harris has rushed for more yards than any other Steeler ever. With 100 touchdowns (91 rushing, 9 receiving), he has spent more time in the end zone than any other Steeler. In his career, Harris was selected to six Pro Bowls, one All-Pro team, a Rookie of the Year award, one Super Bowl MVP, the 1970s- All-Decade Team, and the Hall of Fame. He is the most prolific running back in Pittsburgh history.

4. Mike Webster, C (1984 Topps)

Mike Webster is arguably the gold standard for centers in the NFL. He spent the first 15 seasons of his career in Pittsburgh, garnering five 1st-Team All-Pro nods and nine Pro Bowls. He played his way onto not one, but two different All-Decade Teams. And, of course, he has a bust in Canton now. Last year, when the NFL announced its 100th Anniversary Team, Webster was one of the centers.

5. Joe Greene, DT (1980 Topps)

"Mean" Joe Greene is one of only two Steelers to ever have his number retired. (The other is old-timer Ernie Stautner, #70.) Arguably the heart and soul of the Steelers' Steel Curtain defense, and even the entire four-time Super Bowl champion team of the 70s, Greene was an absolutely dominant force on the defensive line. He was either a Pro Bowler or an All-Pro in each of the first 10 seasons of his career. From the very beginning, he was bringing home awards, winning Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1969. He won Defensive Player of the Year in 1972 and 1974. He was a shoo-in to the Hall of Fame and the NFL All-Time Team. And he spent his entire career with the Steelers.


6. Jack Ham, LB (2013 Panini Prizm Decade Dominance)

The only Pittsburgh defender with more approximate value than Joe Greene is Jack Ham, according to Pro Football Reference. From 1974-1979, Ham reeled off six straight All-Pro seasons, book-ended by a pair of Pro Bowl berths. Like teammates Bradshaw, Harris, Webster, and Greene, Ham played his way onto the All-Decade Team of the 1970s--and into Canton. Oh, and last year he was named to the NFL's All-Time Team.


7. Jack Lambert, LB (1982 Topps)

Another Steeler, another spot on the 1970s All-Decade Team. That's six on this list. And to think I left some off... But anyway, let's talk about Jack Lambert. Lambert managed not only to play his way onto the All-70s team, but the All-Decade 1980s team, too. Like Greene, Lambert started his career with a Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 1974. Two seasons later, he graduated to Defensive Player of the Year, also earning the first of his six All-Pro nominations that year. Since his career ended, he has been honored with an induction to the Hall of Fame and a spot on the NFL's All-Time Team. That makes two linebackers from the same corps, on the field together, both considered among the top 12 to ever play. That makes three from the Steel Curtain of the 70s defense all on that team. (And I left one off this list!)


8. Troy Polamalu, S (2015 Topps Chrome)

Looking at the statistics, Troy Polamalu falls below a few defensive backs in Steeler history. When the relative shortness of his career is considered, however, Polamalu stands out as having the third-best AV/Game among Pittsburgh DBs. I take that stat as a measure of a player's explosiveness and a way to separate higher-impact players with shorter careers from accumulators who played forever. Polamalu was an explosive, high-impact player. For example, he had 39 takeaways (interceptions and fumble recoveries) in his career and he returned 7 of them for touchdowns. In 12 seasons, he was named eight Pro Bowls and four AP All-Pro First Teams (and two 2nd-Team All-Pro), with a Defensive Player of the Year award in 2010. He was an All-Decade performer and a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But what really sets Polamalu apart is his star power. I've never seen a safety more well-known and recognizable than he has been.

9. Rod Woodson, CB (1991 Upper Deck)

Ho-hum, just another Steeler who found a place on the NFL's 100th Anniversary All-Time Team. Rod Woodson developed a reputation as a playmaker in his 17-year NFL career. The first 10 of those years, Woodson was making plays for the Black and Gold. Woodson's an interesting study here because his first All-Pro nod came when he led the NFL in kick return average and touchdowns in 1989. He may have made his first splash as a returner, but in four of the next five seasons, Woodson made the same team as a cornerback. In 1993, his eight picks and a touchdown led him to the Defensive Player of the Year award. Woodson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.

I feel this team has all the star power it needs, but the opinions will probably vary on it. That's just what will happen when a number of Hall of Famers are left off of a franchise's all-time greats list. For the record, these are the Hall of Fame players who did not make the cut here: Mel Blount, Donnie Shell, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, Dermontti Dawson, Alan Faneca, and Jerome Bettis. Add to that list All-Decade performers such as L.C. Greenwood, Carnell Lake, Levon Kirkland, Antonio Brown, and Joey Porter. Most teams would have solid performers like Greg Lloyd (arguably should have been an All-1990s guy), Hines Ward (has a solid case as a better receiver than the two Hall of Famers in franchise history), James Harrison, or Cameron Heyward easily on this list. But not Pittsburgh. This is the most storied, consistent franchise in the Super Bowl Era and there are only nine slots. I'm dying to hear your own list. Make yourself heard in the comments!



Some notes on this series:

  1. This includes Super Bowl Era players only.
  2. The "nine" in Franchise 9 is to fill a page in a binder. There is no intent to fill a roster or even a starting lineup.
  3. A player can represent multiple teams.
  4. I tried to find a balance between steady producers with longevity and explosive players with shorter careers. Time with the team does count for something, as does impact with the team.
  5. For a link to Franchise 9 lists that I have already posted, click here.
  6. This is all subjective, so I'd love to hear whom you would choose!



  1. It's not surprising to see which era most of these guys came from.

  2. The Steelers have such a rich history... there were a bunch of guys bound to be left off this page.

  3. As a die hard Steelers fan, I will not argue with any of your choices for this all time team. Each player you selected deserves his spot on the team. Thank you for the great reprsentation of my team.