Countdown to NFL’s Top 100 Players Continues…3 Steelers Left?

I love the NFL Network. It has helped complete my life more than any potential wife ever could unless I meet one who starts complaining about what a fascist Roger Goodell is on our first date without my prompting. The network repeatedly shows the big, legal hits — like those James Harrison unleashed last week against a soft Cleveland team — that have helped make today’s NFL the most popular sports league in U.S. history.

While you can also get non-stop NFL news on the ESPN stations, it is the history and film-heavy documentaries of the league that makes the NFL Network so joyous.

One of its coolest documentaries is the ongoing series entitled, “The Top 100: NFL’s Greatest Players,” which airs every Thursday at 9 PM ET and is slated to unveil No. 21-30 tonight, with mini-segments on each player.

For those who have not followed the rankings thus far, here are the players who spent the better parts of their careers with the Steelers: (41) DB Rod Woodson, (44) CB Mel Blount, (50) QB Terry Bradshaw, (60) LB Jack Ham, (68) C Mike Webster.

It now seems logical that just three long-time Steelers greats will be honored among the top 30. MLB Jack Lambert and TB Franco Harris should both be honored in the next two weeks somewhere between No. 11-30, while DT Joe Greene will likely be in the bottom half of the top 10 players of all-time. My guess is the top-five overall will consist of some order including TB Jim Brown, WR Jerry Rice, OLB Lawrence Taylor, QB Joe Montana and RB Water Payton.

I cannot complain too much about any of the Steelers snubs. While bigger names were omitted, the strongest cases should have gone for the late DT Ernie Stautner and C Dermontti Dawson.

Stautner spent his entire 14-year career (1950-63) playing for lousy Steelers teams but still was honored as NFL All-Pro in 10 seasons. A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he was probably the best defensive tackle in NFL history before the league was fully integrated, although African Americans did start playing professional football in 1946.

From a national perspective, Dawson is by far the most underrated Steelers player of all-time. He has only been a Hall of Fame finalist twice in his six years of eligibility, not advancing past the semifinals in the other four years.

Dawson’s career was cut a little short due to injury, but the six-time, first-team NFL All-Pro is one of the four or five greatest centers of all-time and rivals former Dolphins anchor Dwight Stephenson as the most versatile center ever from an athletic standpoint.

Dawson’s overall athleticism, and particularly his rare ability to pull from the center position, were the keys to a Steelers’ rushing attack that was the best in pro football throughout much of the 1990s. Stephenson’s career was cut short due to injury but he is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He also did not make the list so Dawson backers have little to gripe about.

The biggest Steelers name omitted was RB Jerome Bettis, who currently ranks fifth on the NFL’s all-time rushing yardage list. However, while he was highly productive and durable for a predictable run-based Steelers offense, Bettis was never really considered the best or even the second best tailback of his era, so it is hard to argue for his inclusion.

Regarding where the Steelers have been ranked, I do have a couple of disagreements. First, Ham at No. 60 is way too low. He should rival Harris as the second highest-ranked Steelers player on the list behind only Greene. Although the iconic Lambert is one of my two favorite Steelers ever, along with Hines Ward, Ham was the best linebacker of the Steelers of the 1970s and maybe the most complete outside linebacker to ever play the game. He should have been in the top 25.

Bradshaw is ranked too high at No. 50. He deserves to be on the list for sure, since he is one of only two quarterbacks (Joe Montana) to start for four Super Bowl championship teams and is one of the best big-game players in NFL history.

But Bradshaw’s career was overrated. I can count the number of superb seasons he had on one hand without using my thumb, and several quarterbacks of his era (e.g., Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton, Dan Fouts) could have also led the Steelers to Super Bowl titles in 1974 and 1975.

In fact, the Steelers might have won titles in 1972 and 1976 with either Staubach or Tarkenton at quarterback. However, both were in decline in 1978 and 1979, a period when Bradshaw was the best quarterback in the NFL and the Steelers needed his superlative play and deep passes to win, especially after the implementation of the Mel Blount rule resulted in higher-scoring games throughout the league. Still, the starting quarterback on my Steelers’ all-time team is already Ben Roethlisberger, because Bradshaw was way too inconsistent and error-prone.

While the series has been great so far, I pray that Dennis Miller does not serve as the narrator for any of the remaining Steelers segments.

I know he is from Pittsburgh, but the guy is not funny, is not even trying to tell jokes during his narrations, and clearly does not know football. In contrast, former Bengals Hall of Fame tight end Bob Trumpy did the narrative about how Mel Blount not only shut down but also frightened NFL receivers, highlighted by Trumpy talking about how Blount knocked him cold in the hardest hit he ever received. It was a segment that had me standing by the end.

Commentary from former opponents, (Boomer Esiason did the narrative for Rod Woodson), coaches and teammates is far more appealing than hearing the pompous laughing and incoherent drivel of a second-rate comedian.

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  • steeler junky

    I can not find a single thing in this article to argue about. Well Done

  • basmati

    I hadn’t really been following this, but I don’t think Franco is as highly regarded nationally as he is in Pittsburgh. I would have guessed he would make the top 100, but at this point I think he is more likely to be No. 101 than in the top 30. I wouldn’t put him ahead of OJ for one, and I am a Steeler fan. So you might prepare to be disappointed on that one. Agree with you on Ham and Bradshaw.

    • Ted

      Basmati, thanks for the comments, but I would bet a lot of cash that Franco makes this list. He will almost assuredly not be in the top 10, and behind other RBs like Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith and maybe Barry Sanders. A strong argument could be made that he should have been placed behind the more spectacular (on the field) O.J. Simpson, who was ranked No. 40.

      But Franco retired as the No. 2 all-time leading rusher. Moreover, the Steelers never won a playoff game before he was drafted but then went to the playoffs each of the next eight seasons, winning 4 Super Bowls and advancing to the championship game of a loaded AFC six times. That does not happen without Harris, who was the greatest winner of any running back in NFL history.

      I cannot imagine Franco would be omitted and thus placed behind the following backs who have already appeared on the list: 48 Red Grange, 52 Eric Dickerson, 55 Earl Campbell, 61 LaDanian Tomlinson, 70 Marshall Faulk, 74 Marion Motley, 77 Tony Dorsett, 89 Ernie Nevers, 94 Lenny Moore.

      In their primes, Dickerson and Campbell and probably Tomlinson were all better than Harris. But none had as a good an overall career when longevity, productivity and winning are factored into the rankings. Faulk was more versatile and Dorsett more spectacular, but I probably would not rank Faulk ahead of Harris and certainly wouldn’t put Dorsett above. The rest are clearly below.

      • Gpclay

        Excellent article – I’m going to try to track this series down for the rest of it.

        Great argument for Harris, but don’t forget the Immaculate Reception! Even if only one play, it is an iconic play in the history of the NFL and supports the case for Harris to be ranked high.

        • Ted

          Good point. They included Joe Namath at No. 100 for one game even though he should not have been in a top 200 of players. Namath, however, was the most important pro football player ever. The Immaculate Reception was voted the greatest play in NFL history by a panel of football experts assembled by Sporting News a few years ago and it really triggered the start of the 70s Steelers’ dynasty.

    • kidprofessor

      I agree, all of the Steelers on the list so far were considered to be the top players at their position in their eras. OJ and Earl Campbell were the best backs of Harris’ era.

      I have no problem with Bradshaw’s place on the list. No quarterback raised their game in the playoffs more than Bradshaw, with the exception of Bart Starr, but he played far fewer games in the playoffs and did not face the same level of competition the Steelers did in Bradshaw’s era.

    • Ted

      Basmati, I am shocked; because it looks like you will be right and I was wrong. Emmitt Smith was ranked No. 28 last night (and he deserved to be more lofty on that list), so I now do not see anyway Harris is in the top 20.

      But that to me is a joke when you consider Lenny Moore and Ernie Nevers made this list at RB, and that the likes of Joe Namath, Kurt Warner, Michael Irvin and Paul Warfield were included and Franco was not. After seeing some of those names in earlier episodes, it never dawned on me that Harris may be snubbed.

  • eyespy

    Mel Blount @ 44=way, way too low.

    When you’re so good and so nasty they have to FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGE THE WAY THE ENTIRE GAME IS PLAYED to limit your dominance, that’s seriously badass.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    What’s the definition of “greatest?” Is it career value, peak performance, fame or something else? The only way Namath deserves to be on the top 100 list is if fame is what matters. His career stats are awful and his peak value was never that high. Franco and the Bus would be on the list for career value. Swann should be on for peak value and fame.

    • Ted

      Good points and questions. But like most every other lists, this one fairs to clarify its exact methodology. Totally agree on your points on Namath and Bettis, the latter of whom does deserve to go on over Namath but maybe not over some others who were omitted.

  • Dirty

    Sorry to break the bad news to you, but Franco Harris isn’t in the top 100. He wasn’t even the the third best back in the 1970′s. Come on Man.

  • drinkingclub

    Blount is too low. Mean Joe should be top five.

  • FW

    No Amos Zereoue? No Roger Duffy? No Shar Pourdanesh?

    What a RIPOFF.

  • Papillion

    staubach led the nfl in passer rating in both 78 and 79, thats not decline.