Top 100 most influential people in Steelers history: 31 – 40

Alright, let me start this edition of Top 100 Steelers off by discussing someone who isn’t on the list, because even though he owns some of the best passing seasons in Steelers history, to me he will always be “he who shall not be named”. However, this one time, I’m going to name him (I admit it, I named him once before, and I had nightmares for weeks). You already know who he is, and I really do hesitate to name him for fear of cursing the upcoming season, but you know, the season hasn’t actually started yet, so I feel like I’m OK.

Neil O’Donnell is “he who shall not be named”. No, he’s not the worst quarterback in Steelers history (sorry Mark Malone), but he’s almost certainly one of the most hated. I know that he has his defenders out there, and I understand the logic behind their arguments, but it doesn’t matter. He cost Woodson a ring. He cost Lloyd a ring. He cost us number 5 long before we ever got it. He cost Yancy a ring. He cost Dermonti Dawson a ring. He cost Carnell Lake a ring as a player. And he lost to the COWBOYS! 

The truth is, it’s not just that loss that eats at me, as you’ll read when we start talking about the guy at number 40. There are more reasons that make him “he who shall not be named”. He may well be the least liked Steeler in the history of the team. So while he probably belongs on the list somewhere, being mentioned in this intro is as close as he’ll ever get.

Now before we start looking at 31-40, I have to go take a shower. I feel all dirty.

(Imagine the sound of water running and someone badly singing Katrina & The Waves “Walking on Sunshine”….now try and forget that you just imagined that because it’s really sort of embarrassing)

Let’s get to it.

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40 – Barry Foster
Running Back
1990 – 1994

If there ever was a great back who might have deserved the label “injury-prone” it might be Barry Foster. Still holds the single season rushing record for the Steelers, but his career was cut very short because he couldn’t stay on the field. 1992 was a glimpse of how good Foster could be when he was healthy and hale, unfortunately, that he missed games in 91, 93 and 94 due to injuries. (And these are hamstrings, and ankles and tweaks and twists – they aren’t getting your knee pulverized by a (be nice…be nice…) player of questionable ethics. He played for us for 5 short years, managing to take snaps in only 62 of the 80 games he could have played. I am giving him the PS4L tag because he never played a single snap for anyone but us, even if he was traded to Carolina in 1995.

Foster is on the list because of 1992. He’s on the list because he brought the running game back to the Steelers. He’s on the list because in the AFC Championship game it was not his fault that “he who shall not be named” was late on the throw that might have won us that game! (See! It’s not just the debacle of Super Bowl XXX that makes “he who shall not be named” “he who shall not be named”!).

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39 – John Henry Johnson
Running Back
1960 – 1965

He only played for us for 5 years, and those years were near the end of his Hall of Fame career. But even when he wasn’t at his best, he was damn good. Of course I never saw him play. His last year in the black ‘n’ gold was 1965, and I was 2. He’s fourth all time on the Steelers Rushing list. He played 5 years. He’s fourth. That amounts to some really good years! He won’t be fourth much longer probably (go Le’veon!), but he still had two 1000 yard seasons in that time span. He’s moved around on this list a lot, and I finally put him here because he made me laugh when I watched the History of the Pittsburgh Steelers DVD’s. He should be on the list someplace, so he drops here.

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38 – Yancy Thigpen
Wide Receiver
1992 – 1997

A 2x Pro Bowler, who came into his own with the Steelers, and still owns one of the top 5 receiving yards seasons in Steelers history (ALL of the rest of them belong to either Antonio Brown or John Stallworth). He was a really good receiver, maybe not HOF worthy, but then again, he was being thrown to for most of his career by “he who shall not be named” (I think from now on I’ll just use the abbreviation HWSNBN….hmm…wait, let me use hwsnbn instead…I don’t even want to capitalize the letters). He did get Slash for one year as a starter before he left for the Titans. He probably doesn’t deserve to be this high on the list – he gets to be higher than Buddy Dial because I never saw Buddy Dial play. He gets to be listed above Santonio and Randle El because frankly I think he was better. He gets to be listed above Roy Jefferson because I remember him better (even though I did see Jefferson play, I was like 7 or 8, and I don’t remember much from when I was that age!) So, based on receivers alone, he’s about where he should be I think, and right ahead of a guy who might not have actually been better, but he was exciting!

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37 – Louis Lipps
Wide Receiver
1984 – 1991

Louis Lipps was exciting! (or did I already mention that?)

2x Pro Bowler, 2x All Pro, Steelers MVP, Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1984. Louis Lipps was exciting! Still, in 8 years he only managed 1 1000 yard season. How good would he have been if he had a quarterback? I mean, in 1985 he caught 12(?) touchdowns and had 1134 yards and he was being thrown to by Mark Malone. Still, I understand that a case could be made to switch Yancy and Lipps. Lipps gets the nod because of the QB’s he had throwing to him, the fact that he played well, at a Pro Bowl level on some Steelers teams that were not very good, and he gets a bump from the Emily Rule. It’s one of my favorite pictures, Emily sitting on Louis Lipps’ lap and they are both smiling. Dude has a great smile! Not as great as Emily’s, but you know, I may be partial.

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36 – Aaron Smith
Defensive End
1999 – 2011

When I used to collect Steelers football cards, I had, at one point, several thousand of them. I had the Contenders Polamalu, the Auto Leaf Polamalu, I even had the 2004 SP Authentic Roethlisberger. I had tons of cards worth a lot of money. But the one card I owned that I still wish I had was Aaron Smith’s 2003 Rookie card. I have only even seen one of them in my life, never seen another.

He was 39 on the list when I first put it together. He’s 36 now and if I keep thinking about it I’ll move him up even higher, but I think that’s just because I feel like he’s possibly the most underrated defensive end of all time. He was Hall of Fame good in my opinion. He was a rock on the line for years, and he did exactly what Dick Lebeau needed him to do, and he did it at a ridiculously high level.

Not only that, but this was a really awesome dude. Everyone who ever met him has said the same thing, he’s just a great guy. For a lot of years Aaron Smith and Troy were my favorite players to watch. Aaron wasn’t as flashy as Troy, but man he was good.

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35 – Dwight White
Defensive End
1971 – 1980

“Mad Dog” White needs very little introduction from me I would hope. Anyone who is actually reading this list knows who he is. One of the members of the Steel Curtain, a 2x Pro Bowl Defensive End, 4x Super Bowl Champion and lifelong Steeler. Dan Rooney is quoted as saying that Dwight White is “one of the greatest players to ever wear a Steelers uniform” and after reading this list, you know that’s saying something! I could argue that he should be in the Hall, hell, I could argue the entire D-Line of the Steel Curtain days should be in the Hall (but I would put L.C. in first).

White is on the list for his play, without doubt, but I’ve got him ranked this high because of this: Before Super Bowl IX, White was in the hospital with pneumonia. He lost like 20 pounds. Nobody thought he was going to play, but he did play and he sacked Fran Tarkenton in the end zone for a safety, scoring the very first points of any Steelers team in a Championship game. That’s why he’s where he is.

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34 – Heath Miller
Tight End
2005 – 2015

I’m going to have to come back to this one in a minute or two. Let me go write about 33 and see if I feel like I can write this one.

Nope…not yet, let me write 32 and I’ll try again.

Ok, I’m going to give it a go… You see, the thing is that it really hasn’t been that long since Heath retired, and when he did it was, well, shocking. Yeah, we knew that in a couple more years he would retire, but not then. We all kind of thought that the year he retired we were going for Lombardi number 7, and he was gonna get a shot at ring number 3. But, apparently Heath had other ideas. Dagnabbit!

I had Heath at 35, but moved him. He is, unquestionably, the greatest tight end in franchise history. I hope that HOF voters can look at that, and realize that on the Steelers, tight ends aren’t just another receiver. They have to block. They HAVE TO BLOCK! We have a running game, when so few other teams have had one, and Heath was a huge part of that! Heath should be a HOFer. No question in my mind. The stats may say otherwise, but the fact is, stats often LIE. Stats don’t tell the whole story, never have and never will.

Not that his stats are bad – 2x Pro Bowl, 2x Super Bowl Champion, Team MVP, All-time franchise leader in almost every category that matters for tight ends, if not every category. Man, I can talk about his toughness, his humility, he’s leadership in a quiet way (when AB says “When Heath tells me to shut up, I know I need to shut up!” that speaks volumes). The respect and love his teammates had for him. The chant of “HEEEEAAATTH!!”

There will never be another Earl Heath Miller.


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33 – Dick Hoak
Running Back / Coach
1961 – 1970 / 1972 – 2007

Dick Hoak only made one Pro Bowl, but he’s got a really unique claim to fame if you ask me. If there ever was a Mr. Steeler (other than one who’s last name rhymes with “mean”) it would be Dick Hoak. Hoak worked for both Noll and Cowher. Hoak, before he retired, was the epitome of “Steeler for Life”. He spent 45 years with the Steelers. In his professional football career he never worked for any other organization. He spent 10 as a player, and 35 as a coach. He was Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis’ position coach. He was a Steeler for 742 games. DAMN!

So while I never saw him play (I did, but you know, I was just little so it’s fled my memory), he belongs on this list, and this felt just about right to me. Yes, you can argue that since the Steelers included him in the initial “Hall of Honor” group, that maybe he should be in the top 27, but they left a couple guys out of that group that I thought deserved it, and even though he was a major player in the Steelers history, I’m keeping him right here).

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32 – Donnie Shell
1974 – 1987

A 5x Pro Bowler, 3x AP First Team All-Pro, 4x Super Bowl Champion and tied for 36th on the all time interception list! How is Donnie Shell NOT in the Hall of Fame! That’s just crazy! Only Webbie played in more games wearing the black ‘n’ gold. Donnie Shell was in my mind the greatest undrafted signing of all time. That’s right, he was an undrafted rookie free-agent. He should be in the Hall simply on the merits of that alone! He was an integral part of the Steel Curtain for 14 seasons, there was no question he deserves to be on the list, really, the only question is if he should be higher?

In fact, I think he should be. So, once again, between the time I sit down to write this and the time I put the list together originally, I just can’t put some of the guys lower in the list ahead of Shell (he was 40 when I started writing this). So now he sits here, at number 32.

Maybe somebody “The Torpedo” will find a way to strike home in Canton.

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31 – Dick Lebeau
1992 – 1996, 2004 – 2014

Ron Jaworski has been quoted as saying that Dick Lebeau may be “the best ever to coach defense”. Coach Dad, as he was called, was a true innovator on the defensive side of the ball. In 1995 when he was first promoted to Defensive Coordinator, our defense was third in the NFL. He invented the zone blitz, and even though he left to go to those Bungles, when he came back in 2004, he helped craft some of the very best defenses in team history. There is no way a list of people who impacted the Steelers could not contain Dick Lebeau.

Yes, I know he could be higher. I do. But who do you drop? The next 30 guys are, well, impressive, and how do you move one of them back to put LeBeau higher on the list. Maybe I should have had a 20 way tie for number 10!

LeBeau also gets placed on this list because of the tradition he was involved with. Every year Coach Dad would read “The Night Before Christmas” to the player. My daughter and I loved it when started putting video up of him doing it. It was great.

I, like probably everybody in Steelers Nation, was sorry that it ended the way it did with LeBeau and the Steelers. The man has spent 57 years in the NFL. But in the end, the NFL is still a business, and there does come a time when you have to move on, even from the greatest of the greats. Coach Butler deserves his shot, and hopefully he learned a thing or two from his time with Coach Dad.


That does it for this edition. Man, all that’s left is the top 30 Steelers of all time. I think there are still a few surprises up there, and certainly will be some choices that will have any one reading these to shout “Are you out of your mind?”.

There were tough choices to be made in this grouping, and they only get tougher as we march the rest of the way up this list.

Next up: 21 – 30

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