The four most iconic “old school” Steelers
On the heels of Brian Roach’s Top 100 Most Influential People In Steelers History (and a slow offseason for news) I wanted to revisit some of the greatest names in franchise history with my own mini-list of the most iconic players in franchise history.
The keyword here is “players”. Brian included others from the organization, and while deserving, I believe its a no-brainer to include names such as “The Chief” (Art Rooney Sr.) or Chuck Noll on a virtual Mount Rushmore of Pittsburgh Steelers greats.
After many years of success, the Steelers are one of the most easily recognized teams in both the USA and internationally in countries where the NFL is watched. So while I debated who hardcore Steelers fans would put on such a list, I also kept in mind the expansion of the league globally. The Steeler’s uniform colors run in the blood of many non-USA sports fans, and that the logo is hung with pride in thousands of homes outside of the USA. (The Steelers are particularly popular for wagering at websites like sport.netbet.co.uk, where NFL is in primary focus.)
Therefore, my thought process is “who would be globally recognized as the greatest ever?” While executives and staff are as iconic in Pittsburgh as anywhere, I’ll only focus on players; and seeing as Mount Rushmore only has four faces, I feel that’s a good number, however, it limits so many greats, that one cannot simply stick with “four”.
Therefore I’m going to break up the lists and start with “old school” Steelers, that is the first batch of those athletes who established a dynasty in the 1970’s.
Could we list Joe Greene more than once here?
Affectionally referred to by myself and many others as “Mr. Steeler”, there is no one who embodies the black and gold more than this member of the Steel Curtain. Mean Joe was the foundation of that defense, starting his career with 91 straight games played. This longevity anchored a team which was previously as mediocre as they came: he was not only a dominant force (and the first of many Hall of Fame picks during the Chuck Noll era) but Greene only missed nine games in his entire career.
His legacy includes ten Pro Bowl appearances, six first-team All-Pro selections, two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards and a list of post-career honors.
Joe Greene’s legacy is teaching players how to be intimidating, fiercely competitive and how to be leaders both on and off of the field. As a member of the team’s scouting department and coaching staff throughout the years, “Mean Joe” is a unanimous choice on anyone’s top Steelers list.
That’s why he is only one of two players in franchise history to be immortalized with their number being retired.
It’s hard to believe, but Lambert is a name that doesn’t always come to the forefront of when you talk about former Steelers greats. Sure, there’s those who grew up during the Super Bowl dynasty era that will never forget him, but for a new generation of Steelers fans, Lambert is as reclusive as Mean Joe Greene is in the public eye.
That sort of keeping to himself has created a different aura around Lambert, who was voted as the eighth most-feared tackler and the fifth-best Steelers player of all time by NFL Network.
Another lasting legacy of hard hits and smashmouth football, Lambert’s career may have been cemented further if sacks had become an official statistic prior to 1982. (Lambert would retire in 1984 with eight official sacks, but only started 26 games in those three seasons, with only eight each played in ’82 and his final season in ’84.)
Undersized and at the time, another “why this guy” pick from Kent State, Lambert was recognized as one of the game’s greats in 1990 when he was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Currently and always a controversial figure, it was impossible to not put the signal caller of those great Steelers teams of the 70’s on this list. Terry may have distanced himself from the franchise in recent years, but unlike Lambert, the former Pittsburgh quarterback is almost always in the public eye. (For better or worse!)
Despite having a rocky relationship with head coach Chuck Noll and a rough go at the beginning of his career, by the time Bradshaw called it quits he would own every meaningful franchise record for a quarterback. His career lasted fourteen seasons, spanning from 1970 to 1983.
Terry Bradshaw was (mostly) directly responsible for eight AFC Central Championships and four Super Bowl titles; which makes him the first quarterback to win three and four titles in the NFL. (I say “mostly” because of that aforementioned Steel Curtain!)
Regardless, Bradshaw was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1989. Despite distancing himself from the franchise, always marching to the beat of his own drum, what Bradshaw accomplished cannot be denied. His off-field presence as a TV analyst and actor further cements his place in popular culture. (An interesting off-the-pitch fact about Terry you may not know is his role in the movie Failure to Launch alongside stars like Matthew McConaughey.)
Therefore, Bradshaw is certainly one of the names atop the pinnacle of a Steelers list.
If it weren’t for Joe Greene, it’s quite possible that Franco Harris would be “Mr. Steeler”. Always in the public eye around the city of Pittsburgh, Harris cements his legacy with the franchise with a single play: The Immaculate Reception. (Even a wax statue of Harris making this catch rests at one entrance to Pittsburgh International Airport.)
Another four-time Super Bowl Champion, Harris’ arrival in Pittsburgh in 1972 (where he won offensive rookie of the year) signaled the start of their dynasty. He would go on to be a Super Bowl MVP and be named to two All-Pro teams and nine Pro Bowls.
Away from the field, Franco was also larger than life. His off-field work earned him NFL Man of the Year honors back in 1976, while Pittsburgh’s Italian-American population got behind the running back so strongly, they started the first recognized Steelers fan club “Franco’s Italian Army”.
Harris even became one of the state of Pennsylvania’s Democratic presidential electors, who submit the name of a candidate for the highest office in the country.
Still seen hanging around Steelers games each season, Franco is a beloved a figure and hero in Pittsburgh lore. His inclusion on this list was an easy choice.
Previous entries in the Top 100 Most Influential People In Steelers History
I also included all of Brian’s selections for the Top 100 Steelers of all time. Be sure to watch our website for future lists of “four” as well.
- Top 100 most influential people in Steelers history: 91 – 100
- Top 100 most influential people in Steelers history: 81 – 90
- Top 100 most influential people in Steelers history: 71 – 80
- Top 100 most influential people in Steelers history: 61 – 70
- Top 100 most influential people in Steelers history: 51 – 60
- Top 100 most influential people in Steelers history: 41 – 50
- Top 100 most influential people in Steelers history: 31 – 40
- Top 100 most influential people in Steelers history: 21 – 30
- Top 100 most influential people in Steelers history: 16 – 20
- Top 100 most influential people in Steelers history: 11 – 15
- Top 100 most influential people in Steelers history: 9 – 10
- Top 100 most influential people in Steelers history: 7 – 8
- Top 100 most influential people in Steelers history: 5 – 6
- Top 100 most influential people in Steelers history: 4
- Top 100 most influential people in Steelers history: 3
- Top 100 most influential people in Steelers history: 2
- Top 100 most influential people in Steelers history: 1