Pittsburgh Steelers: Top 25 Nicknames in Modern Team History
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The Pittsburgh Steelers have many great nicknames that easily identify their brand throughout the Steel City and all of Steelers Country. "The Black and Gold" and the "Men of Steel" are monikers that are frequently heard in reference to the six-time Super Bowl Champions.
Like the team itself, many of the franchise's players also have distinctive labels.
So, what makes a great nickname?
The best sobriquets find a way to reflect not only the person, place or thing they represent, but they are equally representative of the blue collar, physical nature that has come to be embraced by the Steelers' faithful fanatics.
Likewise, the finest bynames and handles stand the test of time. After all, when I say "Mean Joe," do you have to cycle through your catalogue of local "Joe's" to figure out which one I'm referring to? Or does your mind automatically begin replaying vivid images of Joe Greene's domination on defense?
Whether for being clever twists on regular semantics, obvious rhymes used to describe their source, or plain-and-simple showings of respect, Steelers history includes a cornucopia of popular nicknames.
Our countdown includes side-names from the Super Bowl era, so those expecting to see "Bullet Bill" Dudley will understand his absence from the list.
So, which modern nickname is the finest in team history? Let's find out.
A Few Names You Will Not See on This List
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Before counting down the top nicknames in team history, a few rules need to be established about the selection process.
First, as mentioned previously, the ranking focuses on the modern era, more commonly referred to by most as the "Super Bowl" era.
While they could easily make the list and rank highly (if not at the top), the following nicknames that commonly refer to the Pittsburgh Steelers team itself were not included: "the Black and Gold" and "Steelers Country" (a.k.a. Steeler Nation). The former is the team's colors, something many teams utilize as an obvious nickname. Also, "Steelers Country" is the phrase used to describe the fans, but it is not a nickname, technically.
Additionally, the names chosen are those that describe the team, a group or a person. However, not included in the countdown are the fan groups that were seen at Three Rivers Stadium originating in the 1970's. So, while members of "Franco's Italian Army" take pride in their membership, they can take solace at their absence on the list by knowing nicknames and group names are two different things. Likewise, just like "Steelers Country," the group's name is actually "Franco's Italian Army," which is not a nickname.
One must be careful not to confuse names and nicknames.
Lastly, nicknames for plays and games are not listed. As such, the natural (and expected) inclusion of "The Immaculate Reception" should not be expected.
With the guidelines for selection established, let's begin!
No. 25: The Bus Driver
A famous dance called "The Bus Driver" is a fond cop-out for all uncoordinated parties, such as myself, during the rare—and avoided at all costs—moments when they are called upon to "bust a move." Using one hand in a driving (circular motion), the other arm is brought in and out, like having one hand on the wheel and opening up the bus door with the other. If the dancer sways his or her hips enough, one could almost be fooled into thinking they have no idea what they are doing.
And, actually, they probably don't. Thankfully, this slide has nothing to do with the ridiculous dance described above.
During his playing days with both the Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers, Jerome Bettis found himself running behind a blocking fullback by the name of Tim Lester.
No. 34 above, Tim Lester came to Pittsburgh from Missouri, a path similar to the legendary Steelers running back who would affectionately become labelled "The Bus."
As everyone knows, a bus is only effective if it has a good driver, and thankfully, Tim Lester proved one of the best blocking fullbacks in the game during his career in the 'Burgh, which lasted through 1998.
Naturally, one who blocks for Bettis can also be referred to as "driving the bus."
No. 24: Big Snack
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Any 3-4 defense worth its salt needs a standout, if not monstrous, nose tackle anchoring the center of the defensive front, serving as the bane of all offensive lines' existences and the brick wall to every running back.
For the last decade, Casey Hampton has been that driving force for the Steelers defense. With such a force lined up across from center, it is not a coincidence that the Black and Gold has ranked among the league's top run-stuffing teams almost annually.
Big Snack showed up weighing approximately 400 lbs. for the team's 2008 training camp. If the nickname doesn't seem warranted after learning that supporting detail, then nothing in this world makes sense.
No. 23: The Big, Nasty D
In the mid-2000's, in the midst of team success and superb defensive prowess, vocal linebacker Joey Porter (nicknamed "Peezy") decided the unit should adopt a nickname of its own, separating itself from the "Blitzburgh" teams of the 90's and acclaimed "Steel Curtain."
His selection, while not the most original moniker ever established, certainly described the unit well. Porter, Hampton, Farrior, Polamalu and peers collectively formed...
"The Big, Nasty D!"
No. 22: The Blast Furnace
In the 1970's, Three Rivers Stadium was the essence of a "House of Horrors" for NFL opponents. After losing to the Miami Dolphins in the 1972-73 AFC Championship Game, the Pittsburgh Steelers went 8-0 in the postseason over the remainder of the decade.
Three Rivers Stadium was home to many loyal fan clubs, an amazing football team, and an entertaining opening decade of football. The Black and Gold's success over opponents in the 'Burgh further enhanced this perfect storm, adding a certain mysticism to the old bowl.
The team went 69-13 at home during the decade of the 70's, including 16 straight wins to close the dynastic era.
No. 21: James Harrison—Deebo and Silverback
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"He's an animal, a straight best. Unstoppable."
With that description, teammate Bryant McFadden made his opinion of James Harrison serve as the perfect explanation for the two nicknames used to describe the fierce linebacker.
His most recent nickname, Deebo, comes from a gruff, street-tough, bare knuckles brawler from the movie "Friday." Naturally, like his movie counterpart, Harrison isn't known for being the most politically correct communicator on the Steelers staff.
Harrison, one of four NFL Defensive Player of the Year winners to play for Pittsburgh, is also known as "Silverback," a male gorilla known as the leader of its group.
No. 20: Torpedo
The 70's Steelers sported a defense loaded with talent, and Donnie Shell was a prime example of their tremendous skill set.
Shell retired as the NFL's active interceptions leader at the strong safety position with 51. However, Shell was able to lay down the lumber, adept at making the big hit as well as the big pick.
It was for his intensity against the run that Shell adopted his nickname as "The Torpedo."
In a race for the AFC Central title in 1978, the Steelers were playing the Houston Oilers, a squad that had beaten them in a physically-taxing game earlier in the season. In the rematch, Earl Campbell took a handoff from quarterback Dan Pastorini and burst through the line for a hefty gain. After a spin move evaded the defense, the runner's progress was emphatically stopped by a charging Donnie Shell.
Shell lowered himself into Campbell's midsection (a legal tackle at the time), elevating him off the ground and slamming him back onto the turf. As if shot from a cannon, Shell's missile-like tackle of Campbell caught the attention of both fans and the illustrious running back, who suffered broken ribs on the play.
"The Torpedo" was born.
No. 19: Fast Willie
After a record-setting 75-yard touchdown run by Willie Parker in Super Bowl XL, running back Jerome Bettis looked at Tommy Maddox and summarized the young back with six words, caught by an NFL Films sideline camera filming for the annual highlight video:
"There ain't no substitute for speed."
No truer words were ever spoken.
No. 18: Tommy Gun
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When XFL MVP Tommy Maddox returned to the NFL in 2002, few in the Steel City truly expected much more than a quarterback to run out the clock at the end of games.
After all, Maddox was a former NFL bust in Denver, and his recent successes had come against lesser competition in the AFL and the recently-failed Vince McMahon "extreme football." Yawn.
Nevertheless, the experience and successes clearly bred a new confidence in the once-overwhelmed NFL starter. Maddox helped the fledgling 2002 Steelers overcome a shaky 0-2 start, rallying the squad to 10 wins, a division title and an amazing home playoff game.
After giving fans in Pittsburgh an aerial show not seen since the likes of Bradshaw and company, Maddox threw three touchdowns in a classic comeback win over the Cleveland Browns during Wild Card Weekend, 36-33. The Steelers trailed in the contest, 24-7, before Maddox's second-half heroics.
A week later, the season ended, and Maddox's career proved to be a one-shot wonder. Still, for one season, he can proudly tell his grandchildren about the season of "Tommy Gun."
No. 17: Count Dracula in Cleats
Sometimes, an anointed name evokes the iconic imagery of a figure as well as any photograph.
While the nickname never caught on in the mainstream, an NFL films description of the toothless, steely-eyed Jack Lambert as "Count Dracula in cleats" remains one of the most clever, provocative and encapsulating descriptions of a Steelers player ever.
Just as monsters such as vampires tend to scare us, the fearless linebacker surely caused the opposition to quiver on many Saturday nights.
Looking at the image above, it's hard to dispute the classic description, which is only rarely recalled in regular passing today, costing the nickname "Count Dracula in cleats" a much higher ranking.
No. 16: Hines "Psycho" Ward
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Tunch Ilkin described Ward as "tougher than woodpecker lips."
Ward, a potential Hall of Fame member and the 'Burgh's all-time leading receiver, had a game that no other wideout in league history could boast. Just as adept at blocking as catching passes, No.86 was a freak of nature on the outside—or slot, whichever was the case.
From breaking jaws to "blindsiding" (a.k.a., legally blocking) superstar players downfield, Ward was the essence of blue collar, and a popular sign at Heinz Field aptly described Hines.
"Psycho" Ward, playing off the popular phrase "pysch ward," fit him. Not only did he play with no regard to risk for himself, he surely got into the heads of his opponents, psyching them out—or at least keeping their heads on a swivel.
No. 15: Men of Steel
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Look up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
No, it's a classic alternate name used frequently to describe one of the most successful franchises in NFL history.
Like Superman, the Steelers are heroes in the city of Pittsburgh, and from the tales 'Burghers tell, one would think their weaknesses are as few as the DC Comics icon himself.
Conveniently, the hero's nickname, Man of Steel, fits perfectly for a group calling themselves the Steelers.
Any smart person saw the "Men of Steel" moniker coming from miles away. Tough, physical, hard-nosed... that is the image fans have of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
And, my! It just flows off the tongue, doesn't it?
The name may lose points for lacking cleverness, but nobody can deny the frequency of its use in referring to the team! In fact, the nickname is not all that is borrowed from the classic comics hero. Look in the background of the caption above. Do you see it?
No. 14: Blitzburgh
In the 80's, Dick LeBeau began planting the seeds for the zone blitz defense as a coordinator in Cincinnati.
The coordinator brought his knowledge and innovation to the Steel City, where coupled with Dom Capers, they created a system of defense that has proliferated in the NFL. It was ironic when the two coordinators, twenty years removed from their time together in Pittsburgh, met in 2011's Super Bowl XLV.
While the permutations of the style are nearly endless, the basic philosophy of the zone blitz is the notion of dropping typical pass rush positions into coverage and using players whose standard responsibility would be pass coverage as pass-rushers, or "blitzers," i.e. the corner blitz.
With an abundance of talent executing the scheme in the 90's, ranging from Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd, Chad Brown, Rod Woodson and Carnell Lake, the team had great success confusing opponents and dominating the offenses.
Opposing quarterbacks were being stuffed at record pace, and the offensive backfield of those who battled the 'Burgh became fields of chaos.
Frenzied with the exhilarating success of the aggressive Black and Gold defense, Pittsburghers adopted a new nickname for their city: Blitzburgh!
No. 13: Mad Dog
He had a snarl on the football field, but his peers all credited him for making them laugh and enjoy their playing days even further upon his death in 2010.
Dwight White lost 20 pounds due to pneumonia before the Steelers's first championship, but despite the setbacks, he sacked Fran Tarkenton in the end zone for the opening points of Super Bowl IX.
One year later, he had three of seven sacks on quarterback Roger Staubach, and Pittsburgh beat Dallas 21-17.
Fans will remember "Mad Dog" as a defensive end who dominated his position along the Steel Curtain and came through in the most important moments.
No. 12: Tazmanian Devil
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When his long locks whip in the wind, blowing violently and horizontal to the field of play on a windless day, they help one to clearly visualize the sheer speed and force of nature that is Troy Polamalu.
You can call him a safety, but he is able to play many other roles, whether taking on linebacker assignments, man coverage and corner matchups, or clogging up holes along the defensive front.
From anywhere and at any time, Polamalu can break up a crucial play. Like a banshee on the gridiron, fans find him reminiscent of the Tazmanian Devil.
No. 11: Big Ben
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Size can be actual or perceived. In the case of "Big Ben" Roethlisberger, both apply.
With a huge frame for an elite NFL passer, opponents find the shifty and bull-strong quarterback nearly impossibly to bring down, especially without help. Many have described him as an oak tree, standing tall in the pocket.
Named after the nickname for the great clock tower at the north end of the Westminister Palace of London, Pittsburgh's "Big Ben" is about one type of time: winning time.
No. 10: Hot Rod
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Any classic car connoisseur can tell you that a hot rod is built for speed. The description holds for Rod Woodson.
Atop of his special teams prowess as a return man, Rod Woodson was a great defender in every facet of the game. Able to come up and play the run with great aplomb, Woodson was a hard-hitting corner with coverage skills to match, finishing his career with 71 interceptions.
During his time in Pittsburgh, a banner hung at Three Rivers Stadium that said "Rod is God."
If the phrase is overstating things, it's only a slight foul. His 11 Pro Bowls (seven in Pittsburgh) and placement onto the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team speak to his lofty status.
No. 9: Iron Mike
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Center Mike Webster was the anchor along the Steelers offensive line for four Super Bowl champions, and his brand of physical play intimidated defenders.
Part of the team's illustrious 1974 draft class, Webster played 177 consecutive games through 1985, truly earning his namesake as "Iron Mike." That's right, Tyson, the Steelers had dibs first!
He won an NFL strongman competition in 1980, evidenced by his tree-trunk arms, massive pythons that the illustrious center flaunted during cold and shine.
Just as big as his biceps was another key muscle: his heart. He served his community well, and he also acted as a team leader. He was offensive captain for nine seasons for the Steelers.
"There never has been and never will be another man as committed and totally dedicated to making himself the very best he could possibly be."
Those words, spoken by Terry Bradshaw upon Webster's death, summarized the great Steeler perfectly. During his induction into the Hall of Fame, Bradshaw honored his friend when he ended his speech by having Webster line up and snap him the pigskin one last time.
No. 8: The Blonde Bomber
The blonde-haired, blue-eyed Bradshaw had a tumultuous relationship with Steelers fans when he came to Pittsburgh from Louisiana Tech.
The quarterback's play was awful in his early years, but slowly a foundation of great talent was placed around him. As he honed his skills, Chuck Noll's Steelers began to win, and before long, Terry Bradshaw would cement his place among the game's greatest big-game quarterbacks.
In every Super Bowl featuring the Steelers, his fourth-quarter touchdown(s) paved the way for titles, and No. 12 was unflappable on the game's grandest stage.
After dissecting the Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII, the guy who "couldn't spell cat" came up with a four letter word, and it was that very same number—FOUR.
Pittsburgh's fourth Lombardi Trophy came in come from behind fashion in the fourth quarter.
After connecting with Lynn Swann on a 47-yard score earlier in the contest, Bradshaw's passes to John Stallworth put away the L.A. Rams, showcasing the quarterback's strong arm and big play capability throwing deep passes. His fourth-quarter bomb, coupled with Stallworth's amazing catch, covered 75 yards and put Pittsburgh ahead 24-19, en route to a 31-19 win.
It was arguably the "Blonde Bomber's" finest moment.
No. 7: The Hammer
Eight Pro Bowls. Six years as a first team All-Pro. Member of the NFL's 75th Anniversary All-Time Team...
You get the picture.
Jack Ham was perhaps the greatest outside linebacker to ever live. He did his job so fundamentally well, without the mistakes and miscues occassionally had by even his Steel Curtain peers, that he was often taken for granted and lost in the mix. There's honor in an athlete doing the job completely without the yearning for accolades and media recognition, a humility that far too few athletes in today's game demonstrate.
Jack Ham was happy just to be a damn great linebacker. However, those who used his off-field nature as a litmus test for his on-field ability found out first-hand that "the Hammer" was linebacker perfection.
A local athlete for his entire life, he was born in Johnstown, PA. Opting to stay in Pennsylvania, Ham played for Joe Paterno at Penn State. It was an introduction to his eventual professional greatness. Of his collegiate days, Paterno has said:
"Jack Ham's career is a monument to the work ethic. He was not a highly recruited athlete, but his exceptional intelligence and capacity for hard work made him an extraordinary football player. I don't think any of us knew then what an enormous talent we were getting. Jack Ham will always be the consummate Penn Stater."
No. 6: Slash
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While not in the same category of illustrious athletes who preceded him on this list, Kordell Stewart was the recipient of one of the most unique, appropriate, clever, and lasting nicknames in team history.
Remember—this isn't a listing of best athletes with a nickname; this is a ranking of the handles themselves.
As a rookie in 1995, Kordell became a hit in the Steel City as a jack of all trades. On any given play, he was capable of showing new skills.
As a receiver, his touchdown bomb gave the Steelers the lead in Cincinnati, rallying from a 31-13 deficit to defeat the Bengals at Riverfront Stadium.
When lined up at quarterback, his scrambling act back and forth in the offensive backfield aggravated the Cleveland Browns, especially when his lob pass into the end zone gave Pittsburgh a crucial touchdown during a 20-3 win on Monday Night Football.
He was a runner, often taking end-around and direct snaps in hopes of making the big play.
In the playoffs, he even punted the football.
For all of his skills, he earned the nickname "slash," named after the slash marks (quarterback/running back/wide receiver) that one would see when listing his roles.
Even after his days as a diverse role player, an attribute that many fans wish Kordell had continued to utilize throughout his career, the steady quarterback version of Stewart was still often called "Slash."
Maybe it had something to do with his penchant for knifing Steelers fans in the heart with key turnovers in the biggest games...you know, like a slasher! How else could you explain some of the irresponsible throws Stewart made against the Broncos in '98?
No. 5: The Emperor (AKA Emperor Chaz)
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When Chuck Noll became the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, things changed. Many attribute the rise from losing to certain players who arrived during the late 60's and early 70's, such as Joe Greene or Franco Harris, but without "the Emperor," it's very possible that key scouting and roster decisions may have never occurred.
Further, even with such talent, it was Noll's ability to coach the team into discipline and consistency, a trademark not ascribed to most of his predecessors, that allowed the Black and Gold to transform from black... to gold!
Among the top of the NFL all-time coaching circuit, the four-time Super Bowl Champion is, dare it be said, underrated? Despite having more Lombardi wins than any other coach, his name rarely comes up in conversational debates regarding the best coach ever.
Myron Cope, the nails-on-chalkboard voice of the Steelers for many seasons, was also an underrated mind. After all, his brilliance brought about the nickname "Steel Curtain" and conjured up the concept of "The Terrible Towel," as well as the notion of its supernatural powers.
Cope, a Noll admirer, gave the coach his only nickname, and it was befitting of his style. If nothing else, the underrated coach would now be an eternal ruler, "Emperor Chaz," playing off of Noll's first name of Charles.
No. 4: Mean Joe Greene
America's view of "Mean Joe" Greene was of the nasty, take-no-prisoners defensive tackle who intimidated opponents.
When you said "Mean Joe," the reaction was simple: "I wouldn't want to meet that guy in a dark alley."
Greene was a tough, dominant defender whose emotions sometimes got the best of him. From kicking the Browns' Bob McKay in the groin repeatedly to kicking away the football during a fit of anger, Greene's compulsions during his early playing days emanated from a hate for losing.
In time, that attitude served the team well, inspiring them from his model to win at all costs. Greene was still a brute on the field, but the maturing player's actions fell more inside the rules of the game as time went along.
Still, he was nobody the standard "Joe" would want to mess with, or perhaps even meet. Then, as one classic Super Sunday commercial aired, the hearts of America got to see the human side of an allegedly fearsome man whose play seemed downright superhuman.
While a naive person might think such a change in perception would shatter the image built by the great tackle, the spot and resulting reaction only gave the legacy of "Mean Joe" an even richer, deeper history.
No. 3: The Bus
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How perfect was Jerome Bettis for the Steelers? He fit like a glove. Bettis embodied the intangibles that Pittsburgh fans herald.
Picked up by the Steelers in 1996, Bettis was alleged as a running back with no gamebreaking skills, as well as a locker room concern, by the Rams. Months later, as Bettis was running roughshod over his own team, the Steelers realized that the Rams' castoff was their perfect casting call.
After all, the power running back loved his blue collar smash-mouth style, bruising defenders on his way to over 1,400 yards, 4.5 yards per attempt, and 11 touchdowns.
Steelers fans adored Bettis, and the next step in their relationship with each other was an appropriate nickname.
John Riggins, another great all-time power back, was known as the "Diesel." Something centered around a large vehicle would certainly fit Pittsburgh's new running star.
Question: what large vehicle is black and yellow?
The selection was obvious, and "The Bus" became an all-time Pittsburgh icon while achieving 13,662 career rushing yards, ranking sixth on the NFL's all-time rushing leaders list.
No. 2: The Chief
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Art Rooney Avenue runs adjacent to Heinz Field.
A statue in the founder's likeness is a common central hub for fans, often wishing to be pictured beside the most important person in franchise history.
Fittingly, the founding father of the Pittsburgh Steelers was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Hame in 1964.
And, lastly, without Art Rooney, there would not be... I don't think I need to finish that sentence.
Clearly, this was a man that deserved to be honored, and everyone knew it—and did it!
Art Rooney, Sr. was revered as a kind soul, the type of person that would be of value in the life of any other human being. He carried himself with grace, looked out for the people around him, and gave each player the gift of his humanity, even with gestures as simple as thanking each of them for their efforts after each game—even during the losing years!
According to former players, that's just who "The Chief" was: someone who cared!
No. 1: The Steel Curtain
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It is the perfect nickname to describe the vaunted Steelers defense of the 70's, a moniker that is used in abundance any and every time the unit has ever been recalled.
With all of the excitement over the Pittsburgh Steelers' success, a contest was held where fans could submit ideas for a fitting nickname for the prized defense.
The contest was won by Gregory Kronz, though he was not the only one to submit the nickname. However, his name was chosen during the drawing process.
His submission, "Steel Curtain," was based on the "Iron Curtain" phrase popularized by Prime Minister Winston Chuchill.
Indeed, the entry was perfect. What better description is there for a tough-as-nails defense that smothered its opponents, blanketing them in a shroud of failure, than Steel Curtain? If anybody has a better idea, let us all know!
While the entire defense is often labeled by this moniker, I'm a firm believer that the actual nickname refers to the front four linemen, who happened to be pictured on the large signage at Three Rivers Stadium that depicted the group. As such, those included are Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White and Ernie Holmes.