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Donnie Shell announced as a semifinalist for the 2020 Pro Football Hall of Fame Centennial Class

Shell is one of 25 players in the running for the 10 senior positions in next year’s class

Pittsburgh Steelers Donnie Shell Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Former Steelers safety Donnie Shell was announced as one of the 25 semifinalists for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the special Centennial Class of 2020.

In celebration of 100 years of professional football, a special Centennial Class consisting of 10 senior players who have been retired for more than 25 seasons will be inducted this fall. Additionally, three contributors and two coaches who last coach more than five years ago will be included in the class. Former Steelers’ head coaches Bill Cowher (1992-1996) and Buddy Parker (1957-1964) are among the semifinalists.

As for Shell, his statistics and on-field play have been worthy of enshrinement in the NFL Hall of Fame for some time. Unfortunately, with so many Pittsburgh Steelers already enshrined at Canton, players such as Shell and L.C. Greenwood have taken a backseat. While Greenwood should have also been a well-deserved semifinalist, it is Shell who has a chance to represent the black and gold as part of the special Senior Class.

The following is a breakdown of Donnie Shell by Teresa Varley of

Donnie Shell
Safety (1974-87)

He didn’t earn the nickname ‘Torpedo’ for nothing. Not even close.

Donnie Shell could hit. And when he made contact, opponents would feel it as he would come at an unsuspecting running back or receiver like a torpedo, flying at them with no fear at all.

Just ask Earl Campbell, who was the victim of one of Shell’s notorious hits. Campbell, a 233-pound running back for the Houston Oilers, was having a career season in 1978 with 1,450 yards and 13 touchdowns. But against the Steelers on Dec. 3, with the AFC Central title at stake, Shell imposed his will. In the first quarter, Campbell was escaping a tackle for extra yards when Shell came flying up to the line of scrimmage and delivered a huge hit. Campbell left the game with a broken rib, and the Steelers beat the Oilers, 13-3, in a season that ended with the third Super Bowl championship in team history.

“There was a game in Houston and Donnie came up and hit Earl Campbell before he had a chance to turn up the field, caught Earl in the ribs. I don’t want to say I was glad he got hurt, but I was glad he left the game,” said Joe Greene. “We had some knock down drag outs with the Oilers. Donnie was the hitman. He gave muscle to our football team. That is what we were known for on our defense, contact. And we had some contact people back there and Donnie didn’t take a backseat to anyone.

“Donnie was an all-around player. He gave us flexibility versus the offense. We didn’t have to change our personnel group when the offense went from standard to three wide or four wide receivers. Donnie would line up in the slot and cover the slot, which is what teams try to do all of the time. Offenses want to get out in a mismatch in coverage, and because we had Donnie they couldn’t do that to us. We could play all of our coverages and defenses because of Donnie Shell.

“He was a linebacker in college. We called him Torpedo. Donnie got started on special teams. He wasn’t supposed to be the fastest guy, but he was always the first guy down. He made collisions. When he got into the starting lineup, he made an impact in the running game. He would always talk about guards who were pulling and getting up field on him. They were 250 pounds he was 215. He asked how do I deal with them? Chuck (Noll) said when they are running parallel with the line, you hit them. Hit them before they see you. He got that down well. He had a lot of collisions on the line with those guys and he won.”

Shell was part of the Steelers 1974 rookie class, the one that produced four Hall of Famers in the draft. But he wasn’t even drafted. He signed with the team as an undrafted rookie, coming in as a linebacker but making the successful switch to strong safety.

His numbers speak for themselves. Shell finished his career with 51 career interceptions, still the most in NFL history for a strong safety and had 19 fumble recoveries. Let’s just say that number again – 51 career interceptions.

“Fifty one career interceptions. 51,” said Tony Dungy after he selected Shell to be his presenter at the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony. “He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.”

He was a five-time Pro Bowl selection who had a least one interception in each of his 14 seasons.

“Donnie came into the league and I saw him work on being a free agent, to special teams, to a starter and his approach to that,” said John Stallworth. “He became a valuable component of what I think was the best defense in the National Football League. Donnie had tremendous value. You had the guys up front and linebackers, but Donnie anchored that. His ability to come up and hit folks and stop them in the run game at a time when the run game was very important. Donnie was a player that did that. If you look at the number of interceptions he has at a time when the strong safety was looked at as just being a strong safety and doing run support and not a splash player kind of guy, Donnie was a splash player kind of guy. Then you give him the ability to come up with the interception, Donnie was that guy.

“He was a force on our defense. One of the reasons we were so strong.”