When it comes to talking about the great tight ends in Pittsburgh Steelers history, the conversation would be a rather short one.
That’s because the team’s current starting tight end, Heath Miller, has raised the bar for the position to such a high level that no other player at that position before him could be considered better or on an equal level. With that said, there is no doubt that Miller has become the greatest tight end in the history of the Steelers.
At the close of the 2014 season, Miller raised himself to third all-time in Pittsburgh’s history for receiving yards. He passed Louis Lipps but is still well behind John Stallworth and probably stands no chance of catching Hines Ward. With 6,034 yards to his credit for his career, Miller may have had hundreds or perhaps thousands more if Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin had decided to use him more as a receiver and less as a blocker.
With guys like Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez playing during the same era, Miller has been overshadowed by those two as the NFL’s finest tight end. Some will argue that Heath Miller belongs in the same conversation as those two but statistics won’t bear that out.
For Steelers Nation however, Miller has been and will go down as the best ever at his position while wearing the Black and Gold. It would be a landslide to put him in a poll of favorites among the others who have played the position but there have been some solid tight ends over the course of Pittsburgh’s history.
Mark Bruener: Perhaps the best blocking tight end ever for Pittsburgh, Bruener was a vital piece of Pittsburgh’s running game during his tenure from 1995 to 2003. Bruener was Pittsburgh’s first round selection with the 27th pick overall in the 1995 draft. He would only amass 1,197 yards receiving in his nine seasons with the team and score only 16 times. But he was a force in the running game, a superb blocker.
Bennie Cunningham: Pittsburgh’s first massive tight end would come in the name of Bennie Cunningham. At 6-foot-5, 254 pounds, Cunningham had solid hands and was a tough man to tackle. He would play in both Super Bowl XIII and XIV both won by the Steelers. A memory for those who remember the massive tight end would have been from the 1978 season when the Steelers defeated the rival Cleveland Browns 15-9 in overtime. To win the game, Terry Bradshaw completed a flea-flicker to Cunningham in the end zone to seal the victory. It would also mark the ninth straight defeat for Cleveland when playing in old Three Rivers Stadium. Cunningham played his entire career with Pittsburgh that lasted from 1976 to 1985.
Matt Spaeth: Spaeth’s career began with the Steelers and then took a detour to the Chicago Bears for two seasons in 2011 and 2012. He returned two seasons ago and finds himself spelling Miller once again. Not quite the equipped blocking tight end, Spaeth is better known for reliable hands when he gets a chance to play. When you are behind Miller, there is not much opportunity to be a part of the offense. Still, Spaeth has managed to be on the receiving end of 40 receptions while playing for the Steelers and has found the end zone seven times. With the drafting of Jesse James from Penn State in 2015, Spaeth will receive some competition as the backup from James and a few other tight ends on the roster.
Randy Grossman: Playing alongside Bennie Cunningham, Grossman was everything Cunningham was not. He lacked the size, the aggressiveness, but not the ability to catch the ball. Grossman had some of the surest hands on the team while he was playing from 1974 to 1981. Grossman’s birth name was Curt Randy Grossman but all in Steelers Nation knew him by Randy. Playing for Temple University, no NFL team was interested in drafting the 6-foot-1, 218 pound tight end when he entered the 1974 draft.
Then again, that was the year that the Steelers drafted guys named Swann, Stallworth, Lambert, and Webster as well as signing another undrafted rookie named Donnie Shell. Grossman followed in Shell’s footsteps and had a very successful career in Pittsburgh. Ranked only 37th on the Steelers’ all-time receiving list, Grossman made an impact in Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl X victory over Dallas with a seven-yard touchdown reception as Pittsburgh’s first score of the game. It was Grossman’s only catch that day. Pittsburgh won 21-17 so it could be said that Grossman’s score was the difference in winning the NFL title, Pittsburgh’s second straight.
In the rematch between the two teams a few years later, Grossman would add another three receptions for 29 yards. For his career with the Steelers, Randy Grossman would finish with 1,514 yards receiving but just five touchdowns. He did play in 118 games in those eight seasons.
Eric Green: Another massive tight end came along to the Steelers in 1990 in the name of Eric Green. At 6’5, 280 pounds, Green was nearly as big as some of the offensive linemen he lined up with. In his final season with the Steelers in 1994, in the disappointing AFC Championship loss to the San Diego Chargers, Green caught four passes for 80 yards. The following season he would switch teams to go play for the Miami Dolphins before playing the next season after that in Baltimore and then two years later retiring after just one campaign with the New York Jets. Before Heath Miller came along, many in Steelers Nation considered Green the best tight end in the history of the team. Green would total 2,681 yards receiving for his five season with Pittsburgh including 24 touchdowns.
Jerame Tuman: One other tight end worthy of mention is that of Jerame Tuman. Tuman was a solid receiving tight end who played with Pittsburgh from 2001 to 2007. He would play just one more season after leaving the Steelers with the Arizona Cardinals before retiring. As a Steeler he hauled in 43 receptions for 500 yards, but did play in 97 games. Tuman was well liked by Steelers fans but had to play behind Mark Bruener and Heath Miller.
While the men above were probably the best-of-the-best for the position of tight end in Pittsburgh Steelers history, there are others worth mentioning. They would be: