BTSC continues to rank the best numbers in team history on a standpoint of thriving over time throughout multiple players. It seems there are a few numbers which are always represented with quality play in Steelers lore. One BTSC author has wondered aloud “what is the most accomplished number in Steelers history?” Through player and jersey value rankings found in Pro Football Reference, we have ranked the most successful numbers in Steelers history worn by multiple players. You won’t see numbers like 12, 58, 75, 32, 52, 59, 36, 63 and 47 as it would be basically ranking an individual player over the other and not the cumulative effort. In today’s submission, we take a look at those ranked 16th. Enjoy.
16) No. 34
Most Notable: DeAngelo Williams 2015-2016, Rashard Mendenhall 2008-2012, Verron Haynes 2002-2007, Tim Lester 1995-1998, Leroy Thompson 1991-1993, Walter Abercrombie 1982-1987, Andy Russell 1963-1976 (pictured below)
Current Wearer: Terrell Edmunds 2018-Present
In a sea of running backs who wore the No. 34 on their chests and backs, a linebacker was the most accomplished of the group. However, the Steelers have had a solid stable of runners wearing those numerals as well.
Picked 12th overall in 1982, Walter Abercrombie was selected to receive the crown and baton from the Steelers Rushing King Franco Harris. However, he never really became the feature back in the ‘Burgh. Abercrombie did have some decent years, however. He rushed for 851 yards in 1985 and in 1986, he had 1,272 yards from scrimmage. The Baylor Bear still rushed for 3,340 yards and scored a total of 29 touchdowns as a Steeler, but he split time with another Waco alum Frank Pollard. His best single game as a Steeler came in 1984 when the Steelers needed to beat the defending champion Raiders in Los Angeles on the last game of the season. Abercrombie came through with 111 yards on the ground and another 72 through the air, including a 59-yard catch-and-run late in the game that set-up Pollard’s one-yard touchdown run. That performance (and help from other teams) led to the Steelers winning the AFC Central and earning a date with Denver in the Divisional Round. Another solid game by Abercrombie led to an upset of the Broncos and an entry to the AFC Championship, a loss to Miami. Walter left the Steelers after 1987 for one year in Philly. Abercrombie, ranked eleventh all-time among Pittsburgh rushers, was surpassed by another No. 34 picked first by the Steelers—Rashard Mendenhall.
Speaking of the other Steelers first round pick (2008) to wear the No. 34., the Illinois running back was drafted to be a compliment to Fast Willie Parker and as a return specialist. An injury to Parker allowed Mendenhall his first start on Monday Night Football in Week 4. But an alleged bounty (confirmed and retracted by Terrell Suggs) led to Ray Lewis breaking the rookie’s shoulder and ending his Super Bowl season. Mendenhall rebounded and rushed for 1,108 yards and had eight total TDs the next season. His greatest year was the Super Bowl season of 2010 when Mendenhall tallied 1,273 yards and scored 13 times. However, Rashard’s worst moment came when he fumbled on the go-ahead drive after getting sandwiched by two Packer defenders in the Super Bowl XLV loss. To make matters worse, Twitter comments regarding not understanding US citizens celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden and his suspension for not showing up to a game in which he was injured left a bad taste in the mouths of some Steelers fans. Departing the Steelers for Arizona after an injury-riddled 2012, Mendenhall abruptly retired at the age of 26 after scoring eight touchdowns and rushing for 687 yards for the Cards. He cited that he was leaving football to travel the world and write. He ended up writing about football for the Dwayne Johnson HBO vehicle Ballers. All in all, Mendenhall had a pretty good playing career by rushing for 3,549 yards, having 661 yards on receptions and 31 total touchdowns in his five years with the Steelers.
Tim Lester was known as “The Bus Driver” because he opened holes for Jerome Bettis for five of his eight NFL seasons which spanned from 1992-1999. After being drafted in the tenth round by the Los Angeles Rams in 1992 and being a lead blocker for Bettis in 1993 and 1994, Lester moved on to the Steelers and played on the Super Bowl XXX team. In 1996, Tim was reunited with Jerome and earned the moniker from the legendary Steelers’ broadcaster Myron Cope. Lester’s numbers in Pittsburgh were small (15 carries for 38 yards and two touchdowns) in his four seasons, but his contributions were quite big as a blocking fullback. In 1999, Lester spent his final year in Dallas before hanging up the keys.
DeAngelo Williams didn’t have a long tenure with the Steelers, but it was an impactful one. Arriving as a free agent in 2015, the Pro Bowler and second-leading rusher all time for the Carolina Panthers had to start for Le’Veon Bell in 14 contests during his two seasons in Pittsburgh. Williams had 1,250 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns with the Steelers. His 11 rushing scores in 2015 were tied for the league lead that season. His absence due to injury in the playoffs the same season greatly hindered the Steelers who were left with Jordan Todman and Fitzgerald Touissaint in two playoff games. Toussaint’s key fumble late in the Divisional Game versus Denver was debilitating in the loss. Williams’ contract expired after the 2016 season and DeAngelo never played again in the league.
Leroy Thompson was drafted by the Steelers in the sixth round of the 1991 draft and competed for playing time with Tim Worley and Warren Williams. He made his mark when Barry Foster went down with injury in 1993 and the Penn Stater started eight games and led the Steelers in rushing with 763 yards. In 1994, Thompson was traded to the Patriots after three years with the Steelers. After a stint with the Buccaneers and Chiefs, Leroy was out of the league after a six-year career in the NFL.
A fifth rounder in 2002, Verron Haynes was the third-down back for the Steelers for six seasons. The Georgia Bulldog averaged 4.2 ypc and scored five total touchdowns as a Steeler. A member of the Super Bowl XL team, Haynes concluded his NFL career after one season with his hometown Atlanta Falcons in 2009. Haynes is also the most recent running back drafted by the Steelers to earn a second contract with the team.
Andy Russell was a part of the greatest trio of linebackers in NFL history. Not as well-known to other generations as Jack Ham and Jack Lambert, Russell still thrived for 12 years and won two Super Bowl titles. Drafted in the sixteenth round in 1963, the linebacker from Missouri missed the next two seasons fulfilling ROTC obligations while being stationed in Germany. Russell returned for the 1966 season and remained for 11 more years before retiring following the 1976 AFC Championship loss to Oakland. His 93-yard fumble return in the 1975 playoffs versus Baltimore was voted by fans as the seventh best play in Three Rivers history. Charles Andrew Russell was selected to the Pro Bowl seven times and was a four-time All-Pro.
Check back soon for the 15th best jersey in BTSC’s countdown of the most prolific jersey number stables in Steelers history. But first, a recap of the countdown so far.