Pittsburgh Steelers: The Best Of The Best

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Jul 27, 2015; Latrobe, PA, USA; General view as Pittsburgh Steelers helmet sits on the field during training camp at Saint Vincent College. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past several months, I have presented to you profiles of the best players at every position for the Pittsburgh Steelers including the head coaches and their coordinators. The only issue that remains is determining which players stand alone as the best players ever for the Black and Gold? Readers voted for players that did not reach the levels of the more commonly known “greatest.”

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To pick one man at every position, or two in areas the require more than one, is a task that has been tackled many times before. Picking the Pittsburgh Steelers all-time team is nothing new. Everyone has an opinion, and what follows is just another sportswriter throwing his two cents in.

As it was with the profiles, quarterback is a very good place to start. Picking the best ever for Pittsburgh is pretty simple in deciding that it should be either Ben Roethlisberger or Terry Bradshaw. Some fans like myself, had the opportunity to witness each man’s career. “Big Ben” is still going and has already broken many of the records set by the “Blonde Bomber.” Chances are, Roethlisberger will own them all when he is ready to retire. Will that make him the greatest ever? Both men played with similar styles. Roethlisberger owns two Super Bowl rings while Bradshaw wears four. The stats are on Roethlisberger’s side.

As for victories, during the regular season, Bradshaw has a better winning percentage by a hair (.677 to .671). Their records are nearly identical with Big Ben winning 106 and losing 52, while Bradshaw was on top 107 times and on the downside 51. Obviously, Roethlisberger will pass Bradshaw on the victory side this year. Will Big Ben win another Super Bowl? That’s anyone’s guess.

A more decisive factor may be playoff victories. In 15 post-season games, Roethlisberger engineered 10 victories. As for Bradshaw, he owns just four additional playoff games and lost the same number that Roethlisberger did (5). The odds are that Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers will be in at least four more playoff games before the stud quarterback retires. Terry Bradshaw played in four Super Bowls and won them all. Roethlisberger has been in three and lost one. Add all this up and it’s a tough call, but in this writer’s opinion, best ever would be Ben Roethlisberger by a hair.

Marching through the rest of the offense and the defense, the rest of the all-time Steelers position-by-position in my opinion follows.

Running Backs. With Jerome Bettis heading into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August, it would be hard to deny that the bruising running back who was an absolute fan favorite, not be chosen as one of the two best running backs in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bettis is second only to Franco Harris on Pittsburgh’s all-time rushing list.

Jan 31, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers former running back Jerome Bettis reacts during a press conference to introduce the 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees at Symphony Hall. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Had Barry Foster not been injury prone and stuck with the team, perhaps he might be considered to line up in the backfield with Bettis in our fantasy greatest team. Pittsburgh has had many great runners but it’s hard to argue pairing Bettis and Franco Harris side-by-side on the all-time team. It’s much to early to gauge Le’Veon Bell’s career just yet, but he is off to a fantastic start. Easy pickings here, it’s Bettis/Harris.

Wide Receivers. The names just roll off the tongue so smoothly…Swann and Stallworth…Stallworth and Swann. Is this the best receiving combination in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers? Perhaps the NFL? For two receivers that played together this could be true. But to decide if either should represent an all-time team for Pittsburgh, they face challenges. Initially, one would have to consider Hines Ward for the simple fact that he owns nearly EVERY receiving record. Louis Lipps was a great receiver himself but unfortunately, played on teams that could not get to the Super Bowl.

There have been other great receivers who just didn’t play long enough with Pittsburgh to warrant consideration. They might be Santonio Holmes or Roy Jefferson. Currently, the Steelers have perhaps the best three receivers on the field at one time in Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Markus Wheaton. In 5-10 years, we’ll know where that trio stands among the all-time best. For now, based on the type of player he was, given his outstanding blocking ability and his final numbers, my choice for best receivers ever are Hines Ward and John Stallworth.

Tight End. Give me one tight end from 1933 until 2015 that stands above the rest and the choice is simple. Heath Miller. Men like Bennie Cunningham, Larry Brown, Mark Bruener, Eric Green, and Randy Grossman all held their own, but Miller is in a class by himself.

Jan 3, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller catches the ball prior to the 2014 AFC Wild Card playoff football game against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Center. In the middle of an offensive line is the center. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, turnover at the position has been rare. Since Ray Mansfield was the starter dating back to the 1960s, longevity at center has been manned mainly by Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson, Jeff Hartings, and now Maurkice Pouncey. Who was the best of that group? It’s a tossup between Webster who mauled opposing defenders, and Dawson who also had strength but was more athletic and finessed opponents as well. The nod here goes to Dermontti Dawson.

Guards . Next on the o-line are the guards who play an important role in protecting the pocket when the quarterback decides to stay there. The Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s and into the 1980s were known for great offensive lines. Since there are two guards who play together during a game, two must be chosen from history. It’s easy to name the first…Alan Faneca. Faneca was  a perennial All-Pro and simply one of the best if not the finest guard of his era. He is a potential Hall of Famer.

Finding a man to stand next to him on the all-time list would probably boil down to Steve Courson, Sam Davis, Moon Mullins, Duval Love, or Craig Wolfley. David DeCastro needs more seasons under his belt to be considered. This writer leans towards Craig Wolfley who did not play for some of Pittsburgh’s greatest teams but in his own right was an outstanding guard who was underrated at his position.

Tackles.  The other night “The World’s Strongest Man” competition was being replayed from the late 1970s. Competing was Jon Kolb, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle. As a teenager watching the Steelers at that time, I remember Jon Kolb for representing the strength of the Steelers’ offensive line. Not just in the skills of that unit on the field but also for physical strength in the weight room. Kolb was an outstanding player but Pittsburgh has had many at that position.

Justin Strzelczyk had a solid career with the Steelers but had an untimely and tragic ending to his life. Larry Brown converted from tight end to become a great offensive tackle. Leon Searcy was superb but the Steelers could not retain him and he left for richer grounds. John Jackson was unheralded but an oustanding tackle. Picking the two best tackles in the history of the Steelers is extremely difficult but if forced to, this writer would put his money on Jon Kolb and Leon Searcy.

Kicker. Rounding out the offense would be choosing the best place kicker in the history of the Steelers. While Shaun Suisham has been an outstanding kicker for Pittsburgh the last few years, Roy Gerela was a colorful and successful kicker as well. But hands down, Gary Anderson was simply the best ever.

Next: The Steal Curtain Defense, Coaches, And More