When fans, like me, are unable to walk into our favorite stadium, the TV serves as our coliseum. With beers or cokes in our right hand , a handful of chips in the other and cheese sauce dripping off the chin, we scream delight when a play goes for 10 yards. Our voice crackles with emotion after a TD and the bottle tops fly off another beverage. When an opponent scores or manages an unlikely first down, emitting from the room are loud protests include feet stomping and seemingly endless chatter directed toward the TV as if the Steelers players and coaches or commentators can really hear us.
Football fans, and I think especially Steeler fans, are blindly loyal. With our"Terrible Towels," tight fitting jerseys and unusual hat attire, we look like a band of revolutionaries. We conger up nicknames, like Franco's Italian Army or the Ward Unit, and it has always been that way since the 1970s when Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Mel Blount, Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris turned the NFL on its ear with dominant football. To us, the Steelers are a hard-hitting, hard-nosed football team that represents its city's steel working blue collar heritage .
Our observations are such that we see the Steelers as the classiest of football franchises, led by the Rooney family. Since 1933,the Rooneys have run the franchise and only three head coaches - Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin - have run the on field show since the 1970s.
So this morning as I contemplated my fantasy football team and I 0pened up Twitter, I saw a tweet that the NFL Network was going to name the top 10 Pittsburgh Steelers players of all time. It made me halt my fantasy business and think about the NFL team that I love. I thought, how can they pick the best 10 ever? This is a proud franchise with a long history and one with more success than any other NFL team. Including playoff wins, the Steelers own a 574-533-21 record and have won, 19 division titles, seven conference titles with 26 playoff appearances. The franchise has compiled a 31-19 playoffs record (second to Dallas 32 playoff wins) and is the only NFL team with six Super Bowl championships (in seven appearances).
So, I thought, give it shot, Dan. Here is one Steeler's fan view.
1. Troy Polamalu. If ever a player represented the best in what an NFL player is about, it is Polamalu. I don't believe there is a bigger prime time defender than this USC graduate. The work he does on the field is matched by his unbelievable service mentality. At a time when athletes clamor they aren't role models, he is. On the field, Polamalu has scored 3 TDs and intercepted 26 passes, including six this season. Of his 515 tackles, 393 have been solo stops and he has recorded eight QB sacks. The only safety ever drafted in the first round by the Steelers, Polamalu has earned five All-Pro honors and led Pittsburgh to a pair of Super Bowl titles. And folks, he isn't done. A sure-fire Hall of Famer, Polamalu is one of the few defensive players that teams prepare to face. He ranks number one in my book because of his passion for the game and his propensity for big time plays. Recall the Ravens game two weeks ago when he sacked Joe Flacco and forced a fumble deep in Raven territory. It set up the Steelers for the winning score. Polamalu returned an interception for a clinching TD to defeat Baltimore and send Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl in 2009. And, that was one just one of many such game-turning plays by the Steeler's greatest ever difference maker.
2. "Mean" Joe Greene. Everyone recalls the Coke commercial, "Hey Kid," when Greene tossed a youngster his jersey after the kid proffered his bottle of Coke. It brought out a human side to the man who was the fiercest defensive tackle ever. Yet, this is the man who was responsible for helping make Pittsburgh into a winner. Greene, who starred at North Texas, dominated his position in a way few have ever done. Players in the league feared Greene. Along with Eagles/Packers star Reggie White, I consider him without match on the defensive front. A 10-time Pro Bowl performer, he led the Steelers to four Super Bowl wins and twice earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. In his career, Greene, a 1987 Hall of Fame inductee, played 12 years, was named All-NFL five times and the 1969 first round pick (fourth overall pick) was the original member of the famed "Steel Curtain." He finished his career with 78.5 sacks, 16 fumble recoveries and was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in both 1972 and 1974. Greene was the heart and soul of NFL's greatest team of the 70's.
3. Jack Lambert. Named to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1990, Lambert, a Kent State graduate, was named to nine straight All-Pro teams in leading the Steelers to four Super Bowl titles in 11 seasons. Steeler fans identified with his passion and unbelievable energy. He was "plum" mean and one of the game's greatest middle linebackers. Pound for pound, few players ever dominated a game like Lambert. When Cliff Harris of Dallas taunted Roy Gerela after a missed field goal in the Super Bowl, Lambert became the enforcer he was and pushed Harris to the turf. While it might have resulted in a costly penalty, it sent a message to the Cowboys that they better think twice before messing with a Lambert teammate. The NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1976, he accumulated 28 interceptions, 23 1/2 sacks and had 1,045 solo tackles to go with 1400 overall stops. His play in 1976 was remarkable as he led a defense that ranked #1 in every category and during one nine-game span allowed just two TDs and a total of 28 points, including five shutouts. While the Steelers didn't win the Super Bowl that season, the defense has to be one of the greatest ever.
4. Terry Bradshaw. The Steeler's number one pick in 1970, Bradshaw was one of the leaders of a Steeler team that became the first ever NFL team to win four Super Bowls (in four tries). He compiled a 14-5 record in the playoffs and threw for 27,989 yards and compiled 234 TDs (212 passing). Drafted #1 in 1970 out of Louisiana Tech, Bradshaw led the Steelers to a 107-51 record as a starter. Bradshaw was an emotional, but big time performer. He was on the throwing end of the NFL's greatest play ever - the Immaculate Reception. A Hall of Fame honoree, Bradshaw was named to three Pro Bowls, was the league MVP in 1978 and was the Super Bowl MVP twice.
5. Jack Ham. It has been said that Ham was the model of the perfect linebacker. Fundamentally disciplined, the Penn State graduate was named to six All-Pro teams and eight Pro Bowls. In his career, he had 25 sacks, 21 fumble recoveries, and 32 interceptions. A consortium of pro football writers has named him the greatest outside linebacker ever, even better than Lawrence Taylor. While I am not sure about - Taylor was one of the most dominating players ever. Still, Ham was great in coverage and rarely was fooled and was one of the best cover linebackers to ever play in the NFL. A 1988 inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he has regularly been included in top 100 lists of best players ever in the NFL. Called Dobre Shunka (Slovik or Polish for "Good Ham"), he played on the four Super Bowl teams, although he missed one of the games due to injury.
6. Rod Woodson. A graduate of Purdue University, Woodson may rank as the greatest athlete in Steeler's history and maybe one of the three or four best athletes in NFL history. During his stellar career, Woodson, a 2009 Hall of Fame inductee, had the NFL's third most interceptions ever with 71, including an NFL record 12 interception returns for TDs. He played for four teams, including 10 years with the Steelers, where he was on the 2005 Super Bowl runner up and later he led the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl title in 1998 (and yes that hurt to see him in that God-awful Raven outfit). He was one of the great return specialists in NFL history with two punt returns and two kickoff returns for TDs and also accumulated 32 fumble recoveries. The 1993 Defensive Player of the Year, he was elected to the Pro Bowl 11 times, making All-Pro seven times.
7. Jerome Bettis/Franco Harris. The Notre Dame graduate retired from the NFL in 2006 after leading the Steelers to the NFL Super Bowl title. Bettis was one of the league's greatest ever power backs who used his quick feet and unbelievable strength to make a difference. He retired as the fifth all-time leading rusher in league history with 13,366 yards and 91 TDs. In his first six seasons in Pittsburgh, Bettis had at least 1,000 yards rushing with a 1997 best of 1,665 yards. When eligible, he is a sure-fire Hall of Fame selection.
Harris, a 1990 Hall of Fame selection, was on the receiving end of the Immaculate reception, a 60 yard jaunt that made the nation take notice of the upstart Steelers in 1972. Harris, who won the Super Bowl MVP IX with 158 yards and a TD, remains the all-time rusher for Pittsburgh and finished his career (including two seasons in Seattle) with 12, 12o yards rushing and 100 TDs. A nine time Pro Bowl performer, he was selected All-Pro seven times and was the 1972 NFL Rookie of the Year. The Penn State graduate was named to the NFL's 1970s All-Decade team.
8. Mel Blount. In certain NFL circles, Mel Blount is the greatest of all Pittsburgh Steelers. Due to his physical nature the 1989 Hall of Fame selection formed the NFL to change its pass defense rule because of his dominant bump and run coverage. The greatest cornerback in Steeler's history and I believe in the history of the league, Blount is likely the only NFL defensive player that had a rule name because of his dominant style. During his career, he set the all-time Steelers record with 57 interceptions, including returning two for TDs. In each of his 14 seasons, he had at least one interception. He was named the league defensive player of the year in 1975. A third round pick out of Southern University, Blount played in five Pro Bowls, was All-Pro four times and selected to the NFL's 1980s All-Decade Team.
9. L.C. Greenwood. With 4.7 speed in the 40, the 6'6 defensive end from Alabama AM&N was a prime time performer. He had five QB sacks in four games and he knocked down three passes in the SB win over Minnesota, 16-6. A six-time All-Pro, Greenwood had 73 1/2 sacks and 14 fumble recoveries. Identified by his golden shoes, Greenwood was one of the members of the Steel Curtain, which dominated the NFL in the 1970s.
10. John Stallworth/Hines Ward. Like with the running backs, Stallworth and Ward make my list tied for 10th. Stallworth was a dominating receiver that received less publicity than teammate Lynn Swann but he was arguably better. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 2002, Stallworth had 12 postseason TD catches and had 17 consecutive postseason games with at least one reception. He set Super Bowl records for career average per catch at 24.4 yards and was a two-time team MVP. He retired as the Steelers all-time leader in receptions with 537, yards 8,723, and also had 25 10-yard receiving games and 63 TDs.
Hines Ward will go down in history as the most physical receiver to play for Pittsburgh. He has the most receptions in team history with 949 and has 11,657 yards receiving with 82 TDs. A four-time All-Pro selection, he is the only Steeler receiver with four 1,000 yard seasons and had a career best 112 catches in 2002. He was the MVP of the Super Bowl XL with 123 yards receiving. But what sets Ward apart is his physical toughness. The Georgia graduate has played 13 seasons but is regarded as the toughest receiver and the best blocker among NFL wideouts. He epitomizes the Steelers tradition perhaps better than any other current Steeler aside from Polamalu.
My list does not include players pre-1970 because only one, Ernie Stautner, would compete for a top 10 spot. Sure Bobby Layne was an all-time great quarterback but his great days were with the Detroit Lions.
Stautner, one of the league's toughest players ever, was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection as he anchored the Steelers defense for 14 seasons. A 1969 Hall of Fame selection, Stautner missed just six games in 14- year career. The Steelers retired his No. 70 jersey and he remains the only Steeler to have that honor. I also considered Hall of Fame inductee Bill Dudley, a 1946 league MVP. I must also note John Henry Johnson, who played just five years in Pittsburgh. A 1987 Hall of Fame inductee, he became the first Steeler to eclipse the 1000 yard mark. Jack Butler, who made the all decade team in the 1950s, had 52 interceptions but also falls short of the top 10.
Other candidates include Mike Webster, who I consider the greatest NFL center of all time. I also had to bypass linebacking great Andy Russell, defensive back extraordinaire Mike Wagner, offensive lineman Alan Faneca, Jon Kolb and Dermontti Dawson; wideouts Frank Lewis, Louis Lipps and Lynn Swann; defensive lineman Dwight White and Aaron Smith and Ben Roethlisberger, all players with special and unique talents but aren't top 10 material.