Well, we’re here.
We have reached the final chapter in choosing who the best players at each number have been throughout the storied history of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Closing with numbers 76-99, who are the best of the best?
The final countdown begins with an easy choice. It’s yet another from the dynasty years of the 1970s. A man who is currently the Head Coach at a local Pittsburgh university: Robert Morris.
John Banaszak played defensive end for the Steelers from 1975-1981, filling in nicely when the entire Steel Curtain front four was not on the field at the same time.
Another great was Gene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb, wearing this number for the two years he was with Pittsburgh. Still, Banaszak gets the nod here.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a tragic history of players that passed before their time. In past chapters of this story, we discussed the likes of Mike Webster, Terry Long, David Little and Justin Strzelczyk—all who either died by their own hand, or other terrible circumstances.
At No. 77, we have yet another sad story of a player’s way too early demise.
Steve Courson who was a great offensive lineman for the Steelers. A legacy tainted with steroid use. But, his death came in a bizarre accident. While cutting down a tree in his backyard, Courson saw the falling lumber was heading directly for his dog. So to save his pet he jumped in the way and in turn, was crushed to death. Sadly, his black lab was at his side in what appeared to be the dog protecting its owner when the tree was removed.
Currently, Marcus Gilbert wears Courson’s number. And, another troubled player also bore No. 77. That was Carlton Haselrig, who was plagued with some very strange off-the-field incidents. Thus, his football career never came close to matching his collegiate wrestling career. In that sport, he has been inducted into the National Collegiate Wrestling Hall of Fame.
As a football player, he had potential but a confused mind.
But my pick for best player at No. 77 goes to Marvel Smith, a staple on the offensive line from 2000-2008.
The “Steel Curtain” strikes again at number 78 with Dwight “Mad Dog” White—a vital part of that famed front four. And in Super Bowl IX, White played despite being very ill with flu-like symptoms the night before. Not too far behind White in this polling is offensive lineman Max Starks, who was outstanding in pass coverage while wearing the Black and Gold.
Another good player that had a heyday in Pittsburgh’s losing years was on defense His name? John Baker, playing from 1963-1967. But there’s only one choice here, and it’s Mad Dog.
Players in football have been known to change positions on the field and excel elsewhere.
Hines Ward was a productive quarterback at the University of Georgia before switching to wide receiver once he was drafted by the Steelers. And he eventually became the greatest receiver in the history of the team. Another player that had a career in Pittsburgh beginning in 1977 was drafted as an offensive lineman. And, he became a very good one.
Then he switched to tight end and was soon a force there. That man was Larry Brown.
Brown wore No. 79, finishing his career as a great tight end. Trai Essex also played on the o-line, staying there from 2005-2011. But who’s better? The choice is Brown.
Like Jamain Stephens before him, No. 80 Limas Sweed was a bust. Another player who wore the number did much better despite being plagued by off-field incidents. That’s Plaxico Burress.
Without competition from others, Burress is the Steelers best at this number.
Do I dare pick Troy Edwards as the best player ever to wear No. 81? NOT. This honor goes to Elbie Nickel, though Charles Johnson gives him a run for the money.
No question here: John Stallworth. But, there have been some outstanding players who shared the number.
Antwaan Randle El excited Steelers fans for four seasons while wearing Black and Gold. Yancey Thigpen was a fantastic receiver in the 1990s. But Stallworth, a Hall of Famer, is the easy choice.
Given that there have not been any other greats who have shared the number, can we just anoint Antonio Brown now? There are some notable names, yes. But Brown gets the nod.
Jerame Tuman played tight end sporting the number, as did Mike Mularkey. But Brown is far from done. Additionally, if he finishes his career in Pittsburgh, he’ll most likely break every receiving record.
The one name that stands out among this number Calvin Sweeney. The wideout was a very good player who had the unfortunate opportunity of playing for Pittsburgh when they were not winning as much.
Playing from 1980 to 1987, Sweeney did manage to play in four postseason games. But he and his teammates failed to win, let alone reach, a Super Bowl. Sweeney did not put up great numbers, but was a reliable weapon on offense.
This is another easy one. It simply cannot be anyone other than Hines Ward. Always a fan favorite, Ward could do it all. He’ll perhaps be best remembered for his vicious blocks. And if not for Ward wearing this number, the nod probably goes in the direction of tight end Eric Green. Or, one of the best at the position in Steelers history.
Tight ends rules this bunch with Mark Bruener, Weegie Thompson, Larry Brown (TE converted to OL) and Adrian Cooper. Then, one wideout who precluded the legendary pair of Swann/Stallworth. His name was Roy Jefferson.
These names make the choice very difficult. Because of the talents of Bruener, Jefferson and Brown, they knock Thompson and Cooper out of the voting. Therefore, my pick goes to Jefferson.
All those greats from the 1970s make their selections easy.
And with this number, Lynn Swann is another no-brainer. There were some other very good receivers aside from Swanny to consider, however.
Courtney Hawkins, Andre Hastings and Dave Smith are the names that stand out. But for Lynn Swann, who once ran for Governor of Pennsylvania and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there’s no arguing he has been the finest receiver of the bunch who has worn No. 88 for the Steelers.
Wideouts usually take the higher numbers, and we continue with that trend in looking at No. 89. Reviewing the list of players that bore this number, the first name that stands is someone who teamed with Courtney Hawkins in Super Bowl XXX. That’s Ernie Mills.
But a bigger impact player was TE Bennie Cunningham. Cunningham was a favorite target of Terry Bradshaw, once pulling off a memorable flea-flicker against the Cleveland Browns. John McMakin was another TE wearing 89.
And with his number (70) officially retired, the great Ernie Stautner actually wore No. 89 for one season (1951). But it’s Cunningham, one of the best Steelers TEs, that captures the vote.
We are down to the final 10 numbers in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and they begin in the 90s. One of the biggest draft busts in Pittsburgh history bore this number—that being Huey Richardson from 1991-1992.
Most recently, Steve McLendon wore 90. But right now, no player has it on their back. There haven’t been a lot of very good players to take the field wearing this one, so we’ll settle with Travis Kirschke—a solid backup.
Kevin Greene is a new Pro Football Hall of Fame member. He was also wearing No. 91 for the Steelers at one point in time. Deciding the best at this number comes down to Greene or Aaron Smith.
Smith’s career was cut short by injuries, but he was a very good defensive lineman. And because Greene only played a few seasons in Pittsburgh, Smith is my choice.
This decision boils down to the top two sack leaders in Steelers history. Is it James Harrison or Jason Gildon?
Two outstanding players. Two Hall of Fame potentials, although Gildon may not ever make it there. Gildon was a sack master and consistent playmaker. Harrison was much more intimidating and is returning in 2017, which will pad his team-leading sack total.
Just so narrowly, I must go with the active player: James Harrison.
Who was the greatest nose tackle in Steelers history—Joel Steed or Casey Hampton? Both wore No. 93, and both were very good. Because Hampton is being named at number 98, this honor goes to Steed.
2017 will be the first season since 2007 that Lawrence Timmons will not be on the field for the Steelers defense. He is now a Dolphin, but made his mark in Pittsburgh throughout his career at Heinz Field, leaving players like Chad Brown, Rodney Bailey and Jeremy Staat in his dust.
Easy pick here. Moreover, without question, one of the meanest players to put on a Pittsburgh Steelers uniform aside from “Mean Joe” Greene was Greg Lloyd. No one else comes close.
When numbers head into the 90s, that usually means bigger men. With No. 96 comes guys like Kendrick Clancy. And another very good nose tackle, Brentson Buckner. Ziggy Hood, while in Pittsburgh, also wore the number. In my opinion, Buckner is the guy here.
Cam Heyward is the current star on defense for the Steelers, taking the field wearing No. 97. If not for injuries, perhaps Kendrell Bell would’ve had a longer career in Black and Gold. After a sensational rookie campaign, Bell’s injuries began to pile up, eventually leading to his release.
Ray Seals was another really good defenseman, as was Aaron Jones. This one is a tough call; too difficult to choose between Cam Heyward, Seals and Aaron Jones. So let’s call this a trifecta and say that all three men deserve the honor.
The “Big Snack” takes the cake here, but not without mentioning the efforts of Oliver Gibson and Gerald Williams—two more run-clogging defenders. But it is Casey Hampton, who was arguably the best nose tackle in Steelers history.
We have finally reached the end. 100-plus players, the best to ever suit up in Black and Gold.
Our last number is that of either Brett “The Diesel” Keisel or another great, Levon Kirkland. Kirkland is one of the biggest linebackers to ever play in the NFL (close to 300 pounds) but was surprisingly very fast. Keisel was so good up front that it was a huge disappointment when he retired.
Injuries got the best of Keisel, and by a hair, I have to go with the Kirk.
And there you have it, fans. The top players at every uniform number ever worn by a Pittsburgh Steeler. The complete list is as follows:
0/00 — Johnny Clement
1 — Gary Anderson
2 — Dennis Dixon
3 — “Bullet” Bill Dudley
4 — Josh Miller
5 — Craig Colquitt
6 — Bubby Brister
7 — Big Ben Roethlisberger
8 — “Tommy Gun” Maddox
9 — Daniel Sepulveda
10 — Kordell Stewart
11 — Rick Strom
12 — Terry Bradshaw
13 — Jeremy Kapinos, Bill Mackrides, Lee Mulleneaux,
14 — Neil O’Donnell
15 — Mike Kruczek
16 — Charlie Batch
17 — Joe “Jefferson Street Joe” Gilliam
18 — Mike Tomczak
19 — David Woodley
20 — Rocky Bleier
21 — Tony Dungy
22 — William Gay
23 — Mike Wagner
24 — Ike Taylor
25 — Ryan Clark
26 — Rod Woodson
27 — Glen Edwards
28 — Chris Hope
29 — Barry Foster
30 — Frank Pollard
31 — Donnie Shell
32 — Franco Harris
33 — John “Frenchy” Fuqua
34 — Andy Russell
35 — John Henry Johnson
36 — Jerome Bettis
37 — Carnell Lake
38 — Sidney Thornton
39 — Bobby Walden
40 — Myron Bell
41 — Lee Flowers
42 — Dick Hoak
43 — Troy Polamalu
44 — DJ Johnson
45 — Chris Fuamatu-Maʻafala
46 — Reggie Harrison
47 — Mel Blount
48 — Matt Cushing
49 — Dwayne Woodruff
50 — Larry Foote
51 — James Farrior
52 — “Iron Mike” Webster
53 — Maurkice Pouncey
54 — Hardy Nickerson
55 — Jon Kolb
56 — Ray “The Ranger” Mansfield
57 — Mike Merriweather
58 — Jack Lambert
59 — Jack Ham
60 — Greg Warren
61 — Tyrone McGriff & Brian Stenger
62 — Tunch Ilkin
63 — Dermontti Dawson
64 — Steve Furness
65 — Alan Faneca
66 — David DeCastro
67 — Gary Dunn
68 — L.C. Greenwood
69 — Ariel Solomon
70 — Ernie Stautner
71 — Gordon Gravelle
72 — Gerry Mullins
73 — Justin Strzelczyk
74 — Ray Pinney
75 — “Mean” Joe Greene
76 — John Banaszak
77 — Marvel Smith
78 — Dwight “Mad Dog” White
79 — Larry Brown
80 — Plaxico Burress
81 — Elbie Nickel
82 — John Stallworth
84 — Antonio Brown
85 — Calvin Sweeney
86 — Hines Ward
87 — Roy Jefferson
88 — Lynn Swann
89 — Bennie Cunningham
90 — Travis Kirschke
91 — Aaron Smith
92 — James Harrison
93 — Joel Steed
94 — Lawrence Timmons
95 — Greg Lloyd
96 — Brentson Buckner
97 — Cam Heyward, Ray Seals, Aaron Jones
98 — Casey “Big Snack” Hampton
99 — Brett “The Diesel” Keisel
For more from Harv Aronson, visit his website! And, take a look back at the previous ‘By the Numbers’ entries: