Pittsburgh Steelers History: Top 10 Running Backs Of All-Time
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a long history of smash-mouth football dating back to before they ever won their first Super Bowl.
It was a hard task to actually rank all of the great running backs that have ever played for the Steelers. When ranking them, I tried to look at more than just how many yards a player had in his career and if he played his prime years with the Steelers or with other teams.
All in all, I look forward to seeing everyone’s opinion about how well I did ranking these players.
10. Frank Pollard
Career (only with Steelers): 3,989 yards, 20 TDs
At 220 pounds, Frank Pollard was one in a long line of big backs for the Pittsburgh Steelers in their history.
He played his entire nine-season career with the Steelers and is currently fifth all-time in rushing for the Steelers.
Pollard was a solid back for the Steelers, and had his best season in 1985 when he rushed for 991 yards and three touchdowns with 250 receiving yards.
I was tempted to put fellow power back Barry Foster at this spot instead of Pollard; however, Foster could never stay healthy and only had one really good season.
9. Dick Hoak
Career (only with Steelers): 3,965 yards, 25 TDs
Richard John Hoak was selected by the Steelers in seventh round of the 1961 NFL draft and played his entire 10-year career in Pittsburgh.
Hoak had an impressive career with the Steelers, leading the team three years in rushing along with throwing in 1,452 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. He retired in 1970 as Pittsburgh’s No. 2 all-time leading rusher.
He is probably best known nowadays for being the longest-tenured coach in Steelers history, as he retired in 2007 after 45 years with the Steelers (35 as a coach, 10 as a player).
During his tenure as coach, the Steelers had rushed for over 30,000 yards as a team, which no other team did in that time period, and led the league in rushing three times.
8. Merril Hoge
Career: 3,139 yards, 21 TDs
With Steelers: 3,115 yards, 21 TDs
People forget that Merril Hoge was a pretty good back for the Steelers before becoming an ESPN analyst in 1995.
Hoge was drafted in the 10th round of the 1987 draft and played seven of his eight NFL seasons with the Steelers. He led the Steelers in rushing and receiving yards in four of his first five seasons with the team, and actually set the Steelers record for receptions by a running back in his third year.
Hoge is also one of two running backs in Steelers history to have back to back 100-yard games in the playoffs, the other being Franco Harris.
Since being forced to retire from the NFL because of concussions, Hoge has been diagnosed with and beat non-Hodgkins lymphoma to become a pretty good analyst, and I believe he deserves some recognition for the back that he was for the Steelers.
7. Bill Dudley
Career: 3,057 yards, 18 TDs
With Steelers: 1,504 yards, 10 TDs
“Bullet” Bill Dudley had a hall of fame career in the NFL; however, he only played three seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Drafted in the first round in the 1942 NFL draft by the Steelers, Dudley showed his potential and versatility as a rookie. In his first game he ran for a 55-yard touchdown, and in his second game he scored on a kickoff return for a touchdown en route to leading the Steelers in rushing and gaining all-league honors.
However no one can truly know how good he could have been as a Steeler since his career was interrupted in 1943 and 1944 when he served in World War II.
He returned to the Steelers in 1945, and in '46 led the league in rushing, punt returns, interceptions, and lateral passes attempted.
He then left the Steelers and continued to build on to his Hall of Fame career.
6. Fran Rogel
Career (only with Steelers): 3,271 yards, 17 TDs
Many fans today may not know about Fran Rogel, and I myself do not pretend to really know anything about a player who played over 50 years ago and 30 before I was even born.
From all accounts, Rogel was one of the toughest players on the Steelers, which is summed-up by a quote from the teams former equipment manager Jim Boston, "He would run into a brick wall if you told him to.”
This is personified by the fact that head coach Walt Kielsing would run the same play to start every game which was known by both the other team and the fans. The play was a simple running play to Rogel, which prompted the fans to chant “Hey diddle diddle, Rogel up the middle,” every game, and teams still struggled to stop him.
Rogel suffered many concussions in his career and yet never missed a game. When he retired in 1957 he was the Pittsburgh Steelers all-time leading rusher.
5. Willie Parker
Career (only with Steelers): 5,378 yards, 24 TDs
An undrafted free agent in 2004, Willie Parker showed his great speed in his one main opportunity in his rookie year when he ran for 102 yards in the final game of the season.
In his second year, Parker was named the starting running back in Week One when both Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis went out with injuries. He did not waste this opportunity either, as he became only the second undrafted player to rush for more than 1,200 yards in a season.
Parker then had the longest rushing touchdown in Super Bowl history that same season when he ran for a 75-yard touchdown in the third quarter of Super Bowl XL.
He then followed this up with a 1,500-yard, 13-touchdown season and was leading the league in rushing the next season until he broke his leg late in the year.
Parker never really got his game back after that and is now out of Pittsburgh. I believe he was severely underrated as a Steeler, and even though I am excited about Mendenhall this season, I was sad to see him go in free agency.
4. John Henry Johnson
Career: 6,803 yards, 48 TDs
With Steelers: 4,381 yards, 26 TDs
Hall of Fame running back John Henry Johnson was a 210-pound workhouse in the NFL for 12 seasons.
Johnson started his NFL career in the “Million-Dollar Backfield” with Hugh McElhenny, Y.A. Tittle, and Joe Perry. All four of these players are now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.
He was then traded to Detroit before being traded to the Steelers in 1960, where he had his finest seasons.
Johnson was the first Steelers running back to reach the 1,000-yard mark in a season in 1962, and he reached it again in 1964. He was also a very good receiving back, amassing 1,478 receiving yards in his career.
When John Henry Johnson retired after the 1966 season, he was fourth all-time in rushing behind only Jim Brown, Jim Taylor, and Joe Perry with his 6,803 rushing yards.
3. Rocky Bleier
Career (only with Steelers): 3,865 yards, 23 TDs
Rocky Bleier was always an underdog in Pittsburgh, which started with him being drafted in the 16th round of the 1968 NFL draft.
After his rookie year, he was drafted and shipped off to Vietnam where his platoon was ambushed and Bleier was injured in battle. He wounded his leg, and when he hit the ground a nearby exploding grenade sent pieces of shrapnel into his leg and foot.
Remarkably, Bleier returned to the Steelers one year after being injured; however, it took him two full seasons to rehab his leg and he was even waived by the Steelers twice.
However, Bleier never gave up, and in 1976, along with primary starter Franco Harris, became only the second pair of teammates to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season.
Bleier was a great lead blocker for Harris in his career, and when he retired after the 1980 season, he was the fourth-leading rusher in Steelers history.
2. Jerome Bettis
Career: 13,662 yards, 91 TDs
With Steelers: 10,571 yards, 78 TDs
One of the most beloved Steelers in recent memory, “The Bus,” Jerome Bettis, was traded to Pittsburgh in 1996 from the Rams and was the perfect fit for the smash-mouth football the Steelers wanted to play.
He rushed for 1,000 yards in his first six seasons with the Steelers and had a career-best 1,665-yard season, which was 25 yards short of the team record for a season.
However, injuries began to take effect on Bettis. While rushing for over 1,000 yards, he missed most of 2001 and part of '02. This led to Bettis being the backup for the Steelers for the 2003 season and the start of the 2004 season.
However, due to other injuries, Bettis became the starter midway through the 2004 season and gained 100 yards in six of his eight games.
Even though Bettis was more of a short-yardage back in 2005, he helped the Steelers on a historic run to becoming the first sixth seed to ever win the Super Bowl.
Bettis, finally being a champion, retired after that season and finished as the NFL’s fifth all-time leading rusher.
1. Franco Harris
Career: 12,120 yards, 91 TDs
With Steelers: 11,950 yards, 91 TDs
Selected with the 13th overall selection in the 1972 NFL draft, Franco Harris played 12 of his 13 seasons with the Steelers.
Harris started his career as the Rookie of the Year with over 1,000 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns and never looked back. He proceeded to be selected to nine consecutive Pro Bowls and broke Jim Brown’s record with eight seasons of 1,000 rushing yards.
Harris was so popular in Pittsburgh that the fans called themselves “Franco’s Italian Army,” and wore army helmets with his number on them to the Steelers games.
He is maybe best known for one of the greatest moments in NFL history, as he was the one to make “The Immaculate Reception,” scoring the winning touchdown in a playoff game against the Raiders.
Franco was one of the most important pieces to the Pittsburgh Steelers winning four Super Bowls in 1974, '75, '78, and '79, and his 12,120 yards rank him 12th all-time in NFL history.