Top 100 most influential people in Steelers history: 21 – 30

There are only three more entries in the series (including this one) and that will take us to the top of the list. For this edition, we focus on 21 – 30. In this grouping we have three of the top four wide receivers, a running back and one more guy I never saw play.

The list starts to become replete with Hall of Famers from this point on, and it’s really hard to quantify who should go where.  I’ve mentioned this several times as I’ve written this, the list is and remains fluid, and changes occur with every single series I finish.  One of the guys who has moved up and down on this list finally settles here, and I’m still not sure he’s high enough!

Regardless, I think it’s time we get to it.

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30 – Jack Butler
Cornerback
1951 – 1959
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Is it enough to say he was a 4x Pro Bowler, 4x All-Pro, and a member of the Steelers All-Time Team? How about we toss in that he’s a HOFer? How about the fact that he was an undrafted free agent who Art Rooney Sr. signed based on recommendations from son Dan?

I hope that’s enough! Why? Well, because of course Butler played out his career in the 50’s and I wasn’t around to see it, so as with many on this list, I don’t have firsthand knowledge of him from a “I watched him play” standpoint. All those things would get him on the list, but part of why I have him this high is that for years after his playing days (my daughter Emily tells me the actual number is 46) Jack Butler worked for BLESTO Scouting Combine (and was the director of that organization for 44 of those 46 years).

So, why does that matter? What the hell is BLESTO anyway? Well, BLESTO stands for Bears, Lions, Eagles, Steelers Talent Organization. It’s one of two NFL-affiliated scouting services that are a partnership of sorts between teams in order to pool scouting information. Jack Butler was a large part of this since 1963.  As we move up this list, you’ll understand that I think scouting is just as important to where the Steelers are now, and where they were, so it makes sense that I pop Jack Butler as the top “I never saw the guy play” guy on my list (Ok, well almost, there is this guy who wore number 70 for the Steelers and had his jersey retired…).

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29 – Rocky Bleier
Running Back
1968, 1970 – 1980
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When I was growing up and watching the Steelers every week when they were on, and reading about their games in the paper when they weren’t, Rocky Bleier was probably my third favorite Steeler behind only Jack Lambert and Joe Greene. Even as a young guy I loved the brawlers, the guys who “cleared the path” and Rocky was one of those guys.

I didn’t know about Vietnam, I didn’t know about how the Steelers put him on injured reserve in 1970 and how nobody thought he’d ever play again. I didn’t know any of that.

I knew that he was short, he was smaller and he fought. As time went on, I learned all those other things, and Rocky was my guy on offense. I cheered like a madman whenever he got the ball. That little hitch in his step, and the fact that he wasn’t as fast as the other guys, and yet, there he was getting it done.

When he caught that pass from Bradshaw in SB XIII (you know the one – the one that nobody thought he was going to be able to get up high enough to get his hands on) I remember just running around my living room screaming “ROCK ROCK ROCK”. He was the underdog personified. His story is part of what makes the Steelers different than other franchises. The loyalty, the patience. How can you not love Rocky Bleier?

The first time I met him I was 17, and he was doing a speaking engagement in Dayton, Ohio, and my mother set it up. I was shocked! I was taller than he was! I was bigger than he was! When he shook my hand and signed the card I brought, I was once more ready to run around the room screaming “ROCK ROCK ROCK” all over again!

I’ve met him several times since then at shows, and he is just the nicest guy. In 2016 at Fan Blitz, my daughter wanted to meet him but we got to the line late, and so she just ran up to the front and stared at him, and when he got a break from signing she screamed “I LOVE YOU ROCKY!” and he looked up and smiled and waved at her. She was delighted.

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28 – James Farrior
Linebacker
2002 – 2012

Farrior made two Pro Bowls, he was an All-Pro once, and a two time SB Champion. He was team MVP once. I know you might be thinking “How do you put Farrior above Lloyd? How do you put Farrior above Greene?” I could make the argument that he has two SB’s and both of them have none. Both Lloyd and Greene have much more gaudy sack numbers, but they were outside guys, and Farrior was an inside guy. Still, he had 30 sacks as a Steeler rushing from the inside primarily, and certainly less frequently than any outside rusher. He averaged over a hundred tackles a season for 10 seasons as a Steeler. But none of that is why he’s on the list, and none of that is why he sits so high.

He was, unquestionably, the leader. He was LeBeau’s surrogate on the field. He called the defense, he made sure everyone was in the right places to do the right things. He was the captain of the ship, and this ship produced some of the most dominant defenses ever. Still – that’s not why he’s here.

So why is he here? His nickname was “Potsie”. I love that! (Ok, look, he’s really here because of all that other stuff, but how cool is that nickname!). Farrior will always be one of my all-time favorite Steelers.

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27 – James Harrison
Linebacker
2002, 2004 – 2012, 2014 – present

Call him Silverback. Call him Deebo. Call him Mr. Harrisson. (Only I get to call him Uncle James though). Call him the man Roger Goodell loves to hate. I don’t care what you call him, just keep him in black ‘n’ gold ‘til the wheels fall off.

How stupid (or incompetent maybe) do the Bengals look when Deebo comes back and has a great year after they couldn’t figure out what to do with him? We should have never let him go, and he should never have left, but you know, stuff happens, and as all the player say, you have to separate business from personal stuff.

Deebo is on the list because he’s Deebo. He’s the epitome of Steelers football, a real honest to goodness descendent of the likes of Jack Lambert. 5x Pro Bowler, 2x first team All-Pro, Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, and the Steelers all-time sack leader this year. Deebo is a force. His constant workout videos on social media are awe inspiring, and the fact that the NFL still has a such a thing for him just makes us love him more I think!

I can argue that he should be higher, I have had him even lower, but then watch a replay of that 100 yard INT return in the Super Bowl, and I move him back up again. He makes the list for taking that Browns fan to the ground – hard, and for the single most awesome play in the history of the Super Bowl. I could watch him run that ball back every day for the rest of my life and it still would send chills down my spine. I remember watching it live and I had to run out of the house and around the yard I was so excited.

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26 – Mike Tomlin
Coach
2007 – present

“The Standard Is the Standard”

“Next Man Up”

“We don’t live in our fears”

“Steel sharpens steel”

The man is Mr. Catchphrase, but I love it! All coaches have the gift of “coach-speak” which is essentially the art of saying nothing at all while trying to sound like your saying something. But Tomlin’s version of this art form is unique. And what’s more important, the players buy into it. We can shake our head at the idea of “next man up” but man, think of how often over the past few seasons that has had to be true, and has been true.  One year we had Cody Wallace playing center and Alejandro Villanueva just taking over at left tackle. And they performed! We didn’t lose just our starting running back, but our backup as well, and damn it if Tomlin didn’t get the most out of Fitz and Todman. They players buy what he’s selling, and frankly it doesn’t matter a bit if any of us do!

I’m sure the Tomlin haters out there will be beside themselves, especially since I have him ahead of Cowher. Look at the facts, and put the bias and irrational logic aside. He took the same team that Cowher went 8-8 with (missing the playoffs) and went to the playoffs in his first year, and won the Super Bowl in his second. It doesn’t matter if they were “Cowher’s players” or not. Cowher went 8-8 with them in his last year. Tomlin got them to play better. Cowher got to 2 Super Bowl’s and won 1. Same is true of Tomlin at this point. He’s been to 2 and won one. In his first 9 years he has won the AFC North 4 times, and made the playoffs 6 times. In Cowhers first 9 years he made the playoffs 6 times and won the North 5 times. Cowher had 2 losing season in those 9 years, Tomlin has had none.

The truth is that I think we are just starting to see what Tomlin is made of. He kept (as I think he rightfully should have) almost all of Cowher’s staff, replacing only a few, and they all remained for several years. But now we have guys who are in positions like OC and DC that are more Tomlin’s guys than they were Cowher’s. The Defense can be built to Tomlin’s liking. The offense can do what he wants it to do. Hell, we have NEVER had an offense like the one we have now. That is a powerful beast that we are going to be rolling out his season.

There is little I don’t like about Tomlin. I love the nonsense, I love the swagger, I love the risks he takes. He’s only 45! He could coach another 20 years if he wanted to, and as it stands right now, I would be thrilled if those years were all in Pittsburgh!

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25 – Art Rooney II
Owner
2003 – present

I could have put Art II higher on the list, maybe in the 30’s or even the 40’s, but then I thought about what he’s accomplished since he took over as team president in 2003. He was there when we drafted Troy, Ben and Heath. He may not have been the decision maker, but you know he was involved. He hired Tomlin, which may be a negative to some of you, but to me is a massive positive. He’s been the guiding hand on the franchise through 3 Super Bowl appearances (2 wins, 1 loss) and will be for the foreseeable future. I hope he’s doing what he can to bring Dan (his son) or one of his daughters into the fold – I’m not looking forward to the day when a Rooney is not at the helm of the Steelers.

Art has a lot to live up to. He’s following a couple of tough acts in his Dad and his Granddad. So far, I think he’s done the Rooney name proud, and if he can keep the legacy going, maybe we’ll have a 3rd member of the Rooney’s in the Hall of Fame someday!

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24 – Alan Faneca
Guard
1998 – 2007

How great has it been to see Faneca return to the fold as a coaching intern?  It would be awesome to see this guy someday return to be a full-time part of the Steelers. I love Mike Munchak (one of the best hires we have ever made in my opinion), but Faneca is a little less removed from his playing days, and I think if he can learn some of the coaching tricks from Munch, he will be a solid coach, maybe even a great one!

6x First Team All-Pro, 2x Second Team. 9 Pro Bowls (7 with the Steelers). Member of the All Time Steelers Team and future Hall of Famer (I’m pretty sure he’ll get in. It may not be this year, or even the next, but c’mon – he deserves to be in). Faneca was part of an outstanding line and helped Bettis and Fast Willie do their thing for many years. It’s a shame he had to leave in 2008, but you know, biddness is biddness.

Go back and watch Willie Parker’s TD run in SB XL, and you’ll see number 66 opening the way.  He’s an all-time great, and the only question is if he should be higher.

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23 – Lynn Swann
Wide Receiver
1974 – 1982
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Don’t get me wrong, I like Swanny – a lot. I just don’t love him.

He was a great, athletic and amazing player. He was the perfect complement to Stallworth, and he was one of the greatest receivers in Steelers history, but there are 3 other receivers that I put above him. Most people put Swann above Stallworth, and would probably put him above AB and the other receiver I have listed higher, but for me, as great as he was, I think AB is better right now, and I think Stallworth was better all along.

Swann was a 3x Pro Bowler and made three All-Pro teams (1 1st team and 2 2nd team). He was a Super Bowl MVP (X), but as I discussed when I talked about Santonio Holmes, I’m not sure I buy receivers being MVP’s. For my money, the MVP of Super Bowl X wasn’t Swanny, it was probably Bradshaw. Swanny made some critical, important, and in at least two cases, freaking amazing catches, but I can say that maybe Lambert’s play could have been worthy as well.  Unless a receiver really totally dominates, I have a hard time making them MVP.  (I know Zacadonia is losing his mind right now).

He has 4 Super Bowl rings, and there is no question he was an amazing talent. Of course he would be on any list of top Steelers, and yes, as we start to move into the top 20, I’m sure some will argue he could be placed higher. This is where he falls for me.

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22 – John Stallworth
Wide Receiver
1974 – 1987
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Stallworth didn’t get the respect and accolades that Swann got. He wasn’t as “graceful”, but I think he was faster, and more consistent than Swann ever was. Until Hines showed up, it was John Stallworth, not Lynn Swann, who owned nearly every Steelers receiving record.

Sure, AB will probably break ‘em all, but for now, Stallworth still sits at number 2 all-time in yards, 3rd in receptions (2nd if you throw out tight ends), 2nd in TD’s and all of that over a career where passing was mostly secondary, and even when the “Mel Blount” rule came into effect, it was still nowhere near as predominant as it is today. Imagine the stats Stallworth would have put up if the game was played then like it is now? I know that’s like comparing apples and cucumbers, but still.

He made 3 Pro Bowls, was All-Pro once, and of course won 4 Super Bowls. How many receivers have won 4 Super Bowls? I am pretty sure the answer is 2, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. Jerry Rice only has 3 rings, and I don’t think any other receiver has more than 2 (although admittedly there could be a couple of backups and what not, but I’m not worried about them. That means in terms of championships, the two greatest are Swann and Stallworth, and while it’s splitting hairs to quibble over which is better, Stallworth had a longer more productive career, and so he sits higher on the list than does Swann.

I almost wish I could put a tie in place at 21 with the man who is next in line…

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21 – Hines Ward
Wide Receiver
1998 – 2011
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I hear you – I hear you!  How can Hines not be in the top 20?  How can he not be higher?

He was at one point.  He was 17.  However, I recently did a series of articles about the top WR in team history, and Hines ended up being second on that list, so how can I rank him above the guy who is at the top?  I can’t.

1,000 catches.  Super Bowl XL MVP.  4x Pro Bowler and 3x Second Team All-Pro.  As of right now, he holds almost every Steelers receiving record there is.  He probably won’t hold most of them for long, depending on how Antonio Brown’s career continues to unfold.  He does own a lot of them now, but despite that he’s my second ranked receiver overall.  The thing about Hines Ward is that he caught everything, and I do mean literally everything that was thrown his way.  He rarely dropped a ball, and some of the catches he made were just ridiculous.  He caught balls in traffic, over the middle, with defenders hanging all over him.  And all the time he was doing it, he smiled!  What a smile!

That by itself would have been enough to put him on the list – but he gets an extra nudge for something else he did, and which I think we can all agree he did better than any other receiver in NFL history.  Man could he block!  He almost killed Keith Rivers!  Broke his jaw and probably shortened his NFL career.  Much like a few other Steelers have done, that block on Rivers, which was totally legal at the time and which did not incur either penalty or fine, caused the league to pass a new rule banning such hits.  The “Hines Ward Rule” made blindside blocks illegal if the block came from the helmet, forearm or shoulder and lands to the head or neck of the defender.  Hines was and is the man!

He was the Steelers MVP 3 times, and it’s, at least in my mind, a measure of how fierce he was that he was twice voted “dirtiest player”.

I don’t like that connotation.  I don’t believe Hines ever went after guy’s knees or heads with the mindset of taking them out (not say, like a certain orangey striped individual with the initials VB), but he played within the rules as they were defined during the time he played.  If you played the Steelers, and you didn’t watch your back on a running play, you knew you were at risk of getting your rear-end handed to you!

Antonio Brown may strip Hines of his Steelers records, but as great as AB is, he can’t hold a candle to the way Hines Ward blocked.  (He can of course karate kick you in the face, but ummm..I’m pretty sure that wasn’t ever legal!)

Conclusion

80 down, 20 to go.

Nothing but the best of the best of the best left to talk about.  I know there is a lot of room for speculation in this grouping – it’s fantastic what a rich and amazing history this franchise has had.  I am not sure you could even fill a list of 100 legitimately on some other franchises.

I’ve been lucky to watch a lot of this history, and running through this list has been a lot of fun, but we aren’t done yet!

Next up: 16 – 20.

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