Top 10 Pittsburgh Steelers Players of All Time

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The Steelers are one the most legendary teams in the NFL, with a legacy that dates back to 1933. The team struggled for the better part of four decades until the arrival of head coach Chuck Noll in 1969 ushered in the championship dynasty of the '70s.

The Steelers have been a perennial playoff contender ever since and have racked up eight Super Bowl appearances and six Lombardi Trophies over the years. Today there are 24 Steelers enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and a few more waiting in the wings.

In this article, you’ll read about the 10 greatest Steelers ever to wear the black and gold. These are the athletes who made the franchise what it is today. But how do we choose the 10 all-time best from an organization with such a long list of great players?

Selection Criteria:

For the purposes of this top 10 list, I considered the universal achievements common to all players and weighted them based on significance. I limited my contenders to Steelers who are already in the Hall of Fame. That means some of the greats from the latest Super Bowls are not yet eligible for my list, but more on them later.

To rank the 10 best Steelers, I considered:

  • Number of years as a Steeler
  • Contributions to a Steelers Super Bowl championship
  • Super Bowl MVP awards
  • Pro Bowls
  • First-team NFL Associated Press (AP) All-Pro Team selections
  • Offensive or Defensive AP Player of the Year awards
  • NFL Most Valuable Player awards
  • Bert Bell Awards (NFL Player of the Year)

Of course it should go without saying that I only considered player accomplishments while part of the Steelers organization.

Who Are the Best Steelers Players in History?

These criteria should give us a list of the best Steelers based on their achievements during their playing career, their dominance compared to their contemporaries, their contributions to the team, and their impact on the league.

I was surprised at the results, and equally surprised by who did not make the list.

10. Mel Blount

As most football fans know, defensive backs in the NFL are not allowed to intentionally contact receivers more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. We can thank former Steelers cornerback Mel Blount for that rule.

Accolades

  • 5x Pro Bowl
  • 2x All-Pro
  • 4x Super Bowl Champion
  • 1x Defensive Player of the Year
  • Hall of Fame Class of 1989

From 1970 to '83, Blount harassed, abused and intimidated opposing receivers into submission, making him a perfect fit for the hyper-aggressive Steelers defense of the '70s. In '78, the NFL disallowed contact with receivers downfield, at least in part due to Blount’s rough playing style.

During his 200 games as a Steeler, he tallied 57 interceptions and returned two for touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl five times, All-Pro twice, and was named AP Defensive Player of the Year in 1975. And, of course, Blount was a key ingredient in the Steelers' four Super Bowl wins of the ‘70s.

He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989.

Number of Seasons With the Steelers

14

Standout Stats

  • 200 Games as a Steeler
  • 57 Interceptions for 736 yards and 2 TDs
  • 13 Fumble Recoveries, 2 TDs

Where Is He Now?

After football, Blount served as Director of Player Relations for the NFL from 1983 to '90, and went on to found youth homes for victims of child abuse.

9. Terry Bradshaw

Quarterback Terry Bradshaw helmed the Steelers from 1970 to '83. He was tough as nails, unafraid of contact and a true field general. He was the perfect quarterback for a team built on Steel City attitude.

Accolades

  • 3x Pro Bowl
  • 1x All-Pro
  • 1x NFL MVP
  • 1x Bert Bell Award (NFL Player of the Year)
  • 4x Super Bowl Champion
  • 2x Super Bowl MVP
  • Hall of Fame Class of 1989

Perhaps more than any other quarterback in NFL history, Bradshaw requires us to ask ourselves what truly constitutes greatness at the position. Some may feel he deserves to be higher on this list, while others might think the ninth spot is generous.

In his favor, he brought four Super Bowl championships to Pittsburgh, and won MVP in two of them. He was elected to three Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team. He was awarded the NFL MVP Award for his performance during the 1978 season, as well as the Bert Bell Award for NFL Player of the Year.

However, at least during the first half of his career, the Steelers offense was largely predicated on a dominant running game to go with their Steel Curtain Defense. Bradshaw's performances usually weren’t spectacular, and compared to other quarterbacks of his day, his numbers were not impressive. He even lost his starting job to Joe Gilliam going into the 1974 season.

Today, Terry Bradshaw is among the most beloved of former Steelers. All told, he completed 2,025 of 3,901 passes (51.9%) for 27,989 yards, 212 touchdowns, and 210 interceptions. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989.

Number of Seasons With the Steelers

14

Standout Stats

  • 168 Games as a Steeler
  • 27,989 Passing Yards
  • 212 Passing TDs
  • 2,257 Rushing Yards
  • 32 Rushing TDs

Where Is He Now?

After football, Bradshaw went on to a career in broadcasting, and today he is a pro-football analyst and co-host of Fox NFL Sunday.

8. Franco Harris

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 ‘50s, but with running back Franco Harris and the powerful Steelers offensive line of the ‘70s, it finally led to championships.

Accolades

  • 9x Pro Bowl
  • 1x All-Pro
  • 4x Super Bowl Champion
  • 1x Super Bowl MVP
  • 1972 Offensive Rookie of the Year
  • Hall of Fame Class of 1990

Harris was a big back at 6'2 and 230 pounds. He possessed the power to bowl over defenders, but also a smooth, gliding gait and surprising speed. From 1972 to '83, he was the foundation of a Steelers rushing attack that routinely ranked among the best in the NFL.

Harris typically ran out of a pro set, meaning two split backs in the backfield. He shared the spotlight with running mates such as John “Frenchy” Fuqua, Rocky Bleier and Sidney Thornton throughout his career, and opposing defenses always had another back to worry about. In fact, Bleier and Harris each ran for over 1,000 yards during the 1976 season.

Harris amassed a total of 12,120 rushing yards and 91 touchdowns on 2,949 carries during his 173-game NFL career, most of it with the Steelers. At the time he retired, he ranked third all-time among NFL rushers. He earned four Super Bowl rings along with one Super Bowl MVP, made All-Pro once, and was voted to nine straight Pro Bowls.

He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.

Number of Seasons With the Steelers

12

Standout Stats

  • 165 Games as a Steeler
  • 11,950 Rushing Yards*
  • 4.1 YPC*
  • 91 Rushing TDs*

* Stats with Steelers. Harris finished his career with Seattle in 1984.

Where Is He Now?

Harris went on to become a successful businessman and product spokesman when his playing days were done.

7. Troy Polamalu

From his position at strong safety, Polamalu tormented opposing offenses with his hyper-aggressive playing style. At times, he seemed reckless, a tornado of black and gold hell-bent on the destruction of whatever unlucky soul might lie in his path. However, this approach made him one of the greatest defensive backs of his generation, and possibly of all time.

Accolades

  • 8x Pro Bowl
  • 4x All-Pro
  • 2x Super Bowl Champion
  • 1x Defensive Player of the Year
  • Hall of Fame Class of 2020

Polamalu was an improviser on the field, and he often seemed to have an uncanny sixth sense for knowing where a play was going. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau granted him the freedom to follow his hunches, and free safety Ryan Clark—whom Polamalu shared the field with for eight years of his 12-year career—always had his back should he guess wrong.

Polamalu became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2020 and made the cut on his first ballot. During his career he intercepted 32 passes, scored five defensive touchdowns, and racked up 12 sacks. He earned eight Pro Bowl bids, four All-Pro nominations, and won NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2010.

Number of Seasons With the Steelers

12

Standout Stats

  • 158 Games as a Steeler
  • 32 Interceptions for 398 Yards and 3 TDs
  • 7 Fumbles Recovered for 120 Yards and 2 TDs
  • 12 Sacks

Where Is He Now?

Today, he is a businessman and product spokesman, as well as one of the most recognizable of former NFL players thanks to his long, flowing hair.

6. Dermontti Dawson

While the casual football fan may not know the name Dermontti Dawson, devoted Steelers fans certainly do. He was a member of the team from 1988 to 2000, and from '92 to '98, he was widely considered the best center in the NFL.

Accolades

  • 7x Pro Bowl
  • 6x All-Pro
  • Hall of Fame Class of 2012

Dawson was elected to the Pro Bowl seven times, and made first-team All-Pro an amazing six seasons straight. Offensive linemen don’t often get the credit they deserve, but Dawson has well earned the sixth spot on the list of greatest Steelers of all time.

He was the leader of a Steelers offensive line that allowed running back Barry Foster to rush for 1,690 yards in 1992, a team record that still stands today. In 1997, another of Dawson’s All-Pro seasons, Steelers back Jerome Bettis ran for 1,665 yards.

More importantly, he was part of the Bill Cowher–era rebirth of the franchise. Dawson and the Steelers made it to the team’s fifth Super Bowl following the 1995 season, only to lose to the Cowboys.

Dawson was voted into the Hall of Fame in 2012.

Number of Seasons With the Steelers

13

Standout Stats

  • 184 Games as a Steeler

Where Is He Now?

After football, Dawson went on to a career in business.

5. Rod Woodson

Cornerback Rod Woodson arrived in 1987, in the midst of a four-year playoff drought. He was a track star who possessed incredible speed and had clocked a 4.33-second 40-yard-dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine the previous spring. He quickly established himself not only as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, but also one of the best return men.

Accolades*

  • 7x Pro Bowl
  • 5x All-Pro
  • 1x Defensive Player of the Year
  • Hall of Fame Class of 2009

During his 10-year career in Pittsburgh, Woodson made seven Pro Bowls, and was voted first-team All-Pro five times. He intercepted 38 passes, five of which he returned for touchdowns. In 1993 he was named AP Defensive Player of the Year.

As a kick returner, Woodson was a game changer, running back two kicks and two punts for scores during his time with the Steelers.

Woodson was a superstar at a time when the Steelers desperately needed one. The heroes of the Super Bowl years of the ‘70s had all but vanished by time he arrived, and the Steelers were struggling. He played a key part in the resurgence of the team in the early ‘90s, and, while he was injured during the run-up to the 1995 Super Bowl, he still managed to make an appearance in the game.

After leaving Pittsburgh in 1996, Woodson went on to play for San Francisco, Baltimore, and Oakland before retiring at the age of 38. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.

Number of Seasons With the Steelers

10

Standout Stats*

  • 134 Games as a Steeler
  • 38 Interceptions for 779 Yards and 5 TDs
  • 22 Fumbles Recovered for 1 TD
  • 257 Punt Returns for 2,362 Yards and 2 TDs
  • 220 Kick Returns for 4,894 Yards and 2 TDs

Where Is He Now?

Woodson has worked as a football analyst and has served as the Raiders' defensive backs coach in his time since retirement.

* All accomplishments as a member of the Steelers. Woodson played for three other teams after leaving Pittsburgh.

4. Jack Ham

Many great outside linebackers have put on a Steelers uniform over the years, and it can be tough to rank them from second place and on. But it is pretty clear who is at the top of the list, and that’s Jack Ham. In fact, Ham was one of the best outside linebackers the NFL has ever seen.

Accolades

  • 8x Pro Bowl
  • 6x All-Pro
  • 4x Super Bowl Champion
  • Hall of Fame Class of 1988

Ham arrived in Pittsburgh in 1971 and soon took his position as a perennial starter in what would become one of the most legendary defenses in NFL history. The Steelers played a 4–3 defense back then, and outside linebackers needed to be tough, versatile and athletic.

Ham was up to the task and could rush the quarterback when called upon, cover backs out of the backfield and shut down running plays around the outside. He intercepted 32 passes during his career, an impressive number for a linebacker.

During his 12 seasons with the Steelers, he made a stunning eight straight Pro Bowls and six straight All-Pro teams. And, of course, he played a key role in four Super Bowl championships.

He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with the class of 1988.

Number of Seasons With the Steelers

12

Standout Stats

  • 162 Games as a Steeler
  • 32 Interceptions for 218 yards and 1 TD
  • 21 Fumble Recoveries for 1 TD
  • 3 Sacks*

* The NFL did not begin tracking sacks until 1982, Ham's final season.

Where Is He Now?

After football, Ham went on to a career in radio and is currently an announcer on the Penn State Radio Network.

3. Mike Webster

In the 1970s, the Steelers were known for their mean, tenacious, stingy defense. However, they had bullies on both sides of the ball, and the toughest offensive line in the business. Mike Webster was the leader of that offensive line, and one of the best centers ever to play the game.

Accolades

  • 9x Pro Bowl
  • 5x All Pro
  • 4x Super Bowl Champion
  • Hall of Fame Class of 1997

Drafted in 1974, Webster served as backup to longtime Steelers center Ray Mansfield before taking over the starting job in 1976. From '78 to '87 he made nine Pro Bowls and was a five-time first-team All-Pro selection. He was a member of four Steelers Super Bowl champion teams.

He earned the nickname "Iron Mike" for his ability to play through pain without missing a game, and at one time had a streak of 150 consecutive starts.

Webster spent 15 years of his 17-year NFL career as a Steeler. When he left the team after the 1988 season, he was the last remaining player from the Super Bowl dynasty of the ‘70s.

Number of Seasons With the Steelers

15

Standout Stats

  • 220 Games as a Steeler

Where Is He Now?

Webster experienced a string of physical and psychological issues after football and sadly passed away in 2002 at the age of 50.

2. Jack Lambert

As an undersized 204-pound rookie in 1974, Jack Lambert was slated to serve as a backup outside linebacker until middle linebacker Henry Davis went down with an injury. Lambert stepped into the starting middle linebacker role, where he stayed until '84.

Accolades

  • 9x Pro Bowl
  • 6x All-Pro
  • 1974 Defensive Rookie of the Year
  • 1x Defensive Player of the Year
  • 4x Super Bowl Champion
  • Hall of Fame Class of 1990

Lambert earned Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1974. In the years that followed, he made nine Pro Bowls, six All-Pro teams, and played a key role in four Super Bowl victories. He was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in '76.

If ever there was a player who personified the attitude of the 1970s Steelers, it was Jack Lambert. He made up for his lack of size with speed, tenacity and just plain meanness. Lambert seemed in a perpetual bad mood while on the field, which he took out on his opponents in horribly violent ways. He was nicknamed "Count Dracula in Cleats," and he once declared that all quarterbacks should wear dresses.

Lambert’s signature moment occurred in Super Bowl X, when trash-talking Cowboys safety Cliff Harris mockingly consoled Steelers kicker Roy Gerela with a pat on the helmet after he had missed a field goal. Lambert grabbed Harris and slammed him to the turf, arguably shifting the momentum in a game the Steelers had been losing at that point.

It’s tough to imagine the Steelers of the ‘70s without Jack Lambert. He is regarded as one of the best middle linebackers in NFL history and well deserves a spot near the top of any list of the greatest Steelers of all time.

Lambert was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.

Number of Seasons With the Steelers

11

Standout Stats

  • 146 Games as a Steeler
  • 28 Interceptions for 243 Yards
  • 17 Fumble Recoveries
  • 8 Sacks*

* The NFL did not begin tracking sacks until 1982

Where Is He Now?

Following football, Lambert retired to a reclusive life where he served as a deputy wildlife officer and coached youth sports.

1. Joe Greene

When it came time for new Steelers coach Chuck Noll to make his first draft pick in 1969, he selected a defensive tackle from North Texas State named Joe Greene. “Mean” Joe Greene went on to play for 13 seasons in Pittsburgh, and helped bring four championships to the city.

Accolades

  • 10x Pro Bowl
  • 4x All-Pro
  • 2x Defensive Player of the Year
  • 4x Super Bowl Champion
  • 1969 Defensive Rookie of the Year
  • Hall of Fame Class of 1987

The Steelers were abysmal when Greene and Noll arrived, and had been for a long while. They finished 1–13 in 1969, though Greene took home the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. By 1972, the Steelers had improved to 11–3, their first winning season since '63.

In 1974, the key pieces of the Steel Curtain defense were in place, with Greene and Ernie Holmes at defensive tackles, and Dwight White and L.C. Greenwood at defensive ends. Lambert had taken his post at middle linebacker, with Jack Ham and veteran Andy Russell at the outside linebackers.

The Steelers dominated the ‘70s, and it all started with Joe Greene. He was one of the greatest defensive tackles of all time; he hated to lose, and he set the standard for the best defense of an era. Greene made an amazing 10 Pro Bowls during his career and four All-Pro teams. He earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year in both 1972 and '74.

The Steelers officially retired Greene’s No. 75 jersey in 2014, making him only the second Steeler ever to receive that honor. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.

Number of Seasons With the Steelers

13

Standout Stats

  • 181 Games as a Steeler
  • 1 Interception for 26 Yards
  • 16 Fumble Recoveries

Where Is He Now?

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.

Who Is the Greatest Steeler of All Time?

The greatest Steeler of all time is Joe Greene, the man who started it all. He was the first of the great Steelers of the '70s and one of the best ever at his position. His fierce playing style and drive to win set the tone for a decade of excellence and turned the fortunes of a franchise.

You could make a strong case for several of the players mentioned above as the greatest Steeler in history, but before Bradshaw, Lambert, Harris, Blount or any of the other superstars of the first Super Bowl dynasty, there was Mean Joe Greene.

Honorable Mentions

Some of my favorite Hall of Fame Steelers of all time missed the cut entirely! Here is the list of honorable mentions.

Ernie Stautner

Defensive lineman Ernie Stautner was a bright spot in an otherwise dark pre-1970s Steelers past. Undersized even for his era at 6'1 and 230 pounds, he made up for it with tenacity and toughness, and only missed six games during his entire career.

During his playing years from 1950 to '63, Stautner made nine Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro once, all during a career where his Steelers never made the playoffs. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1969.

For a long while, Stautner’s No. 70 was the only number officially retired by the Steelers. Joe Greene joined him in that honor in 2014 when the Steelers retired his No. 75.

Lynn Swann

Wide receiver Lynn Swann’s ability to stretch the field opened up big plays for the Steelers and made it impossible for defenses to fully commit to stopping the run. He’s a four-time Super Bowl winner and one-time Super Bowl MVP who made three Pro Bowl teams and was selected as an All-Pro wideout once. Over nine seasons, he hauled in 336 passes for 5,462 yards and 51 touchdowns.

John Stallworth

Stallworth was Swann’s counterpart on the other side of the field, and together they formed one of the most dangerous receiving duos of the 1970s NFL. Stallworth caught 537 passes for 8,723 yards and 63 touchdowns during a 14-year career where he earned four Super Bowl rings, three Pro Bowl selections and one All-Pro selection.

Jerome Bettis

Jerome Bettis was a bruising, 250-pound running back who smashed his way for 10,571 yards and 78 touchdowns as a Steeler, putting him second in team history behind Franco Harris in both rushing categories. “The Bus,” as he came to be known, earned a Super Bowl ring in 2005 and tallied six Pro Bowl appearances and two All-Pro nominations during his career.

Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famers

Reference: Steelers.com

NameInductedPositionYears With Team

Bert Bell

1963

Co-owner

1940–45

John McNally

1963

Halfback/Coach

1934, 1937–39

Arthur J, Rooney, Sr.

1964

Founder, President, Chairman

1933–88

Bill Dudley

1966

Halfback

1942, 1945–46

Walt Kiesling

1966

Guard/Tackle/Coach

1937–44; 1949–61

Bobby Layne

1967

Quarterback, Kicker

1958–62

Ernie Stautner

1969

Defensive Tackle

1950–63

Joe Greene

1987

Defensive Tackle

1969–81

John Henry Johnson

1987

Running Back

1960–65

Jack Ham

1988

Linebacker

1971–82

Mel Blount

1989

Cornerback

1970–83

Terry Bradshaw

1989

Quarterback

1970–83

Franco Harris

1990

Running Back

1972–83

Jack Lambert

1990

Linebacker

1974–84

Chuck Noll

1993

Head Coach

1969–91

Mike Webster

1997

Center

1974–88

Daniel M. Rooney

2000

President, Chairman

1955–2017

Lynn Swann

2001

Wide Receiver

1974–82

John Stallworth

2002

Wide Receiver

1974–87

Rod Woodson

2009

Cornerback

1987–96

Jack Butler

2012

Cornerback

1951–59

Dermontti Dawson

2012

Center

1988–2000

Kevin Greene

2016

Linebacker

1993–95

Jerome Bettis

2017

Running Back

1996–2005

Troy Polamalu

2020

Defensive Back

2003–14

Donnie Shell

2020

Safety

1974–87

Bill Cowher

2020

Head Coach

1992–2006

Big Ben Roethlisberger will be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame when the time comes.

Big Ben Roethlisberger will be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame when the time comes.

Future Steelers Hall of Famers

Many of the greats from the mid-2000s will surely find their way onto this 10 best Steelers list in good time. Here are a few that are a solid bet to end up in the Hall of Fame.

Alan Faneca

Offensive guard Alan Faneca made nine Pro Bowls and a whopping six All-Pro teams during his decade-long tenure with the Steelers. He was also a member of one Super Bowl–winning team. He somehow missed the Hall of Fame cut in 2019, but it is only a matter of time.

Hines Ward

With 1,000 catches to his name, Hines Ward is the leading receiver in Steelers history. He was also a punishing blocker, a rare attribute in a wideout. He earned two Super Bowl rings, and one Super Bowl MVP. Over a 14-year career, he was voted to four Pro Bowls.

James Harrison

Outside linebacker James Harrison was a nightmare for offensive tackles. In 14 years with the Steelers, he piled up 80.5 sacks and was a key part of two Super Bowl teams. His 100-yard interception returned for a touchdown was one of the most dramatic plays in Super Bowl history. Harrison made five Pro Bowls, two All-Pro teams and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008.

Ben Roethlisberger

“Big Ben” still has a little ways to go before retirement, but with two Super Bowl rings, six Pro Bowls and over 56,000 passing yards to date, it is a good bet he will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when the time comes.

Antonio Brown

Despite his dramatic departure from Pittsburgh, Antonio Brown put up some of the best numbers of any Steeler receiver that came before him. In his nine seasons with the team, he hauled in 837 passes for 11,207 yards and 74 touchdowns. He made seven Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams.

Steelers running back James Conner (30) runs as Ravens inside linebacker Kenny Young (40) dives for a tackle attempt in the second quarter of a 2018 game.

Steelers running back James Conner (30) runs as Ravens inside linebacker Kenny Young (40) dives for a tackle attempt in the second quarter of a 2018 game.

Steelers Nation

Pittsburgh is a tough, hard-working town, and every one of the top 10 Steelers on this list represents the blue-collar ethic of the city. Steelers Nation expects hard-nosed football, and that is part of what made each of these players so great.

But the NFL is changing, and the passing game is taking over more and more. With more 5-wideout sets and dime defenses, the blood-and-guts style of the past may be gone forever. If you like inflated passing statistics, it is an exciting time to be a football fan, but for those who miss the days of a tight end, a fullback and a downhill running game, it is a little sad.

Perhaps things will come full circle one day. Until then, the modern Steelers might do well to look to the past and glean what they can from the best Steelers players of all time.