Ron Cook: When listing greatest, most popular Steelers, where to put Heath Miller?
February 21, 2016 9:46 PM
Heath Miller makes one of the many tough catches that endeared him to Steelers fans over the years in a game this past season at Seattle.
In a 2012 photo, Rocky Bleier, right, helps Franco Harris into his jersey before a group photo of Immaculate Reception alumni before a Steelers game. At left is Joe Greene and seated is "Santa" L.C. Greenwood.
Even more memorable moments still to come from rugged Steelers linebacker James Harrison?
It happens every time a prominent athlete retires. People ask: Where does he rank in his franchise’s history?
Here we go again.
Where does Heath Miller fit among the all-time Steelers? Was he a legendary player the way Joe Greene and Mike Webster were? No. Is he a future Hall of Famer the way Alan Faneca and Troy Polamalu are? No. Will he go down as one of the more popular players the way Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis did? Absolutely.
There is a difference between being great and being popular. I thought it would be fun to put together a top-10 list of Steelers from the past 50 years in each category so you can compare your choices to mine. Talk about an incredibly difficult assignment. There are no right or wrong answers. There are only opinions. There were so many great/popular Steelers to consider that only four made both of my lists: Webster, Harris, Jack Lambert and Terry Bradshaw.
• Slideshow: Heath Miller’s career:
The Rooneys long have said Greene is the greatest player in franchise history. Who am I to disagree? When the Steelers drafted Greene out of North Texas State with the No. 4 pick in the 1969 draft, the reaction in Pittsburgh was Joe Who? Thirteen years, 10 Pro Bowls, 2 defensive player of the year awards and 4 Super Bowl titles later, everyone knew the legend of Mean Joe Greene.
But I always believed Mel Blount and Jack Ham were right there with Greene. They tied for second on my great list. Blount changed the game by being such a physical cornerback that the NFL had to change its rules to protect wide receivers. Ham was technically perfect, almost never making a mistake at outside linebacker. Former teammate Andy Russell often spoke of the other players rising in the dark film room to give Ham a standing ovation.
Webster is No. 4 on my great list followed by Harris at No. 5. Next are the two quarterbacks. I’m putting Ben Roethlisberger ahead of Bradshaw. Rounding out the top 10 are Lambert, Rod Woodson and Antonio Brown. I just wish I had spots for John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, Polamalu and Faneca.
Chuck Noll deserves special mention in the non-player category. He is the greatest NFL coach of the past 50 years. Only he and Bill Belichick have won four Super Bowls. Noll didn’t have to cheat to get his Lombardis.
The most popular Steelers player is an easy call. It has to be Lambert, right? No one better represented the toughness of the Super Steelers of the 1970s. “He had no teeth, and he was slobbering all over himself,” future Hall of Famer John Elway allegedly said of Lambert after making his NFL debut against the Steelers in 1983. “I’m thinking, ‘You can have your money back. Just get me out of here. Let me go be an accountant.’ ”
I have doubts that Elway actually said that, but — what the heck — the quote defines Lambert perfectly.
PG graphic: By the numbers (Click image for larger version)
Bettis is No. 2 on my popular list. Just as there was only one Maz and one Roberto in Pittsburgh, there is only one Bus. Bettis edges out former teammate Polamalu, who is No. 3 in this grouping. I can’t wait to see Steelers Nation take over Canton when Polamalu is enshrined in the Hall.
It gets harder from this point. I again put Webster No. 4 and Harris No. 5. Bradshaw comes next even though he refused to love Pittsburgh back for years. Rocky Bleier is No. 7; everyone loves a war hero. Heeeaath! makes the list at No. 8 followed by Hines Ward. No. 10 is James Harrison, a linebacker in the Lambert tradition. It doesn’t hurt that Harrison’s 100-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII is the greatest play in Super Bowl history.
Special mention goes to Art Rooney Sr. No, he wasn’t always so popular. “Back in the day, the Rooneys always were looked at as being dumb and cheap,” his son, Art Jr., often has said. That all changed Jan. 12, 1975, when NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle handed Rooney Sr. the Lombardi Trophy after the Steelers beat the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IX. The Chief lived to clutch the Lombardi three more times and died in 1988 as the most beloved figure in Pittsburgh sports history.
Miller is in terrific company.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @RonCookPG. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Poni” show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
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