Dec 28, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison (92) reacts on the field against the Cincinnati Bengals during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Welcome to the second part of profiling the best linebackers in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers. As the names keep on piling up, so does the rich tradition of this position for those who were fortunate to play it while wearing the Black and Gold. We resume with the man who knew how to take down a quarterback.
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Jason Gildon: When it comes to the sack masters in Pittsburgh Steelers history, one man stands alone at the top as the leader. That is Jason Gildon, superb at getting to the quarterback, having done it a record 77 times for the Pittsburgh Steelers. James Harrison might very well catch Gildon if he can get another 7 ½ in 2015, but for now Gildon is king.
A marvelous and effective linebacker from 1994 until he was released in 2003 despite starting in all 16 games that year. He also had six sacks but Pittsburgh said goodbye anyway. The Buffalo Bills gave Jason Gildon a chance but he could not make it through their training camp so he signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In Florida, Gildon would play in nine games and get three more sacks to add to his career total, but he could not break the Jags’ starting lineup and he retired following the season. But as a Steeler, he has to be considered one of the best ever because of his numbers. His highest sack total for one season came in 2000 when he made 13 ½ just two and one-half from the club record. That season he also recovered four fumbles and made 58 tackles.
Gildon was among several other great linebackers on the Steelers’ defense, namely Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd, and Levon Kirkland. Joey Porter also had the opportunity to play with Gildon. It was heavy duty competition but Gildon was the man getting the most sacks. Today, Gildon is the head coach at Pittsburgh’s Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School. It’s his first year at the helm after serving as linebackers coach for Seneca Valley High School and as an assistant at Peters Township.
Greg Lloyd: While Jack Lambert would probably get the nod as Pittsburgh’s greatest linebacker ever, some remember “Dracula” for being an aggressive, mean, nasty football player. But those who followed Greg Lloyd’s career may believe he in fact was the scariest, meanest football player to line up in the ‘backer position at any time during Pittsburgh’s history. Simply put…Lloyd was a beast.
Owning a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, Greg Lloyd is not just a dangerous man in martial arts, on the field, he was feared. During his playing days in Three Rivers Stadium, fans recognized this with a banner that read “Avoid Lloyd.” Lloyd made famous a t-shirt he created himself that read “I wasn’t hired for my disposition.” Off the field, Lloyd was at the end of many criticisms for his attitude, the way he responded to questions, and for his questionable character. He responded to the naysayers with one simple sentence: “When you play football for 60 minutes the way I do, you don’t have to answer to anybody.”
Greg Lloyd played the game of professional football the only way he knew how…aggressively and fearing no one or nothing. Fighting off injuries his first two years, he finally began to make his mark in 1989 when David Little called it quits. With Rod Woodson also on defense, the Pittsburgh Steelers were beginning to knock opponents around like they did in the 1970s.
A product of little Fort Valley State University that today enrolls a little over 4,000 students, Greg Lloyd caught the eye of Chuck Noll in 1987 but lasted until the sixth round. The diamond in the rough was Pittsburgh’s prize possession. Lloyd would play on five Pro Bowl teams; be named First-Team All-Pro three times; become the UPI AFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1994; was twice named as team M.V.P. (1991, 1994); has been placed on Pittsburgh’s all-time team; and is a member of the Pittsburgh Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Greg Lloyd’s two best seasons were probably in 1994 and 1995. In ’94 he made 69 solo tackles with 18 assists and came up with 10 sacks. A season later, he made 6 1/2 sacks as he rose his tackle numbers to 88 and 28 assists.
“When you play football for 60 minutes the way I do, you don’t have to answer to anybody” Gregg Lloyd
One of the off-the field issues involved his son Greg Lloyd Jr. who would also make the NFL and his son also bore the jersey number 95 like his father. However, their relationship soured and reportedly they two do not speak. Perhaps it was an incident from 2004 when Greg Lloyd Sr. was accused of placing a gun in the mouth of his son while he was trying to discipline him for receiving bad grades as a 12-year old. Lloyd would go to trial that resulted in hung juries twice. Charges were then subsequently dropped.A few years earlier Lloyd was in legal trouble as well with his ex-wife whom the Steelers player had pointed a gun at her head. He pleaded no contest to simple battery.
While some may hold opinion on Greg Lloyd for his legal troubles, the bottom line for him as a football player is he will always be considered one of the best. A few years back he was asked about the state of today’s NFL and in Greg Lloyd fashion his answer was this: “Football is played between the lines, and it’s a violent game. It’s meant to be violent. It’s supposed to be head on collisions.”
Joey Porter: When Joey Porter was playing linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, he absolutely provided the spark the defense needed when needed. Porter loved to talk smack and it could be argued that he was the best in the league at running his mouth. But most times, he backed it up. Perhaps his most infamous squawk talk came prior to Super Bowl XL when Seattle’s Jeremy Stephens started a war of words with the Steelers when he told the press: “The story of Jerome Bettis returning to his hometown is heartwarming, but it’s going to be a sad day when he doesn’t walk away with that trophy.” Not to be outdone, Porter fired back by saying “Stevens knows he’s soft. He’s a tight end. I’ve never, ever been afraid of a tight end. They’d better not let him block me.”
At the end of that game, the Steelers had their fifth Super Bowl trophy in history, Jerome Bettis became an NFL champion in his final season, and Jeremy Stephens dropped three important passes in the game despite catching one for a touchdown as the Steelers were victorious 21-10.
Another unfortgettable Joey Porter moment came in November 2004 when the Steelers and Browns had one of their clashes in Cleveland. Days before the game, Browns’ defender Gerard Warren declared that he would be going after Ben Roethlisberger’s head. The NFL stepped in and warned the Cleveland defensive lineman that he would be suspended if there was any unnecessary roughness on Big Ben.
Before the ball could even be kicked off to start that game, Joey Porter met Cleveland’s William Green at midfield during warmups and angry words were exchanged. The result was fisticuffs with Porter landing significant blows that drew blood from Green’s lip. Both players were ejected immediately. Of the incident, Hines Ward commented: “You could see something coming. Joey came over there and they got into it. Their faces were real close and spit was flying. The next thing you know Green tried to head-butt Joey. Then punches were thrown.”
When he was not talking and playing football, Porter was one of the league’s best during his era. Drafted in the third round of 1999, Porter played his college ball at Colorado State. Head Coach Mike Tomlin and the front office opted not to pay Porter a roster bonus in 2006 so Porter signed with the Miami Dolphins where he played for two seasons before playing two more with the Arizona Cardinals and then called it a career.
But as a Steeler, he made three Pro Bowls. He was named All-Pro three times as well. More honors have come Porter’s way in the fashion of being named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2000s and was Pittsburgh’s co-M.V.P. In 2002.
“The next thing you know Green tried to head-butt Joey. Then punches were thrown” Hines Ward on Joey Porter Fighting
In a more serious moment that became the “butt” of some jokes, on August 31, 2003, Porter was shot while being an innocent bystander in Denver as he was in a bar watching his alma mater play the University of Colorado. Tragically, one man lost his life in the shooting but Porter only suffered a minor gunshot wound that struck him in the buttocks. The shooting sidelined the Steelers linebacker for several weeks and he missed two games but he did receive some rousing as to where he was shot.
Joey Porter became the first player in league history to record at least 10 career interceptions with 70 or more quarterback sacks. He is also a member of the Colorado State Athletics Hall of Fame. Some Steelers fans may not remember that when he came to Pittsburgh as a rookie, he was wearing jersey #95, the first player to put on that number since Greg Lloyd wore it.
However, since it was too close a comparision between the two, Porter made the decision to wear 55 instead for the reason of establshing his own identity and to pay tribute to his childhood football hero, the late Junior Seau. Immensely popular in Steelers Nation, Black and Gold fans were thrilled that Porter returned in 2014 as a defensive assistant and was promoted to Outside Linebackers Coach this year by new Defensive Coordinator Kevin Butler.
James Harrison: While talking about martial artists, Greg Lloyd was not alone in being a Steeler as well as knowing a fighting sport. Harrison was directly involved in an incident on the field however that highlights his Pittsburgh Steelers’ career. While the Pittsburgh Steelers were thumping rival Cleveland 41-0 on December 24, 2005, one idiotic Browns fan made the poor decision to run down on the field during the action and taunt players. Little did he realize that while doing his little dance, he was backing up right into the arms of the martial artist James Harrison. Harrison proceeded to body slam the fool and the video went viral…big time.
James Harrison‘s career got off to a very slow start. Failing to be drafted in 2002, he was passed by reportedly because of his height and weight (6’0”, 240). However, the Pittsburgh Steelers gave him a chance. Hailing from the same college as the great Jack Lambert (Kent State University), Harrison could only make the practice squad for the first two seasons and was released three times.
In 2003 the Baltimore Ravens picked Harrison up but sent him to play in NFL Europe. The assignment did not help and again he was cut loose. For the fourth time, the Steelers added him to their roster. With Clark Haggans injured, Harrison got a real shot at proving himself and he played himself into a starting role and remained with Pittsburgh until they cut him again over a contract dispute in 2012.
The Cincinnati Bengals came calling next and for one season, Harrison wore the stripes. After being cut once again, Harrison decided to call it a career. That didn’t last long as Head Coach Mike Tomlin had an injury riddled defense and called out to the man also known as “Silverback.” Harrison accepted Pittsburgh’s offer and last season had a spectacular campaign for someone who wasn’t sure he wanted to keep playing. Playing in a backup role, Harrison turned in 5 ½ sacks and 29 tackles to go with 18 assists.
In 2008, James Harrison had his best season ever with 16 sacks and 67 tackles. He also forced seven fumbles and added an interception. As a Steeler, Harrison has started in 99 games and played in 142. 2015 will see Harrison wearing Black and Gold for at least one more season and it will mark his 13th season in the NFL.
Kevin Greene: With long flowing blonde locks of hair, wearing jersey number 91, and playing like a bat out of hell brings back memories of linebacker Kevin Greene in Pittsburgh. Originally drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in 1995 in the fifth round that year, Greene would remain a Ram until 1992. That year his contract expired and he had the desire to play in a 3-4 defense. He visited the Green Bay Packers but settled on signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dom Capers’ version of the 3-4.
Kevin Greene would only play three seasons as a Pittsburgh Steeler but they were good ones. Sacking the quarterback 12 ½ times in his first season at Three Rivers Stadium, Green followed that up with a league leading 14 sacks and then in his final season in the ‘Burgh turned in another nine.
He played with reckless abandon and with a sort of WWE image. Once again a free agent following the 1995 season, Greene went to finish out his career in Carolina, San Francisco, and then back to the Panthers where he retired in 1999. A walk-on at Auburn University, Greene has been a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame every year since 2012.
Kevin Greene was named to the 1990s All-Decade Team and while with the Steelers was named to two Pro Bowls. Heading into coaching following his career, as a player Kevin Greene finished his career with the third most sacks in league history while setting the record for sacks by a linebacker with 160.