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Ranking the Ten Best Steeler Quarterbacks of All-Time

With six Lombardi Trophies on display, appearances in two other Super Bowls, and a franchise in operation since 1933, you would think the Steelers would have a reasonably strong quarterback tradition compared to other franchises, especially younger organizations without sustained success. However, when you analyze the Pittsburgh Steelers best ten quarterbacks of all-time, you quickly realize that after Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger the drop off is sudden and significant. Passers three through ten, may be among the most uninspiring lists in the NFL.

The major problem is that prior to the emergence of Terry Bradshaw; the Steelers assessment of quarterbacks was pathetic. A previous article on this blog titled Steelers Draft History with Local Quarterbacks in the Steelers category provides detail regarding the failure of the Steeler organization to draft local quarterbacks. If, and that is the important word in this sentence, the Steelers had signed Bobby Layne after drafting him, taken Dan Marino rather than Gabe Rivera, and not cut Johnny Unitas and Len Dawson, the historical depth chart would be the best among pro franchises. I also believe there would be at least four or five more championships/Super Bowls. Since that did not happen, and hindsight is 20/20, the top ten pickings are slim.

Before I analyze the Steeler top ten, let me provide some perspective by listing some other teams with their top quarterbacks:

Cinncinatti  Bengals: Ken Anderson, Jeff Blake, Boomer Eisiason, Jon Kitna, Carson Palmer

Cleveland Browns: Otto Graham, Bernie Kosar, Frank Ryan, Brian Sipe

Philadelphia Eagles: Randall Cunningham, Ron Jaworksi, Donovan McNabb, Mike Vick

LA/St. Louis Rams: Jim Everett, Vince Ferragamo, Roman Gabriel, Pat Haden, Ron Jaworski,    Bill Munson, Norm Van Brocklin, Bill Wade, Kurt Warner, Bob Waterfield

Chicago Bears: George Blanda, Jay Cutler, Jim Harbaugh, Johnny Lujack, Jim McMahon,           Bobby Layne

Oakland Raiders: George Blanda, Darryl Lamonica, Jim Plunkett

Steelers All-Time Top Ten Quarterback List

#1: Terry Bradshaw-Four Super Bowl wins, big game clutch performer, NFL Hall of Famer

#2: Ben Roethlisberger-The only other franchise level QB in organization history. Of course, he possesses the other two championships. Ben Roethlisberger has a chance to be a Hall of Fame player some day, but must win at least one more Super Bowl, and maybe increase his post season legacy, (that has featured awesome moments, but also some substandard games) to cement it.

#3: Neil O’Donnell-His last game as a Steeler strongly tarnishes his career, as he threw two of the worst and most damaging interceptions in Super Bowl history to Larrry Brown to destroy any chance of a trophy. However, he is the only quarterback not named Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger to take the Steelers to a championship game. The team came close to playing in the previous Super Bowl in 1994, but lost a stunner to the Chargers in a memorable AFC Championship debacle that ended when the Steelers failed on a pass attempt to Barry Foster in the end zone. O’Donnell is fourth in games played at QB and his record was 39-22. Admittedly, he was surrounded by good talent for his five years with the team. O’Donnell was a Pro Bowl player in 1993, and probably had an even better season in 1995. He was an accurate passer with a good passing percentage. He stands at #2 for all-time quarterbacks for fewest interceptions per attempts. His touchdown to interception rating is a very strong 68 to 39.

#4: Bobby Layne-Bobby played for the Steelers during the twilight of his Hall of Fame career, for five years between 1958 and 1962. Layne was high risk and high reward. He passed for 66 touchdowns, (only two short of O’Donnell’s five year career) a significant number for that era of football. His yards per attempt were also high. However, his risk came with the 71 interceptions that he tossed. Layne was still an effective runner in 58 and 59. He was selected for the Pro Bowl after his 1959 season. In 1958, Layne’s quarterback rating was 80.4, which was extremely strong for that era of football. By 1962, Layne did not have much left in the tank. Still, he was 7-4 as a starter, and the team was a solid 9-5.

#5: Kordell Stewart-Played “Slash” for the Steelers for majority of 95 and 96. He was the starter from 1997 through 2001. During his Steeler career, he started 75 games, third all-time, and his record was a very solid 46-29. Stewart totaled 13,328 passing yards. He was an exceptional running quarterback who rushed for 537 yards in 2001. But, despite the great wheels and strong arm, Stewart could never get the Steelers to the Super Bowl, despite a generally solid surrounding cast. His shortcomings included inaccurate passing, three more interceptions than touchdowns, and seemingly not being able to extend plays with his legs by improvisation to create the huge passing play, that we have seen many times by the much slower Roethlisberger. His passing ratings ranged as low as 63.5 for 1998 and a high of 81.7 for 2001, his only Pro Bowl season.

#6: Jim Finks- In the Hall of Fame for his Front Office talent in New Orleans, not necessarily for his quarterback skills. Finks was the quarterback as the Steelers in 1952, as the team finally went to the T-formation (last team in league). Finks was extremely immobile. His touchdown to interception rating was a poor 55TD to 88Interception. He did lead the league in touchdowns with 20 in 1952 and he had an extremely solid 1955 season, leading the entire league with 2,270 yards. His talents may be underestimated since he played with the Steelers during unimaginative offensive coaching era of Walt Kiesling, who would not let Johnny Unitas hardly throw a preseason pass. Finks abruptly retired at age 28, never playing for another team other than the Steelers.

#7: Tommy Maddox-Tommy “Gun” came from nowhere to put up huge numbers for the Steelers in 2002 and 2003. In 02 Maddox had one of the best seasons ever for a Steeler quarterback as he completed 62% of his passes for 2,838 yards with a positive touchdown to interception ratio.  Coach Cowher was roundly criticized for having too much confidence in the passing game during 2003 as he let Maddox pass 519 times, rather than rely on the historically rugged Steeler ground game. Maddox led the Steelers to the playoffs, but they lost a heartbreaker in overtime to the Tennessee Titans with the infamous roughing the kicker penalty haunting the Steelers. Maddox’s passing rating was quite respectable compared to the rest of the league during this time period.

#8: Mark Malone- Mark had difficult spikes to fill as the quarterback after Terry Bradshaw. He played for the franchise from 1980-1987. He passed for a total of 8,582 yards while with the team. He passed for 2,444 yards with 15 TD(s) and 18 Int(s) in 1986. The franchise did make the playoffs in 1984 and Malone played particularly well in the post-season. However, Malone was outclassed by Dan Marino in the AFC Championship game when Marino passed for more than 400 yards and four touchdowns. Malone was good enough to get the team one game from the Super Bowl; however, Malone was not a franchise quarterback. He is best remembered for catching a 90 yard touchdown pass as the Steelers tried to utilize his all-around decathlete athleticism

#9: Ed Brown-Ed led the Steelers in 63 and 64, and was a backup in 62 and 65. He had a very good 1963 season passing for 2,982 yards. In the final game of the season, the Steelers faced the Giants with the winner to play in the playoffs, a rarity chance for the franchise at the time. Legendary Steeler announcer Myron Cope claimed that Brown broke from his regular routine of carousing through local taverns that week. Cope blamed that for a horrible game in which Brown went 13-33 and threw three interceptions. Brown was regarded as a good deep ball passer. He was not with the team long, but his 63 season, and his overall solid NFL career barely gets him on this list.

#10: Charlie Batch-Charlie has not played much since he has been with the Steelers. Admittedly, in the little that he has played, he has been injury prone. However, he had been a good teammate and a capable backup. Batch has won some big games during his time with the team. Fans forget that Batch played quite well for some poor Lions teams. Besides, placing Batch at #10, keeps Bubby Brister, probably the most booed Steeler quarterback in history, out of the top ten. Brister had an attitude opposite of the always ready and team first Batch. Since the bottom of the list is pretty week, I will put Charlie Batch at ten, as the backup, and therefore, most loved quarterback on the list.





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