Ben Roethlisberger will go down as one of the best players of all time for the Pittsburgh Steelers -- which is saying something for a franchise whose history books are crammed with Hall of Famers.
Roethlisberger's retirement got me thinking: Where would the QB rank among the best to have ever suited up in black and yellow? And what would a list of the top 15 Steelers of all time look like?
Below, you'll find my answer, presented in reverse order: the top 15 Pittsburgh Steelers of all time.
First, here are the players who just missed the cut:
ALSO CONSIDERED: Ernie Stautner, DL, 1950-1963; Mike Webster, C, 1974-1988; Hines Ward, WR, 1998-2011; L.C. Greenwood, DE, 1969-1981; Donnie Shell, DB, 1974-1987; James Harrison, LB, 2002-2012, 2014-17; Antonio Brown, WR, 2010-18; Heath Miller, TE, 2005-2015.
15) Lynn Swann, receiver
1974-1982, three-time Pro Bowler, one-time first-team All-Pro, Hall of Fame Class of 2001
I was working in the Cowboys front office during the 1974 NFL Draft, and Swann would have been our first-round pick -- except Pittsburgh swooped in and selected him 21st overall (we chose Charley Young 22nd). This will emerge as something of a trend as you read on. Swann, of course, ended up dominating against us in Super Bowl X, earning MVP honors in that game with four catches (including one of the best ever) for 161 yards (still the fourth-most in Super Bowl history) while helping to secure the team's second title.
14) John Stallworth, receiver
1974-1987, three-time Pro Bowler, one-time first-team All-Pro, Hall of Fame Class of 2002
Scout Bill Nunn Jr. (who entered the Hall of Fame in 2021) played an integral role in building the Steelers teams of the 1970s, turning up plenty of talent at HBCUs. Perhaps no one better illustrates Nunn's influence than Stallworth, the Alabama A&M product whose game tape Nunn kept to himself, allowing the team to scoop him up in the fourth round. Of the four players in team history to top 500 career catches, Stallworth boasts the highest yards-per-catch mark (16.2).
13) Dermontti Dawson, center
1988-2000, seven-time Pro Bowler, six-time first-team All-Pro, Hall of Fame Class of 2012
There was one thing in particular that Dawson could do better than most centers could even dream of doing: pull, get outside and block the linebacker. Very athletic, he was instrumental in making their outside run plays work in his 1990s heyday.
12) Jack Butler, defensive back
1951-1959, four-time Pro Bowler, three-time first-team All-Pro, Hall of Fame Class of 2012
Butler played in a time before the Steelers established themselves as perennial contenders. In his nine seasons with the team, Pittsburgh posted a winning record just twice. But he was a preeminent ballhawk who remains in second place among franchise leaders in interceptions (52).
11) Jack Ham, linebacker
1971-1982, eight-time Pro Bowler, six-time first-team All-Pro, Hall of Fame Class of 1988
A smallish (6-foot-1, 225 pounds) linebacker, Ham did everything -- he could cover, he could blitz. The Steelers held opponents to less than 20 points per game in 11 of Ham's 12 seasons, including an amazing 9.9 in 1976. He's a very smart guy who was totally dedicated to football.
10) Franco Harris, running back
1972-1983, nine-time Pro Bowler, one-time first-team All-Pro, Hall of Fame Class of 1990
You know Harris from the Immaculate Reception, of course. What you might not know is that he was yet another player we (the Cowboys) would have taken if Pittsburgh had not drafted him first (13th overall in 1972). Harris remains the franchise leader in carries (2,881), rushing yards (11,950) and rushing touchdowns (91).
9) Terry Bradshaw, quarterback
1970-1983, three-time Pro Bowler, one-time first-team All-Pro, Hall of Fame Class of 1989
Bradshaw's passing numbers might not catch your eye relative to what the quarterbacks of today put up -- he topped 3,000 yards just twice in his career. But he had tremendous ability as a thrower and a great arm. He had speed like a jackrabbit. And he was tough as all heck. The total package made him one of the best QBs of all time. Bradshaw was named NFL MVP in 1978 and was the MVP of two Super Bowls.
8) Jerome Bettis, running back
1996-2005, four-time Pro Bowler, one-time first-team All-Pro, Hall of Fame Class of 2015
Bettis was never a very fast guy, but he had exceptional strength and vision, which is what enabled him to pile up 13,662 career rushing yards, eighth-most all time. Because 3,091 of those yards came in his first three NFL seasons with the Rams, Bettis is in second place on the Steelers franchise leaders list, behind Harris -- they remain the only two players to top 10,000 rushing yards with the team.
7) Jack Lambert, linebacker
1974-1984, nine-time Pro Bowler, six-time first-team All-Pro, Hall of Fame Class of 1990
In the 28 years that I helped evaluate prospects for the Cowboys, Lambert was the highest-rated defensive player I ever saw. He looked like Ichabod Crane, tall and thin -- but when making a play on the football field, he got there in a hurry and was nasty. We haven't seen a player like him since.
6) Troy Polamalu, safety
2003-2014, eight-time Pro Bowler, four-time first-team All-Pro, Hall of Fame Class of 2020
Polamalu didn't really have a weakness on the field; he was just a great all-around football player, excelling against the pass (I can think of at least one impossible interception I saw him make) and the run. During Polamalu's years in the NFL, he collected 783 tackles, 12 sacks, 14 forced fumbles and 32 picks -- only one other player (Charles Woodson) managed to top 700 tackles and 30 picks while also reaching double digits in sacks and forced fumbles. Polamalu also won Defensive Player of the Year in 2010.
5) Mel Blount, cornerback
1970-1983, five-time Pro Bowler, two-time first-team All Pro, Hall of Fame Class of 1989
The current all-time franchise leader in interceptions (57), Blount was one of the first sizable corners that I can remember playing in the NFL, checking in at 6-3 -- watching him jam receivers and harass them with his long arms was like watching an elephant punching at a mosquito. We had a hard time against him with some of our smaller receivers when I was with Dallas. He's also one of the classiest guys of all time.
4) Alan Faneca, offensive line
1998-2007, seven-time Pro Bowler, six-time first-team All-Pro, Hall of Fame Class of 2021
Faneca didn't necessarily look like your typical offensive lineman; he wasn't the biggest guy in the world. But he competed incredibly hard, to the point that he routinely dominated his matchups and helped control the line of scrimmage. He's also a quality individual. He ended his Pittsburgh run with four consecutive first-team All-Pro nods, blocking for Roethlisberger on the team that won Super Bowl XL.
3) Rod Woodson, defensive back
1987-1996, seven-time Pro Bowler, five-time first-team All-Pro, Hall of Fame Class of 2009
This story should be extremely predictable by now; we were getting ready to draft Woodson to the Cowboys back in 1987 (we had the 12th overall pick) when -- you guessed it -- Pittsburgh snagged him at No. 10. Woodson helped power the Steelers' early-1990s competitive window under Bill Cowher. In the seven healthy seasons Woodson played in from 1989 to 1996 (Woodson missed all but one game in 1995 with a torn ACL), he racked up 33 picks and 13 sacks for a defense that finished in the top three in yards allowed four times in that span. He also won Defensive Player of the Year in 1993 and is an eminently worthy member of the Hall of Fame's All-1990s Team.
2) Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback
2004-2021, six-time Pro Bowler
It's funny to think of now, but when he was a prospect coming out of Miami of Ohio, I remember there being a perception that he had a strong arm but not much athleticism. Suffice it to say that he turned out to be plenty athletic, so good at shrugging off would-be tacklers before rifling the ball downfield that it became one of the defining images of his career. Roethlisberger helped the Steelers win two Super Bowl titles within his first five professional seasons, and while he never won another, he did make Pittsburgh one of the most stable and reliably competitive teams of the past decade and a half. In his time with the team, the Steelers reached the postseason 11 times without posting a single losing season. And while he may not have been asked to do much in the early portion of his career, he eventually showed he could spin it with the best of them, leading the league in passing yards twice (with 4,952 in 2014 and 5,129 in 2018).
1) Joe Greene, defensive tackle
1969-1981, 10-time Pro Bowler, 4-time first-team All-Pro, Hall of Fame Class of 1987
This list is absolutely jam-packed with all-timers, but you'd have to look long and hard before you could find anyone quite like Greene. The universally beloved hard-worker rose from a small-school background (having gone to North Texas) to become an era-defining star, one of just three people in NFL history to win Defensive Rookie of the Year and multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards (1972, '74), along with Lawrence Taylor and Aaron Donald. With Greene mauling QBs and running backs up front, the Steel Curtain powered Pittsburgh to four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s (including two against the Cowboys during my time with the team). No one is better suited for the top spot here.