In trying to determine who the best placekicker for the Pittsburgh Steelers is all-time, it helps that there have been just 26 men who lined up for kickoffs, field goal attempts, and point-after touchdowns.
Very few of those 26 kickers actually made a name for themselves, but there are a handful that are remembered for their skills in kicking the pigskin. The best of the best names roll off tongues. Names like Gerela, Johnson, Bahr, Reed, Anderson, and Suisham.
Aside from those mentioned above there was also Pat Brady, Kris Brown, Mike Clark, Lou Michaels (who would go on to become a coach), and David Trout among others. Statistically, Gary Anderson was the best. With 1,343 points, Anderson is the all-time Steelers leader for points scored. The profiling of the kickers begins with the best ever for the Steelers.
Gary Anderson: The South African-born Anderson had a long and illustrious career in the NFL. His rookie season actually began in Buffalo. The Bills drafted the kicker out of Syracuse University in the seventh round but released him before the season began. Chuck Noll took a chance on the rookie and Anderson would be Pittsburgh’s kicker from 1982 until he left for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1995.
Anderson was far from retiring, putting in two seasons in Philly before switching teams again to kick for the San Francisco 49ers for one season and then giving the Minnesota Vikings five more seasons of service. Anderson concluded his amazing career as the kicker for the Tennessee Titans from 2003 through the 2004 season.
Interestingly enough, the National Football League’s all-time leading scorer is another Andersen, Morten Andersen. But the Gary version is just behind him with 2,434 points, just 110 short of holding the top spot. Both also played for exactly five different NFL teams.
Most fans in Steelers Nation consider Gary Anderson the team’s greatest kicker ever. While with the Steelers, Anderson made the Pro Bowl three times and was named First-Team All-Pro once. He was Pittsburgh’s team MVP in 1983 and made both the NFL’s 1980s and 1990s All-Decade team. He’s on the Steelers All-Time team and has had his jersey number (1) retired.
For the record, Anderson was born in in Parys, South Africa but grew up in the Durban area of that country. His father was a reverend and played pro soccer. Initially, Gary Anderson wanted to be a pro soccer player as well but discovered football and became a kicker.
In the record books, Anderson was the all-time leader for points in a single season without scoring a touchdown with a total of 164 points, 59 of those coming by way of PATs and an additional 35 field goals. That record stood from 1998 until David Akers broke it in 2011. Of those extra points and field goals, Anderson was successful on every attempt, the first kicker to ever do so in the history of the NFL up to that point. He also has the highest field goal percentage for a season with 100 percent, having made all of his 35 field goal attempts in 1998.
Roy Gerela: There have been many placekickers in the National Football League that have come from abroad. Gary Anderson was one, Roy Gerela another. Gerela however did not came from as far. Born in Sarrail, Alberta, Canada, the foreign kicker ended up attending high school in Hawaii. He would go on to play college ball at New Mexico State University and then was drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1969 as a fourth round selection. In 1971 he came to Pittsburgh as a free agent and would play the next eight seasons as a Steeler. The Steelers released in him 1979 when Matt Bahr came along and Gerela would end up in San Diego before tearing a groin muscle, forcing his retirement.
As a Pittsburgh Steeler, Gerela was immensely popular and well liked. During the dynasty years in Pittsburgh, fans in Three Rivers Stadium created many legions of fans that would give themselves nicknames to honor players. Gerela was no exception as in the stands he had his “Gerela’s Gorillas.” There was also Lambert’s Lunatics, Franco’s Italian Army, and Dobre Shunka for Jack Ham which in Hungarian means “Good Ham.” But Gerela’s Gorillas were a boisterous group just as the others were and Gerela was a fine kicker. In fact, he led the AFC in scoring both in 1973 and 1974.
Roy Gerela was Pittsburgh’s kicker for three of their Super Bowl teams and made two Pro Bowls while with the Steelers. Gerela may be best remembered, however, for his part in an incident in Super Bowl X that involved Jack Lambert and Cliff Harris. If you’ve never seen the video of what took place, go to YouTube and seek it out.
After missing a field goal, Dallas’ Cliff Harris decided to taunt Gerela by patting him on the helmet, sort of like a “nice job” gesture for the miss. Seeing this take place, Lambert raced over and tossed Harris to the turf like a rag doll. Harris objected and looked stupid doing so, but the reaction provided the Steelers momentum and they went on to win their second straight Super Bowl.
On a personal side, Gerela’s two brothers Ted and Metro were kickers in the Canadian Football League. More recently, Gerela went into coaching in high school and as an assistant in college. In 2012 he was named head coach at Gadsden High School in Anthony, New Mexico.
Lou Michaels: Michaels played with the Los Angeles Rams from 1958 to 1960 before putting in three seasons with Pittsburgh. He added five more in Baltimore and one in Green Bay before retiring. While with the Steelers he was a Pro Bowl player in 1962 and 1963. Not just a kicker, Michaels also played defensive end. At 6-foot-2, 243 pounds, Michaels was obviously big for a kicker.
Matt Bahr: There have been brother combinations in professional football, with perhaps the Barber twins (Tiki and Ronde) being the most successful. But the Steelers played a part in another brother combination when they drafted Matt Bahr in the sixth round of the 1979 draft. His brother Chris preceded him into the NFL in 1976 joining the Cincinnati Bengals. Between the two brothers, they played for nine different teams.
The Steelers’ version of the brother combination played just three seasons in the ‘Burgh before playing for the San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, and finally the New England Patriots in a span that lasted from 1981 until Matt Bahr stopped kicking in 1995.
As it was with Roy Gerela and Gary Anderson, Bahr came from a soccer background but played his high school soccer in eastern Pennsylvania. Born in Philadelphia, Bahr played soccer and football and went on to play his college ball at Penn State just as his older brother had.
Matt Bahr was Pittsburgh’s kicker of record when they won their final Super Bowl of the 1970s, the defeat of the Los Angeles Rams on January 20, 1980. 11 years later, Bahr was on the other side of the Buffalo Bills historic loss in Super Bowl XXV to the New York Giants when his counterpart Scott Norwood missed a last-minute field goal that would have given the Bills a 22-20 victory instead of the loss they suffered. While his career in Pittsburgh was short lived, Bahr is still a household name among Black and Gold kickers.
Kris Brown: Many kickers in the NFL normally don’t have long careers. Maybe that’s because kickers only have to specialize in putting a ball through the uprights or kicking the ball into the end zone on kickoffs as well as making chip shots following a touchdown. In 1999 the Steelers drafted Kris Brown and he would last just three seasons wearing Black and Gold. Brown would have a longer career in Houston, putting in eight seasons with the Texans before bowing out of the league in 2010 with San Diego and Dallas.
While with the Steelers, Brown had minimal success. In 1999 he missed four of 29 field goal attempts including a missed extra point. A year later he missed five three-pointers and another PAT. In his final campaign with Pittsburgh, Brown missed on 14 field goal attempts while leading the NFL with 44 tries. He also missed three PATs and in the off-season, the Steelers opted to not contest his free agency and signed Todd Peterson instead.
Norm Johnson: When it was mentioned that most kickers have short NFL careers, that was not the case for Norm Johnson. Playing for four teams throughout his professional career, Johnson was active from 1982 until 1999. His success kicking for points landed him 10th all-time. Four of those seasons were in Pittsburgh. In his very first season with the Steelers, Pittsburgh ended that year in the playoffs and eventually lost Super Bowl XXX to Dallas.
Johnson began his trek through the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks in 1982 and while there earned the nickname “Mr. Automatic.” In his Steelers debut season, Johnson would lead the league in successful field goals with 34 and was first in attempts with 41. On 39 extra point attempts, he made them all.
During that Super Bowl run of ’95, Johnson made seven field goals in the three games that led to the league title game. A product of UCLA, Johnson had been a member of the Atlanta Falcons after departing Seattle; after the Steelers, he finished with one more season in Philadelphia.
Jeff Reed: The kicker with the worst reputation in the history of placekickers for Pittsburgh, would have to be that of Jeff Reed. Ever the wild man, Reed had off-the-field problems several times in his nine year career with the Steelers. After kicking for the University of North Carolina, Reed tried to make the New Orleans Saints squad in 2002 as a free agent.
Unsuccessful, he contacted the Steelers and Bill Cowher that same year around mid-season when Pittsburgh’s regular kick Todd Peterson suffered an injury. Reed was an instant success and with 100 points the rest of that way that year, his talents led to the team making him the starter and cutting Peterson.
Reed quickly became an icon in Pittsburgh with his antics. From bleaching his hair to letting it grow to wild proportions, Reed also received a citation in 2009 for disorderly conduct and criminal mischief after beating up on a paper towel holder inside a bathroom at a convenience store in Pennsylvania. Later that year, Reed found himself in trouble again for public intoxication and disorderly conduct when he was with current tight end Matt Spaeth and Spaeth was being questioned by police. Reed was instructed to go back inside the bar they were near and refused, leading to the citation.
More from City of Champions
- Pittsburgh Penguins: A Look Back at 2019
- Pittsburgh Steelers: A Look Back at 2019
- Pittsburgh Pirates: A Look Back at 2019
- Steelers: Need for QB of the Future is More Apparent than Ever
- Steelers: Defense Needs to Take Advantage of Inconsistent Bills Passing Attack
But not all is bad with Jeff Reed. He has also done charity work for the organization “Kick for Kids” that donated $300 for every successful field goal Reed made. He has also lent a hand to Junior Achievement, has done commercials for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and assisted in raising funds for a five-year old child who was suffering from a brain tumor.
On the field, Reed made his mark. He is the Steelers’ second all-time leading scorer, only behind Gary Anderson. While with Pittsburgh, Reed successfully made 204 field goals on 249 attempts or an 81.9% success rate. Incredibly, during his years as a Steelers he missed just three extra point attempts. In 10 seasons with Pittsburgh, Reed was perfect on PATs eight times. At one point, Reed had put together a streak of 189 consecutive PATs that were good, and counting the postseason that number was 210.
During the 2010 season, Reed muffed a 26-yard field-goal attempt against the Patriots and was cut the next day. In came Pittsburgh’s Shaun Suisham who has never looked back. Reed would go on to play for San Francisco after rebuffing a contract offer from the Bengals, and then close out his career without ever playing for Seattle, who had inked him to a contract but cut him before the season began. Reed’s father played basketball at Wichita State University where he met his mother who was cheerleading for the school. His sister Kristen was a former professional soccer player.
Shaun Suisham: “Sushi,” as he is commonly known, began his career interestingly enough in Pittsburgh. Many may not know that the Steelers signed Suisham as an undrafted rookie in 2005 but cut him before training camp began. Apparently, they did not know what they had as Suisham would go on to sign with Dallas for two seasons before being cut during the 2006 season.
The Washington Redskins then brought Suisham in as their kicker where he lasted until 2009. Again during the season, this time on December 6, 2009, Suisham missed a chip shot field goal that cost the ‘Skins a game against the New Orleans Saints who were undefeated at the time. Suisham was replaced with Graham Gano and then went back to Dallas for another try.
Suisham’s failure to make field goals cost him a job yet again with the Cowboys when in the NFC divisional playoff game against Minnesota, he missed two field goals. In the offseason, Dallas decided to go with another kicker. That’s when Pittsburgh stepped in and signed Suisham and he has been solid since.
In just five seasons, Suisham has moved into fifth place all-time among Pittsburgh’s scoring leaders and is just 55 points behind Franco Harris who has 600. It’s conceivable that Suishi could catch Roy Gerela for third all-time before he hangs up the cleats, needing just 187 points to surpass Gerela.
Pittsburgh has brought several kickers into training camp over the last several years, but none of those players have come close to unseating the current incumbent. Suisham is very popular in Pittsburgh and his job is very secure.