Which 4 Players Are on Pittsburgh Steelers All-Time Mount Rushmore?
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What better way to celebrate Presidents' Day than to determine the four players who make up the Pittsburgh Steelers' all-time Mount Rushmore?
Mount Rushmore, of course, is the mountain sculpture of U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.
If a similar monument were made to honor the four greatest Steelers players of all time, which faces would be carved?
The Steelers' 80-year history can be divided into distinct eras. There were the first 40 years, when they played in just one postseason game. There were the 1970s, when they won four Super Bowls. There was the quarter-century between championships and then the current era in which the Steelers have won two more Super Bowls.
One Mount Rushmore could be constructed for the 1970s Steelers and another for the modern-day Steelers, but that would just be a cop out.
If a Steelers Mount Rushmore were commissioned, these are the players whose faces would be chiseled. This is players only, no coaches or front office personnel.
These players aren't ranked, and like Mount Rushmore, they're also not in any chronological order. It helps maximize the suspense.
After he became the Steelers head coach in 1969, Chuck Noll used his first draft pick on "Mean" Joe Greene.
The Steelers would never be the same.
Greene changed the attitude of a franchise that had endured nearly four decades of futility.
In his first practice, the rookie defensive tackle blew away veteran center and vocal leader Ray Mansfield in a drill.
Steelers linebacker Andy Russell recalled that moment for Chad Millman in his book, The Ones Who Hit the Hardest: The Steelers, the Cowboys, the 70s and the Fight for America's Soul.
"He was the single most important player in the history of our success," Russell said via an excerpt from the book on ESPN.com.
Greene was the 1969 Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year. He's the only Steeler to be named to 10 Pro Bowls. He's also the only Steeler to win two AP Defensive Player of the Year awards (1972 and 1974).
While Greene set the tone in his first practice as a Steeler, there needed to be one more turning point before the Steelers became a championship team.
That came in December of 1974. The Steelers were 8-2-1 but lost at home to the Houston Oilers, who had a losing record. The following night, according to Steelers.com, Greene watched on TV as the two-time defending champion Miami Dolphins steamrolled the Cincinnati Bengals, and wondered why the Steelers couldn't play like that. He became so frustrated he almost quit the team.
The Steelers didn't lose again that season, and won their first championship with a 16-6 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IX.
In that game, Greene intercepted a pass in Pittsburgh territory with the Steelers leading 9-0 late in the third quarter. He also recovered a fumble at the Steelers' 5-yard line in the fourth quarter.
Greene recovered five fumbles in 1978. In Super Bowl XIII that year, he had a tackle, a sack, a pass break-up and a forced fumble in the Steelers' 35-31 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
The Steelers won their fourth Super Bowl in 1979, the year of Greene's final Pro Bowl honor.
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It might be on a smaller scale, but the Steelers' 2004 draft had an impact on the team's fortunes similar to the 1969 draft.
Since the NFL draft wasn't televised in 1969, many people probably didn't find out until the next day that the Steelers drafted Mean Joe Greene.
In 2004, anyone watching the NFL draft knew the Steelers were going to take Ben Roethlisberger before NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue made the announcement.
The Steelers' modern-day history changed when Roethlisberger, clad in a pinstripe suit, took a phone call from Steelers coach Bill Cowher.
That draft-day decision didn't curb four decades of losing like its parallel moment 35 years earlier. It did, however, signal the end of a frustrating decade in which the Steelers were winners, just not champions.
The Steelers made the playoffs eight times between 1992 and 2003, but reached only one Super Bowl. They lost three AFC Championship Games during that time, all at home.
One for the Thumb was never going to happen without a franchise quarterback.
Roethlisberger proved to be a franchise quarterback right away when he took over in Week 2 and helped the Steelers go 15-1 in his rookie season.
The following year, Roethlisberger led the Steelers to their long-awaited fifth championship. In the Steelers' playoff victories at Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver, Roethlisberger completed 49 of 72 passes with seven touchdowns and one interception.
Roethlisberger's most legendary play of the 2005 postseason came outside of his job description. With the Steelers clinging to a 21-18 lead at Indianapolis, Roethlisberger made a game-saving tackle on a fumble return that would have given the Colts the lead with a minute left.
Three years later, the Steelers became the only team to win six Super Bowls. Their 27-23 Super Bowl XLIII victory over the Arizona Cardinals was their only title that required a comeback late in the fourth quarter.
Roethlisberger capped the game-winning, 88-yard drive by throwing a 6-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds left.
Roethlisberger is the Steelers' all-time leader with 22 fourth-quarter comebacks and 29 game-winning drives, according to Pro Football Reference. He's also thrown for more yards than any Steeler with 29,844. His 63.1 completion percentage is tops among all Steelers who have thrown at least 23 career passes.
Roethlisberger is one of 11 quarterbacks to win multiple Super Bowls and merits Hall of Fame consideration.
Don't fret. We weren't going to put Roethlisberger on this list without also including Terry Bradshaw.
That's two quarterbacks taking up half of the faces on the Steelers' all-time Mount Rushmore.
This is justified because the Steelers and Dallas Cowboys are the only two NFL franchises with two quarterbacks who have won multiple Super Bowls.
The Steelers know better than anyone that winning championships comes down to the quarterback.
Unlike Roethlisberger, it took Bradshaw a little longer than two years to bring home a Lombardi Trophy. His ascent was slower than Roethlisberger's, but it wasn't until Bradshaw was firmly established as the quarterback that the Steelers became a championship team.
After drafting Mean Joe Greene in 1969, the Steelers took Bradshaw with the top overall pick in 1970.
Bradshaw went 8-13 as a starter in his first two seasons, then started every game in 1972. His pass that turned into the Immaculate Reception gave the Steelers the first playoff victory in their 40-year history.
In 1973, however, Bradshaw started just nine games. He went 8-1 in those starts, but threw for 10 touchdowns with 15 interceptions. The Steelers were one-and-done in the playoffs, with Bradshaw throwing three interceptions in a 33-14 loss at Oakland.
It didn't get much better for Bradshaw in 1974. Joe Gilliam opened the season as the starting quarterback, and even Terry Hanratty started as late as Week 10.
The Steelers' quarterback controversy didn't truly end until Bradshaw completed 12 of 19 passes with a touchdown and no interceptions in the Steelers' 32-14 AFC Divisional Playoff victory over the Buffalo Bills.
Pittsburgh won the AFC Championship Game at Oakland the following week, then took home their first Lombardi Trophy with a 16-6 win over Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IX.
Bradshaw made the first of his three Pro Bowls in 1975 and led the Steelers to their second championship, a 21-17 win over the Cowboys in Super Bowl X.
In 1978, Bradshaw became the only Steeler to be named Most Valuable Player by the Associated Press. He led the NFL with 28 touchdown passes that year. He also was MVP of Super Bowl XIII, throwing four TD passes and 318 yards in the Steelers' 35-31 win over the Cowboys.
Bradshaw was Super Bowl MVP again the following year and became the first quarterback to win four Super Bowls when the Steelers defeated the Los Angeles Rams 31-19.
Bradshaw is the Steelers' all-time leader in touchdown passes (212), wins by a quarterback (107) and postseason wins by a quarterback (14).
Roethlisberger has a chance to catch Bradshaw in all those categories. He has some work to do to match Bradshaw's eight straight postseason appearances from 1972 to 1979. Roethlisberger has yet to string together more than two consecutive playoff seasons.
That won't matter, though, if Roethlisberger can equal Bradshaw with two more Super Bowl rings.
The Steelers chose Jack Lambert in the second round of the 1974 NFL draft. He's one of four Hall of Famers the Steelers took that year in what NFL.com calls the best draft class of all time.
Pittsburgh played a 4-3 defense in those days, and as a middle linebacker Lambert made an immediate impact. He was named Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1974 and helped the Steelers win their first Super Bowl that season.
Here's what the Pro Football Hall of Fame website says:
Even though he was the youngest starter on the Pittsburgh defensive unit, many felt that Lambert's presence was the final ingredient needed to turn that unit into a dominant one. Intimidating, he helped to shape and reinforce Pittsburgh’s famed "Steel Curtain."
Lambert earned the first of his nine Pro Bowl honors in 1975 and filled the leadership void when Mean Joe Greene missed four games.
Lambert recovered three fumbles as the Steelers defeated the Oakland Raiders 16-10 in the AFC Championship Game in 1975. In the Steelers' 21-17 Super Bowl X win over the Dallas Cowboys, Lambert showed he could be just as mean as Mean Joe Greene, and it helped spark a Steelers rally.
Pittsburgh trailed 10-7 when Roy Gerela missed a field goal in the third quarter. The Cowboys' Cliff Harris got in his face about it. Lambert saw that and drove Harris into the turf. The Steelers scored the next 14 points.
In 1976, Lambert led the NFL with eight fumble recoveries and was named AP Defensive Player of the Year.
Interceptions became more a part of Lambert's repertoire later in his career. Of his 28 career interceptions, 18 came between 1978 and 1981. As the NFL adopted rule changes in 1978 that favored the passing game, Lambert was a pioneer among linebackers in stopping the pass.
The biggest interception of Lambert's career came in Super Bowl XIV, when the Steelers defeated the Los Angeles Rams 31-19.
The Rams trailed 24-19 and had the ball at the Steelers' 32 with about five minutes left in the game. Lambert, who also had 10 tackles in the game, picked off Vince Ferragamo at the Steelers' 14 and returned it 16 yards, setting up the touchdown that clinched the Steelers' unprecedented fourth Super Bowl victory.
Who Didn't Make It and Why
Because the Steelers are the only team to win six Super Bowls, Super Bowl rings were a requirement to be considered for the Steelers' all-time Mount Rushmore.
That's why Rod Woodson and Ernie Stautner didn't make it.
Woodson had 38 interceptions and made seven Pro Bowls as a Steeler. He also was named 1993 Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Stautner, whose No. 70 is the only uniform number retired by the Steelers, was a versatile defensive lineman from 1950 to 1963 and even played some offensive line. He's one of five Steelers to make nine or more Pro Bowls.
As hard as it was to exclude them, it was much harder leaving out players with Super Bowl rings.
Since the Steelers won four Super Bowls in the 1970s and just two in the past decade, three players from the 70s were chosen for the four spots.
Lambert was chosen over Troy Polamalu because of his ability to stay healthy and his impact in Super Bowls. Lambert missed just six games in the first 10 years of his career. Polamalu's missed more than that in multiple seasons and he's also been pretty much invisible in the three Super Bowls he's played.
Polamalu was still a strong candidate to be the one representative of the current era.
He rescued the Steelers with his pick-six of Joe Flacco late in the 2008 AFC Championship Game, and the Steelers went on to win Super Bowl XLIII. He single-handedly changed the AFC North race with his strip-sack of Flacco in 2010.
The Steelers might not have won Super Bowl XLIII or reached Super Bowl XLV without Polamalu, but he was put in a position to make those plays because of how far Ben Roethlisberger had taken the Steelers.
Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward also have Roethlisberger to thank for their Super Bowl rings. Ward is the Steelers' all-time leader in receiving yards and Bettis is second on the Steelers' all-time list for rushing yards.
Not only did neither win a Super Bowl until Roethlisberger came along, but they didn't even play in one. Both came after the Steelers' loss to the Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX.
If Ward doesn't make it, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth don't make it, either. Ward's 1,000 career receptions were more than Swann and Stallworth combined.
Despite his Immaculate Reception fame and status as the Steelers' all-time leading rusher, there wasn't even a place for Franco Harris. The Steelers' all-time Mount Rushmore needed more than one defensive player to represent the Steel Curtain, and both offensive spots were taken by quarterbacks.
Also left off were Mel Blount and Jack Ham. Blount is the Steelers' all-time leader with 57 interceptions. Ham's career was comparable to Lambert's. He had 32 interceptions, four more than Lambert, and made eight Pro Bowls. But neither Blount nor Ham were quite as iconic as Lambert.
So let the debate begin.
If the Steelers can win another Super Bowl or two, perhaps the franchise's all-time Mount Rushmore won't be, well, set in stone.