Top 100 most influential people in Steelers history: 7 – 8

If the last edition of this list caused any controversy, well, I don’t think this one is likely to. Sure, you can argue that my number 8 Steeler shouldn’t be that high. You can argue that in no way should he be above guys like Bradshaw, Stallworth, Swann, Roethlisberger, Ham or Polamalu. I would agree if it was a list purely based on athletic prowess. But it’s not – it’s about influence, and legacy and my own feelings.

This time around we look at two Hall of Famers, the top Offensive Lineman and the top Running Back. Let’s get started.

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8 – Mike Webster

1974 – 1988
Top O-Line

The story of Mike Webster is a modern tragedy.

As a player, “Iron” Mike went to 9 Pro Bowls, was a 7x All-Pro, a 4x Super Bowl Champion and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1997. No one has worn number 52 since he retired, and I think it’s safe to say no one ever will again. He is widely considered to be the greatest, or at least one of the greatest, centers of all time. But we all know that’s not the real legacy that Webbie left behind, unfortunately.

The stories of how Webster lived after he retired are tragic and terrifying and serve as a cautionary tale about the long-term downside to being a modern NFL gladiator. Webster is intrinsically linked to the concussion scandal and story that remains ongoing with the NFL. He was the first player diagnosed with CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). It was Webster’s estate that brought the first suit against the NFL that stated that Webster was, in effect, disabled when he retired and was the precursor to the huge NFL concussion lawsuit that followed. His autopsy was called “one of the most significant moments in the history of sports.” The movie, Concussion, is at least partly about Mike Webster in many ways and hinges on the tragedy of his post-NFL life.

Webster was, and remains, one of my favorite Steelers of all-time. I have an autographed mini-helmet of Webbie that I got signed at a personal appearance he did shortly after he was inducted into the Hall. It is my most prized piece of memorabilia. When I’ve considered “thinning” my collection out, that is the first thing that gets put aside as “not going”. The stories that guys tell about him are crazy and show that there was a guy who embodied the idea of a Gridiron Gladiator. Maybe that term was coined just for “Iron” Mike. He passed away at the age of 50, and the last 12 years of his life were probably a living nightmare for him.

All that being said, to me his true legacy is in the benefits that this tragedy has brought to today’s players. Concussion protocols, rules to protect defenseless players and the overall awareness of the damage that can be done are all a part of Mike Webster’s legacy. His suffering can be said to have been the starting point for making the game safer, and so in many ways, he is responsible for protecting today’s players from the same fate he suffered.

Rest in Peace Webbie.

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7 – Franco Harris

Running Back
1972 – 1983
Top Running Back

Franco is, well, Franco. He’s one of a mere handful of Steelers who, when you say their first name, everyone knows who you are talking about. Last season at one of the games I attended Franco showed up to sign autographs and take pictures. I’d been there when Greg Lloyd did the same thing. No comparison. The crowd was insane when Franco arrived. He is beloved. He has his own damn army!

He also has the accolades: 9x Pro Bowler, All-Pro, NFL and AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year, Super Bowl MVP (IX) and 4x Super Bowl Champion. He has been called the missing piece that pushed the Steelers from good to great. But we all know what Franco will be forever be remembered for. Franco is my daughter Emily’s favorite all-time player and she can make the call we all know word-for-word upon request. No really, just ask her and she’ll do it. Her dream was to do the call for Franco himself (and she did, much to his delight, at that game last year). What call you ask? Let me remind you:

Hang onto your hats, here come the Steelers out of the huddle. Terry Bradshaw at the controls. 22 seconds remaining. And this crowd is standing. Bradshaw back and looking again. Bradshaw running out of the pocket, looking for somebody to throw to, fires it downfield and there’s a collision! And it’s caught out of the air! The ball is pulled in by Franco Harris! Harris is going for a touchdown for Pittsburgh! Harris is going! Five seconds left on the clock! Franco Harris pulled in the football, I don’t even know where he came from! Fuqua was in a collision. There are people in the end zone. Where did he come from? Absolutely unbelievable! Holy moly!

– Jack Fleming, on the Steelers radio broadcast

Yeah, that’s the call, and we all know the play – The Immaculate Reception. I sometimes wonder how sick of telling that story, of being asked about that play, of having to answer questions about it Franco must be. I mean, that is what he forever will be identified with. He ran for over 12,000 yards and 91 touchdowns, but that play is the one he will always be linked to. The truth is, as Coach Noll has said, that play really does epitomize Franco Harris. As Coach Noll said, that play happens only because “Franco never quit on the play. He kept running. He kept hustling. Good things happen to those who hustle.” (I feel compelled to make a Pete Rose analogy here, but am going to restrain myself).

That was Franco. He played with grit, and hustle, and he didn’t give up on the play. That’s why he gets to be the third highest ranking player on the list. So, it could be worse, he could be remembered for that last year in that god awful Seahawks uniform. Yuck!


It’s still hard for me not to put Mike Webster even higher on this list, but I’m content to leave “Iron” Mike at 8 and move on. 6 spots left and next time around we will tackle numbers 5 and 6 on the list. Until then Nation!

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