Steelers Best Kicker Ever?
We know it isn’t Booth Lusteg. He would be out of the running based solely on readying himself for game action by kicking paper cups on the sidelines. Add in his eight for twenty performance on field goals and missing three extra points during his lone season in Black & Gold (’68), and he’s quickly out of contention.
We know it isn’t Gene Mingo. Five for eighteen on field goal attempts in ’70? You kidding me?
We also know it isn’t Roy Gerela. Let’s debunk the myth that Gerela was a good kicker. He owns three Super Bowl rings in spite of himself. He missed more extra points in the playoffs alone (six for forty-two) than either Gary Anderson or Jeff Reed missed during their respective Steeler careers. Factor in his performance from 40-49 yards, where he was 30 for 79 in the regular season and one for six in the playoffs, and his place in Steeler lore is laughable. The best thing about Roy Gerela was undoubtedly Bob Bubanic, The Gorilla.
It goes without saying that it’s not Todd Peterson, who failed to finish a single season in Pittsburgh. Pete did manage a game-winning field goal during his short tenure, though. In as bizarre a circumstance as perhaps ever surrounded a game-winner, he missed the game-winning kick on the previous play.
Matt Bahr was off to a fast start in this derby, kicking a game-winning field goal, in overtime in his first Steeler game, after paying tribute to his predecessor, Gerela, by missing his first-ever Steeler kick, an extra point. He made three game-winners his rookie year for the Super Bowl Champions, but then cost the Steelers three divisional games in his second, and last Steeler season with shanks at the final gun, and/or via missed extra points.
David Trout? Hahahahaha. The small fry from Pitt missed eight extra points in his lone season, including three in a single game. The Steelers won that game against the Browns, but nevertheless-no.
A quadrant of candidates remains then, for “Steelers Best Kicker Ever, though as we shall see, at least one will be easily dismissed. This comparison specifically excludes one’s kickoff ability or one’s tackling prowess, or one’s acumen with wine, women & song. Kickers, above all else, are hired to put points on the board when called upon.
The native of Orange Free State converted on 79.8% of regular season field goal attempts over a 13-year Steeler career. He hit 90% from 19 yards in, 90.9% from 20-29 yards, 86.1% from 30-39 yards, 73.2% from 40-49 yards, and 30.8% from 50 yards+. The South African connected on 15 of 19 post-season kicks. He missed only four extra points in 493 attempts during this Steeler tenure.
Anderson gets the prize for biggest kick in Steeler history, that being his 50-yarder in overtime to defeat the Oilers in the 1989 Wild Card Playoff. This kick was one of eight game-winners during his Steeler career, including the kick that sent the ’84 San Francisco ‘49ers to their lone defeat, and a pair of overtime kicks in the ’94 campaign. Anderson shares the Steeler record for longest field goal at 55 yards, and had far more attempts from 50+ yards (26) than did his cohorts.
Fortunately, Anderson’s darkest day did not come in Black & Gold, but rather in the purple of the Minnesota Vikings, his only miss of the year in the NFC Championship Game costing his team a Super Bowl appearance. Fortunately, his worst day as a Steeler coincided with one of the franchise’s most improbable playoff wins. He missed three field goals, one each from inside of 29, 39 and 49 yards, as the 9-7 Steelers took on the 13-3 Broncos at Mile High in the ’84 Divisional Playoffs. A sigh of relief was exuded from Steeler nation when Frank Pollard made as fine a 2-yard touchdown run as one may ever see in the tie game’s closing moments. There was little confidence that Anderson would have successfully converted a field goal of any distance that day.
After the exodus of Anderson to Philadelphia in a contract dispute, Norm Johnson was signed after a number of years kicking in Seattle and Atlanta. “Norm” had a successful four-year layover in Pittsburgh, hitting 82% of his regular season field goal attempts, 100% from 19 yards in, 94.7% from 20-29, 87.5% from 30-39 yards, 71.4% from 39-49 yards, and 33.3% on six attempts from 50 yards+. Johnson never missed an extra point as a Steeler, successfully converting all 153 attempts. He connected on five game-winners during his Steeler tenure, most notably overtime kicks in Chicago in ’95 and New England in ’97.
“Norm” hit 10 of 12 field goal attempts in the playoffs, but was not quite as automatic as was his predecessor, Anderson. One of the misses very nearly cost his team dearly, and the second miss proved fatal. He failed to extend the Steelers lead in the third quarter of the ’95 AFC Championship Game against the Colts, though he did up the margin to four points later in the quarter. In the ’97 AFC Championship Game though, Johnson was wide with a 37-yard attempt on the Steelers initial possession, and three points was the eventual margin of defeat as the Steelers dropped a 24-21 decision to the Broncos.
Johnson receives the nod for the biggest kicking moment outside of field goals with his successful surprise onside kick in Super Bowl XXX, and also had his share of off-field intrigue. Dean Biasucci was signed to kick for the Steelers after the ’95 season when “Norm” was nowhere to be found, even by his agent, in order to talk contract. When Biasucci was an abomination, Johnson was resigned. Later in life, “Norm” saved the life of a woman in a partially submerged vehicle in Washington State by breaking the car’s window with a rock.
Undoubtedly the most reviled Steeler kicker of the modern era, Brownie actually did well during the initial two years of his three year assignment in Pittsburgh. “Brownie” was successful on 77.7% of his regular season kicks. He was 100% from 19 yards in, again 100% from 20-29 yards, 82.5% from 33-40 yards, but only 57.1% from 40-49 yards. His numbers from this distance were compromised severely by his hitting on only six of fifteen during the ’01 campaign. Brownie was the best in the long-range department, nailing 80% (four of five) from 50+ yards, and shares the record for longest field goal, at 55 yards, with Gary Anderson. He converted 100 of 105 extra point attempts, hardly impressive. He kicked three game-winners, one in each of this three Steeler seasons.
In the playoffs, Brown hit three of five tries during the ’01 post-season. Rather than have a “darkest day,” Kris Brown had a darkest year with the Steelers in 2001. Most will remember his missing four kicks in Heinz Field against Baltimore in a 13-10 loss, including unsuccessful attempts from 41, 33 and lastly from 35 yards away at the final gun. He also missed a pair in victories against both the Jets and Ravens. His most fatal miss, perhaps one in which he should be absolved of blame, was the blocked kick from 34 yards out against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Rather than cutting the margin to 14-6, the Steelers trailed 21-3 after the Patriots took the block to The House.
“Brownie” left for his native Texas following the ’01 campaign to join the expansion Texans, for whom he’s been missing big kicks ever since.
Here’s the book on “Skippy.” He’s made 83.5% of regular season-field goal attempts. He’s perfect from 19 yards in, 92.5% from 20-29, 91.3% from 73-80, 69.8% from 40-49, and has converted 46.2% on 13 attempts from 50+ yards. He’s only missed four of 329 extra point attempts.
Reed is considered “money” in the treacherous environs of Heinz Field. He’s made nine game-winners during his tenure, most notably a 46-yarder in overtime to beat the Ravens in ’08. He’s 16 of 18 in the playoffs, his only two misses coming in his rookie season. He’s been called upon to make “big” kicks surprisingly rarely in the playoffs. He beat the Jets in overtime with a 33-yarder in the ’04 Divisional Playoffs, but perhaps his most important playoff kick was his 46-yarder in the ’08 AFC Championship Game, into the “open end” of Heinz to extend the Steelers lead against the Ravens to 16-7.
“Skippy’s” darkest day was undoubtedly the second game of the ’09 campaign in The Windy City where he missed a pair of fourth quarter attempts from 38 and 43 yards, the former of which would have extended the Steeler lead to 10 points, the latter of which would have put the Steelers back into the lead in the closing minutes.
Of course, Reed’s most challenging moments as a Steelers may have taken place off the field, having two run-ins with local gendarmes during this past season.
Who then is the best Steeler kicker of all-time? Both the numbers and the performance inside the numbers are remarkably similar for Gary Anderson and Jeff Reed. Anderson left in a contract dispute following the ’94 season. Reed was offered a new deal prior to the ’09 season which he declined. Here’s hoping that Jeff Reed, this writer’s choice for best Steeler kicker of all time, does not go the way of Gary Anderson.