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Pittsburgh Steelers ‘Digit Dynasty’: Who wore the number best? (Part One)

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The Steelers have a rich history, but looking back at their jersey numbers it makes you wonder which player wore the numbers 0-25 best.

Super Bowl XVI - Pittsburgh Steelers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

As the Steelers converge on St. Vincent College in Latrobe to prepare for 2019, we will see familiar faces donning the numbers of 7, 19, 53 and 97. These men have made those numbers recognizable and symbolized them in Pittsburgh over the years.

Once again this year, rookies and first-year players will not only be vying to make a name for themselves, but they will be attempting to immortalize their newly-issued number.

  • How quickly can Donte Moncrief be the guy to finally make the No. 11 relevant?
  • Is it possible, that Dionte Johnson (without ever playing a regular season game) is already a contender to be the best wearer of the No. 18 ever?
  • Which player going into his second season is already the best to wear his number?

This all remains to be seen, but who are the greatest Steelers synonymous with each number from 00 to 99 in the previous 86 seasons of the franchise’s existence? In the first of this two-part series, we will list the best for each digit. Some were very tough calls and some genuine Steelers’ stars didn’t make the cut. Judge for yourself and let us know who we missed. I’m sure you will.

Part One: Numbers 0-25

Note: Years provided came from The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 Media Guide

No. 0/00 QB/RB Johnny Clement (1946)

After serving in World War II as an officer in the Army Air Corps, Clement returned to the NFL and joined the Steelers. Clement is the only player to wear the goose egg in Piittsburgh franchise history, playing three years in black-and-gold.

No. 1 K Gary Anderson (1982-1994)

Landslide team leader in career scoring and field goals made. The quintessential Steelers kicker should be enshrined in Canton, but a presumed kicker-bias and the miss in the 1998 NFC Championship for the Vikings may be keeping him out. But Anderson is the No. 1 player ever to wear the uno in Pittsburgh.

Other Notabłes: David Trout (1981)

Pittsburgh Steeler v Miami Dolphins Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

No. 2 QB Dennis Dixon (2008-2011)

Not a lot to pick from here. Dixon only wore No. 2 for one start with the Steelers. He wore #10 for his two starts and victories in 2010, but he is still the most successful player to don the deuce. Dixon owns two Super Bowl rings (Pittsburgh and Baltimore), but he never saw the field in three Super Bowls. One or two wins would likely have Mason Rudolph taking over at the deuce.

Other Notables: Brian St. Pierre (2003-2004 and 2006-2007)-

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Larry French/Getty Images

No. 3 K Jeff Reed (2002-2010)

Reed was definitely not a favorite among Pittsburgh law enforcement, bouncers and Sheetz paper towel dispensers, but the thick-legged kicker is the second best ever to play in Pittsburgh and as the epitome of clutch. Crazy off-the-field antics aside, the free agent from North Carolina beat the field in a tryout and conquered the Heinz Field conditions for parts of nine seasons.

Other Notables: Mark Royals 1992-1994

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

No. 4 P Josh Miller (1996-2003)

Miller averaged 42.9 yards-per-punt for eight seasons in the Steel City. He remains one of the most popular Steelers’ punters in team history. Miller boasts both a Grey Cup and Super Bowl ring during the part of his career played in other cities. The man who once boasted in a Steeler Gameday program to having an extensive Pez collection returned to Pittsburgh to do local sports radio until leaving in 2018. He co-authored a book showcasing the best Steelers eateries and bars in every NFL city.

Other Notables: Byron Leftwich 2008-2012

Current Wearer: P Jordan Berry

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Cleveland Browns - November 3, 2002 Photo by Tami Tomsic/Getty Images

No. 5 QB Terry Hanratty (1969-1976)

The consensus All-American from Notre Dame, Hanratty is most famous in Pittsburgh for being the alternative to Terry Bradshaw during the early 70s when No. 12 struggled. The Butler product was drafted in the second round, a year before Bradshaw arrived. The two-time Super Bowl Champ started 18 games for the Steelers at various times and finished the AFC Championship and Super Bowl X when Bradshaw went down in both games.

Other Notables: Craig Colquitt-P 1978-1981 and 1983-1984, Bruce Gradkowski (2013-2015)

Current Wearer: QB Joshua Dobbs

Denver Broncosc v Pittsburgh Steelers

No. 6 QB Bubby Brister (1986-1992)

The brash native of Louisiana never had Pro Bowl numbers, but the wild playoff ride which he led the Steelers on in 1989 remains part of team lore. Brister, with a Super Bowl ring as a Bronco, is fifth among the Steelers’ all-time passing leaders and certainly one of the most entertaining sound-bites ever.

Other Notables: Shaun Suisham 2010-2015

Current Wearer: QB Devlin Hodges

Pittsburgh Steelers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

No. 7 QB Ben Roethlisberger (2004-Present)

No argument here for the guy that holds almost every passing record in team history. Don’t expect to see this number ever worn by a Steeler again. Big Ben is a three-time Pro Bowler and the youngest starting quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl. He also is set to surpass Mike Webster (220) and Hines Ward (217) possibly for most games played in a Steeler career and Week 1 should have Roethlisberger playing the most seasons in a Steeler uniform.

Other Notables: Jim Finks 1951-1952 and 1954-1955

Current Wearer: QB Ben Roethlisberger

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

No. 8 QB Tommy Maddox (2001-2005)

I actually still own a “Tommy Gun” jersey. Maddox was selling insurance in Dallas when he returned to football in the Arena League and then the XFL. In 2002, his electrifying quarterback play took the Steelers from a 1-3 record to nearly a spot in the AFC Championship. My friends and I politely called out to him at the airport that same year. He made a beeline to come over and shake our hands. Pretty nice dude.

Other Notables: None

Current Wearer: P Ian Berryman

Jacksonville Jaguars v Pittsburgh Steelers

No. 9 K Norm Johnson (1995-1998)

Owns the second-best field goal percentage in team history and the fifth most field goals made. His perfectly executed onside-kick in Super Bowl XXX is one of team legend.

Other Notables: Matt Bahr 1979-1980, Chris Boswell 2015-Present

Current Wearer: K Chris Boswell

Norm Johnson Steeler

No. 10 QB/WR Kordell Stewart (1995-2002)

Despite Santonio Holmes’ Super Bowl MVP performance in XLIII, Stewart’s body of work gives him the nod here. A very polarizing player during his time in Pittsburgh, Stewart burst onto the scene in 1995 and was a key contributor to the team’s Super Bowl XXX appearance as a jack-of-all-trades, mostly as a receiver. The best-running QB in franchise lore had 2,874 yards on the ground, but Kordell was hot-and-cold as a passer. Stewart led the team to two AFC Title Games, throwing multiple picks in both games. Kordell has been featured most recently on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” and was the subject of bizarre allegations due to it.

Other Notables: Martavis Bryant 2014-20017, Santonio Holmes 2006-2009, Roy Gerela 1971-1978

Current Wearer: WR/KR/PR Ryan Switzer

1996 Super Bowl XXX - Dallas Cowboys over Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17 Photo by Albert Dickson/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

No. 11 KR Stefan Logan (2009)

Logan only stayed in the Steel City for one season, however he holds the team’s single-season mark for kick-return yardage and is second all-time in kick-return average yardage.

Other Notables: Markus Wheaton 2013-2016

Current Wearer: WR Donte Moncrief

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

No. 12 QB Terry Bradshaw 1970-1983

No-brainer selection here. Hall of Famer; Four-time Super Bowl Champion; Two-time Super Bowl MVP. No. 12 hasn’t been retired yet, but it hasn’t been reissued since Bradshaw’s retirement. The Blonde Bomber is a three-time Pro Bowler, a two-time team MVP and a member of the 1970’s All-Decade team. Ben Roethlisberger has eclipsed most of his team records, but Bradshaw remains one of the most legendary figures in team lore. I finally met Terry last February. It was one of my finest experiences as a fan meeting an athletic hero.

Super Bowl IX - Pittsburgh Steelers vs Minnesota Vikings - January 12, 1975 Photo by Sylvia Allen/Getty Images

No. 13 WR James Washington (2018-Present)

In past seasons I had to pick someone, so I selected the serviceable punter from PSU in the Super Bowl XLV days...Jeremy Kapinos. In only one season and with a mere 16 catches, 217 yards and one touchdown, James Washington has grabbed the top spot for his number in this year’s ranking.

Other Notables: Jeremy Kapinos 2010-2011

Kansas City Chiefs v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

No. 14 QB Neil O’Donnell (1990-1995)

Neil is one of the most loathed (undeservedly in my opinion) Steelers of all time, mostly due to the two interceptions he tossed in Super Bowl XXX. Although I disagree, some members of Steelers Nation claim he was in on a fix. But then again, they don’t make it to the Super Bowl without O’Donnell that year. Funny story...two years before that fateful game in Phoenix, I was booed for wearing a No. 14 jersey to a game at Three Rivers Stadium. O’Donnell is statistically the third-best quarterback in team history.

Current Wearer: WR Tevin Jones

Other Notables: Lynn Chandnois (1951), Bill Nelsen (1963-1967), Todd Blackledge (1988-1989)

Super Bowl XXX - Dallas Cowboys v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

No. 15 John Blood McNally-HB/DB (1934 and 1937-1938)

Johnny Blood played one season in Pittsburgh in 1934 and returned in 1938 to serve as a player/coach of the Pirates. Art Rooney Sr. recalled McNally as the most memorable character he’s ever known in his career. Hall of Famer.

Other Notables: Mike Kruczek 1976-1979

Current Wearer: WR Trey Griffey

No. 16 QB/WR Mark Malone (1980-1987)

While Len Dawson is a Hall of Famer, it happened mostly because of his performances in Kansas City. Charlie Batch was a very valuable backup for eleven seasons, but Malone is the pick here. With only a 21-24 record during his eight seasons in Pittsburgh, the team’s former #1 pick from Arizona State was the team’s starter under center for four years. Malone led the team to the AFC Championship Game in the 1984 season. As a rookie, the man with the Magnum-esque moustache caught a 90-yard touchdown pass from Terry Bradshaw against Seattle that stood as a record for a number of years.

Other Notables: Charlie Batch 2002-2012, Len Dawson 1957-1959

Current Wearer: K Matthew Wright

Mark Malone of the Pittsburgh Steelers...

No. 17 WR Mike Wallace (2009-2012)

As a deep threat, the speedy Wallace was a dream weapon for Ben Roethlisberger and a nightmare for defenses. The leader of the ill-fated “Young Money” stable had 235 receptions for 4,042 yards, caught 32 touchdowns and averaged 17.2 ypc. Unhappy over money and Antonio Brown’s extension, Wallace left the team as a free agent after his rookie deal ran out in 2013. The Steelers later saw Wallace burn them in 2016 as a member of the Baltimore Ravens.

Other Notables: Joe Gilliam 1972-1975

Current Wearer: WR Eli Rogers

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

No. 18 QB Mike Tomczak (1993-1999)

Tomczak joined the Steelers as a free agent pickup from Cleveland. Mike was the starter in 1996, leading the team to the playoffs that year. The rest of his career was spent as a reliable reserve quarterback in the Steel City.

Other Notables: Cliff Stoudt 1977-1983, Harry Newsome 1985-1989

Current Wearer: WR Dionte Johnson

Mike Tomczak #18

No. 19 WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (2017-Present)

JuJu captured this title in only one season wearing the number. Last year’s team MVP is now the WR1 and continues to capture the hearts of Steelers Nation both on and off of the playing field. Through a mere two seasons, the man born as John Smith has caught 169 balls, accumulated 2,343 yards and has 14 receiving scores.

Other Notables: Andre Coleman 1997-1998, David Woodley 1984-1985

Current Wearer: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster

Pittsburgh Steelers v Oakland Raiders Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

No. 20 RB Rocky Bleier (1968 and 1971-1980)

The four-time Super Bowl champion is also a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient. After his rookie season, Bleier was drafted into the U.S. Army and was sent to Vietnam where a grenade blew off part of his foot. While recovering, Bleier received a note of encouragement from the Chief, Art Rooney Sr. A year later, the Rock returned and became an important cog in the Steelers’ offensive machine. Bleier retired after the 1980 season with 3,865 rushing yards, 136 receptions for 1,294 yards and 25 touchdowns. In my mind, this guy is Hall of Fame.

Other Notables: Paul Martha 1964-1969, Dwight Stone 1987-1994, Erric Pegram 1995-1996, DeWayne Washington 1998-2003, Bryant McFadden 2005-2008

Current Wearer: CB Cameron Sutton

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

No. 21 RB Mewelde Moore (2008-2011)

The Tulane alum was an unsung hero of the Super Bowl XLIII season. Mewelde’s 908 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns that year were paramount in keeping the team afloat after Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall went down with injuries.

Other Notables: Tony Dungy 1977-1978, Deon Figures 1993-1996, Amos Zereoue 1999-2003, Joe Haden 2017

Current Wearer: Sean Davis 2018-Present

No. 22 QB Bobby Layne (1958-1962)

The six-time Pro Bowler and Hall of Fame quarterback spent the last five years of his career in Pittsburgh. Twice named to the Pro Bowl as a Steeler, Layne was 27-22-2 as a starter. Legend has it that, upon being traded to Pittsburgh, Layne cursed the Lions claiming they would not win for 50 years. Sixty-plus years later, that curse endures.

Other Notables: John L Williams 1994-1995, William Gay 2007-2011, 2014-2017

Current Wearer: CB Steven Nelson

Pittsburgh Steelers’ Victory

No. 23 S Mike Wagner (1971-1980)

The two-time Pro Bowler is one of those guys that got lost in the shadows of all of the Hall of Famers from the fabled Steel Curtain defense, but Wagner tied for the NFL lead with eight interceptions in 1973. When Wagner retired in 1981, he had compiled 36 interceptions and currently ranks sixth on the franchise’s all-time list.

Other Notables: Tyrone Carter 2004-2009, Joe Haden 2018

Current Wearer: CB Joe Haden

Steelers Mike Wagner Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

No. 24 (Tie) CB J.T Thomas (1973-1981) / CB Ike Taylor (2003-2014)

Like Wagner, Thomas was another awesome player lost in the shuffle of superstars on the vaunted Steel Curtain defense. Playing alongside Mel Blount, the duo was dubbed as the 6th best cornerback tandem in NFL history by NFL.com. J.T., not to be confused with the Survivor winner of the same name, had 20 interceptions in his nine seasons with the Steelers. The 4-time Super Bowl champ was named to the 1976 Pro Bowl.

If Taylor had possessed better hands, he would have been a perennial Pro Bowler, However Mr. Miyagi probably caught more flies with chopsticks than Taylor did balls thrown his way. Nonetheless, Ike was the best corner on his two Lombardi-winning clubs and a major team force. He was also a locker room leader on a dominating defense during his eleven seasons at Heinz Field.

Other Notables: Rich Erenberg 1984-1986, Chris Oldham 1995-1999,

Current Wearer: S P.J. Locke, RB Bennie Snell Jr.

Steelers J.T. Thomas Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images
New Orleans Saints v Pittsburgh Steelers

No. 25 WR Ray Matthews (1951-1959)

In 1954, Ray Matthews scored four touchdowns in a game against Cleveland. A member of the Steelers’ 75th Anniversary team, Matthews ranks seventh among team leaders for career touchdowns with 43. Ryan Clark is a very close 1A here.

Other Notables: Ryan Clark 2006-2013, Ron Shanklin 1970-1974

Current Wearer: CB Artie Burns


Poll

Which player that didn’t get named as a member of Part One’s Digit Dynasty team was most deserving?

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    No. 10 Santonio Holmes
    (147 votes)
  • 13%
    No. 16 Charlie Batch
    (60 votes)
  • 3%
    No. 17 Joe Gilliam
    (16 votes)
  • 5%
    No. 21 Tony Dungy
    (24 votes)
  • 6%
    No. 22 William Gay
    (31 votes)
  • 39%
    No. 25 Ryan Clark
    (179 votes)
457 votes total Vote Now

Feel free to state your own claims in the comments section and check back for Part Two very soon.