Steelers name 33 players who stand above rest to its All-Time Team
October 25, 2007 8:00 AM
Lake Fong / Post-Gazette
Steelers L.C. Greenwood, left, and Hines Ward are honored yesterday as members of the Steelers All-Time team as selected by fans.
Lake Fong / Post-Gazette
The Steelers' Hines Ward smiles to the audience while being introduced as a member of the Steelers All-Time Team. At right is team chairman Dan Rooney.
By Robert Dvorchak Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When L.C. Greenwood attended his first training camp at Saint Vincent's as a low-round draft pick in 1969, a teammate from the same small southern school tried to talk him into driving back home.
"No," he told Clarence Washington, also a defensive lineman from Arkansas AM & N, "I'm not leaving until they tell me to go home."
He never did leave. To the contrary, 38 years and a lifetime of memories later, the Steelers keep asking him to come back.
A lanky defensive end who was considered too small for the NFL at 235 pounds, the man known as "Hollywood Bags" and who wore gold high-top shoes on the Steel Curtain was one of 33 players announced yesterday on the all-time team of a franchise founded in 1933.
Two other members of that front four -- Hall of Famer Joe Greene and defensive end Dwight White -- were also chosen for the all-time team as part of the franchise's celebration of its 75th season. The team will be honored at a gala next Sunday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and at the Nov. 5 Monday night game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Let the arguments begin about who is on and who might have been left off the team.
Four active players were honored: Hines Ward, Alan Faneca, Casey Hampton and Troy Polamalu.
"When they talk Steeler football with wide receivers like John Stallworth and Lynn Swann, to have my name mentioned with those guys is a dream come true," said Mr. Ward, the MVP of Super XL. "It's overwhelming, considering all the great players who have played this game. These are the kinds of accolades you usually get when your career is over with. And no one can ever take it away."
The 33 members of the all-time team, selected by the fans in on-line voting and ballots in the Post-Gazette and at PNC banks, were announced yesterday inside The Great Hall at Heinz Field before a live, squealing audience that also came to see the taping of "The Hines Ward Show." Having extra spots on offense and defense helped limit any controversies.
As expected, it is heavily weighted to the teams of the 1970s that won four Super Bowls, but there is also a mix of legends and contemporary players who may not have earned a championship but contributed to the rich legacy of the Steelers.
For example, the late Elbie Nickel made the team at tight end along with Bennie Cunningham, who arrived in 1976 and won two rings. Mr. Nickel played in the team's first ever playoff game in 1947. And in 1952, he caught 55 passes for 884 yards and nine touchdowns, all of which were team records at the time. He was one of the late owner Art Rooney's favorite players and would annually drive The Chief to the Kentucky Derby.
Other representatives from the earlier era are defensive lineman Ernie Stautner and defensive back Jack Butler. Mr. Stautner, a Hall of Famer, is the only Steelers player to have his number officially retired. Mr. Butler, who never played high school football, was No. 3 on the NFL's interception list when a knee injury ended his career in 1959.
Leading the list of 15 offensive players is quarterback Terry Bradshaw, a two-time Super Bowl MVP who led the Steelers to eight division titles and four NFL titles. Before the Steelers won a coin flip to select him in the 1970 draft, the team had never won anything.
Running back has a '70s feel with Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. They are joined by Jerome Bettis. Mr. Harris, the man who caught the Immaculate Reception, is the franchise leader in yards gained with 11,950 yards and 91 rushing touchdowns. Mr. Bleier, after recovering from combat wounds received in Vietnam, was an integral part of the Super Bowl teams and rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 1976. Mr. Bettis is a rare story in that he wasn't drafted by the Steelers but became one of the franchise's most popular players. Ranking second in team history in rushing yards and touchdowns, he retired -- in his hometown of Detroit -- while holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy presented after Super Bowl XL.
The offensive line has two centers -- Mike Webster, who holds the franchise records for seasons (15), games (220) and consecutive games played (177), and Dermontti Dawson who played in 171 consecutive games until he was hobbled by a hamstring injury.
There are three tackles -- Larry Brown and Jon Kolb from the '70s, and Tunch Ilkin, now a team broadcaster, who joked that he arrived too late for the Super Bowls and too early for free agency.
Behind the defensive line of Messrs. Greene, Greenwood, Hampton, Stautner and White are five linebackers, starting with Andy Russell, who arrived before fabled coach Chuck Noll and earned his spot on the first two Super Bowl teams.
The middle linebacker is Jack Lambert, who Mr. Russell says is the best there ever was, including Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke. The inspiration for Lambert's Lunatics, he was the only rookie to start in the Steelers' first Super Bowl and led the Steelers in tackles every year in his career except his last one, which was interrupted by the toe injury that forced him to retire.
Also at outside linebacker is Jack Ham, a partner in mayhem with Mr. Lambert and also in the Hall of Fame. He is joined by Greg Lloyd and Joey Porter, currently playing for the Miami Dolphins.
At defensive back, in addition to Messrs. Butler and Polamalu, are Hall of Famer Mel Blount, Rod Woodson, Donnie Shell and Carnell Lake.
Rounding out the team are kicker Gary Anderson, who was signed off the waiver wire to become the leading scorer in team history with 1,343 points, and punter Bobby Walden. He came from the same Georgia town as baseball legend Jackie Robinson and still owns the franchise record for career punts with 716.
"These are outstanding players who really deserve the recognition," said Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, 75. "It has been 75 years of fun."
Correction/Clarification: (Published Oct. 27, 2007) L.C. Greenwood, who was named to the Steelers all-time team on Wednesday, Oct, 24, 2007 first came to Pittsburgh 38 years ago, not 48, as stated incorrectly in this story as originally published in Oct. 25, 2007 editions.