When you think of all the great players who wore the uniform of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the names pop out easily. But of all the great players that took the field for the Black and Gold, who are the best of each jersey number that has been worn?
This will be the first in a four-part series as I take a look at the best of the best who wore jersey numbers 0 up to 99. Each edition will reflect on just 25 numbers and we begin with 0-25.
There actually has been three players who wore #00 or #0. The only player in Pittsburgh Steelers history that actually donned 00 is Johnny Clement, who played for Pittsburgh from 1946-1948. Obviously, he gets the nod for 00 since he was the only player ever to wear it.
Clement was a tailback who also spent time passing the ball. On the ground he rushed for 991 yards in three seasons with the Steelers and a 4.1 yards-per-carry mark. To his record he had seven rushing touchdowns while in Pittsburgh. Clement also passed for 1,630 yards on 86 completions in 228 attempts, finding the end zone 11 times as a passer for Pittsburgh.
Clement would also sport jersey number zero, sharing that in history with Jack Collins who was with the Steelers for just one season in 1962. Collins was drafted in the seventh round in 1962 out of Texas but failed to make the team and was out of football. So Johnny Clement gets the nod at #0 as well.
Moving on to #1, six players have come to the field with this single digit on their back. Without a doubt, Gary Anderson gets the nod. Anderson might be one of the greatest place kickers in NFL history and he was booting field goals for the Steelers from 1982-1994. He still holds team records to this day.
There have been no standouts at number two with the biggest names wearing that digit being Dennis Dixon and Brian St. Pierre. Based on some solid performances in his short time with Pittsburgh, I’ll make Dennis Dixon best at #2.
When it comes to the under 10 jersey numbers, you will normally find those on a kicker, punter, and sometimes wide receiver. In the case of the Steelers and history of that number, of nine players bearing number 3, only four were either a punter or kicker. The punters were Rohn Stark and Mark Royals. The field goal guys, Jeff Reed and Kris Brown.
An easy pick for jersey #3 is “Bullet” Bill Dudley. The star offensive player wore that number but would become more famous for putting on number 35.
Fourth in line is number four. Some old-timers had this digit but in the last few decades the best player to wear #4 would probably have been Josh Miller. Miller was a good punter for the Steelers for eight seasons but unfortunately may be remembered for his punt that was brought back for a touchdown in the AFC title game of 2001 when the Steelers lost to the Patriots.
Wearing the nickel number from 1978-1981, then again from 1983-84, was punter Craig Colquitt—perhaps the best punter in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers. If not for Terry Bradshaw, the other quarterback named Terry (Hanratty) might get this honor. But the Notre Dame signal-caller had to ride the bench most of his career because of the Blonde Bomber in front of him.
While Shaun Suisham did a very good job kicking field goals for the Steelers the last few years wearing jersey #6, Bubby Brister may be Pittsburgh’s best quarterback to NEVER reach a Super Bowl. Brister was a well liked solid QB but had the unfortunate experience of playing for Pittsburgh during some rebuilding years. Bubby gets the call at six.
Is there any question as to who gets named at seven? Duh. Big Ben Roethlisberger without any discussion. For argument sake, Pete Gonzalez, Reggie Collier, Jack Kemp, and James Finks are others who had Ben’s number at some point.
“Tommy Gun” Maddox. That’s our eight-ball here. Maddox came to the Steelers and slung the ball all over the field until an injury brought Ben Roethlisberger into the mix for good—ending Maddox’s Steelers career. But while he was under center, he sure was fun to watch. Only three other players wore number 8 before him.
Two men who used their feet vie for the title of best player to wear nine. Daniel Sepulveda and Norm Johnson. The former a punter, the latter a kicker. Both excellent at their skill and for Sep, injuries cut short his career. But he had skills. Unfortunately, injuries took away what would have been a long career. Sep gets the nod.
Now that we have reached the double digits, #10 is first in line. And, there are two great players that immediately come to mind. A hero in Super Bowl LXIII was Santonio Holmes and he caught the winning touchdown while wearing this jersey number.
Roy Gerela was our great kicker in the 1970s and for one season, Byron “Whizzer” White also wore number 10. Quarterbacks can also wear this number and that’s what Kordell Stewart did from 1995-2002. “Slash” never established himself as a great QB, but did have several solid seasons.
What made Stewart stand out was how he got his nickname, earning the moniker because of his ability to play multiple positions on offense. Because he was with the Steelers the longest while wearing #10, it is Kordell Stewart that becomes my pick.
In looking back at double 1s, perhaps one day we can say Markus Wheaton was the best ever. Out injured this season, past players that wore that number are few and far between. Particularly for being stars in Pittsburgh, at least. Many of the players were not on the team long enough to get consideration but in having to choose between Stefan Logan, Kent Graham, and Rick Strom, Strom would have to be the pick.
Easy pickings. Aside from Terry Bradshaw, no other player who wore #12 is even worthy. “The Blonde Bomber” is it.
The unlucky 13 has been worn by just a few, none of them standouts. Without naming one player, they were Jeremy Kapinos, Bill Mackrides, Lee Mulleneaux, and two players from 1935 of which while researching their first names are not available. They are Mr. Redding and Mr. Harbes, who both suited up briefly that year and shared the unlucky number 13.
Maybe the worst player in Steelers history to wear uniform number 14 was Limas Sweed. But as much of a goat as he was in Super Bowl XXX, Neil O’Donnell still had a solid career quarterbacking the Steelers from 1990-1995. Had he not thrown two terrible interceptions in that loss to Dallas, the Steelers would assuredly be sitting on seven Super Bowl titles. The choice… Neil O’Donnell.
If Johnny “Blood” McNally wore the number 15 more than in just 1937, he would probably get my vote. Another quarterback gets named here, however. It’s Mike Kruczek who was with the Steelers from 1976 to 1979. And, who would have probably been a starter elsewhere. Unfortunately, he rode the bench behind our #12 pick above. In relief however, Kruczek was almost always impressive. Then again, look at the team he had around him. Only a squad in the midst of winning four Super Bowl titles.
Back in the 1950s and 60s the Steelers had a few quarterbacks they let go who went on to great careers. Johnny Unitas for one. Len Dawson who bore #16 was another. 16 was popular in Pittsburgh quarterbacking history with Charlie Batch, Jim Miller, and Mark Malone all donning it. Malone, like Sweed above, was one of the worst players in Steelers history. Disliked by many, Malone can easily be scratched from the list here. On the opposite end of the spectrum for popularity and likeability is Charlie Batch. A native Pittsburgher, Batch is the choice.
When you think of 17 and the Steelers, many will have “Jefferson Street Joe” come to mind. But with that nickname comes a sad story. It’s the story of Joe Gilliam who in the 1970s, like Terry Hanratty, had to sit behind Terry Bradshaw. Gilliam would develop a terrible drug addiction that led to him being homeless but from which he would later recover. Sadly, after beating his drug addition, Gilliam would later die from heart failure.
Gilliam did win the starting job from Bradshaw for a short time but #12, of course, was able to win his job back. There have been some very good players who wore this number, including wideout Mike Wallace, current receiver Eli Rogers, punter Chris Gardocki, and quarterback Dick Shiner. But without doubt, the nod here goes to Joe “Jefferson Street Joe” Gilliam.
At #18, several quarterbacks and a punter are household names. Leading the pack is Mike Tomczak and Cliff Stoudt. These two players were primarily backups but had chances to start games while they found themselves behind better QBs. Jack Kemp also played for Pittsburgh while taking the field with number 18. Harry Newsome was a very good punter who wore #18. The choice for best ever boils down to those several players. And the choice here is Tomczak, who won a bunch of games while steering the Steelers’ offense.
When you find yourself in the lower numbers, they usually (almost always) belong to offensive players. Several QBs have already been named best ever at their respective numbers. Now another is added to the mix. That would be David Woodley, who played three seasons for Pittsburgh. While his career began with the Miami Dolphins, it was finished in Black and Gold despite ending up on the practice squad of the Green Bay Packers. Tragically, Woodley died young at the age of 44 resulting from complications of kidney and liver failure on May 4, 2003.
How can any other player be named for this number except Rocky Bleier? Bleier is a legend in the ‘Burgh for his playing style and Vietnam war heroics. Still, while the Rock is the choice, deserving recognition are Bryant McFadden, Dewayne Washington, Erric Pegram, Dwight Stone and Paul Martha.
Over on the baseball diamond, Roberto Clemente easily represents #21 as the best ever in baseball (and perhaps in all Pittsburgh sports). But in football with the Steelers, the prize has to go to former defensive back turned Steelers coach, turned Indianapolis Colts Head Coach and eventually Pro Football Hall of Famer, Tony Dungy. Deon Figures might give him a run for his money but the pick is clearly with Dungy.
The double deuce pick for this discussion goes to William Gay who is still playing. And, still wearing said number. An argument could be made for John L. Williams, who would play two seasons and was a fantastic fullback. Larry Griffin was also a solid d-back.
He will probably never make the Pro Football Hall of Fame like many of his teammates, but safety Mike Wagner was a great player. He would wear number 23 while playing on all of the Steelers’ Super Bowl-winning teams of the 1970s. Others who bore this number that you may remember? Tyrone Carter and Jason Simmons.
Many secondary men have made the roster of the Steelers grabbing number 24. But Ike Taylor is the standout. Chris Oldham was a very good player, as was Richard Shelton, who took the field in the early 90s.
This first of four parts of the best ever Steelers by jersey number concludes with the quarter number. Who would you choose between Ryan Clark, Fred McAfee, or Ronnie Shanklin? Shanklin was more of a number three or four wideout but made some big plays. McAfee, a tough player. But Ryan Clark put in some great seasons while teaming with Troy Polamalu to get the nod here.
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