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The biggest mistakes the Steelers ever made at quarterback

Although having featured two of the greatest QB’s in NFL history, the Steelers have had more misses than hits at the games premier position


The Steelers have featured two of the greatest franchise quarterbacks in NFL history, which is two more than almost any other NFL team has ever rostered. But what if I told you the Steelers passing record books could have been written by a lot more QB’s than just Ben Roethlisberger and Terry Bradshaw? Well you better believe it as the Steelers have let go, and passed on a ton of quality quarterbacks throughout history. Let's take a look at the biggest mistakes the organization has ever made at the position.

Dan Marino

Snubbed in the 1983 draft

Super Bowl XIX - Miami Dolphins vs San Francisco 49ers - January 20, 1985 Photo by Sylvia Allen/Getty Images

This is undoubtedly the biggest mistake the Steelers EVER made in the NFL Draft. The only reasoning for the Steelers to decide against drafting Marino was because they took Mark Malone in the first round 2 years prior. But it was really no excuse, Malone struggled mightily in relief of Terry Bradshaw and had showed no sign of becoming a great quarterback, which he never did.

Dan Marino is a Pittsburgh native, attended high school at Central Catholic, and went to the university of Pittsburgh. The Steelers had no excuse when it came to scouting the QB. Marino would go on to finish his illustrious career leading the NFL in:
Passing yards
Most attempts
Most competitions among so many other records.

A list of Marino’s achievements include:
Pro Bowl
3× First-team All-Pro
5× Second-team All-Pro
NFL Most Valuable Player (1984)
NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1984)
Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year (1998)
NFL Comeback Player of the Year (1994)

The most important thing missing from Marino’s career is a Super Bowl championship. But if the Steelers never screwed this selection up, that probably wouldn't be the case. In fact the Steelers Super Bowl trophy case would probably sitting around 10 titles. If you think that's a stretch, just remember how close those early-to-mid 90’s teams were to winning the big one. The only thing they lacked was a quarterback.

If presented the opportunity again, the Steelers would obviously re-do this all-time gaff. God, please don't let the Steelers make the same mistake again when Big Ben hangs them up.

*I tried to avoided other draft snubs because it’s impossible to say a team should’ve taken a player that ended up going 20 selections after the Steelers were on the clock. I will give you a brief list of QB’s the Steelers decided against drafting, during times they needed a quarterback:

Brett Favre, selected 18 picks after the Steelers in 1991
Drew Brees, selected 13 picks after the Steelers in 2001
Ken O’Brien, selected 3 picks after the Steelers in 1983

Johnny Unitas

Released in 1955

Football Player Johnny Unitas Running with Football

Another Pittsburgh native, except this time he was even on the roster! Dan Rooney, himself wrote in his 2008 autobiography that then head coach, Walt Keisling thought Unitas was “not smart enough to quarterback an NFL team.” What a mistake that turned out to be as Unitas would go on to achieve:

Super Bowl champion (V)
3× NFL champion (1958, 1959, 1968)
10× Pro Bowl (1957–1964, 1966, 1967)
5× First-team All-Pro (1958, 1959, 1964, 1965, 1967)
3× Second-team All-Pro (1957, 1960, 1963)
3× AP NFL Most Valuable Player (1959, 1964, 1967)
NFL Man of the Year (1970)
4× NFL passing yards leader (1957, 1959, 1960, 1963)
4× NFL passing touchdowns leader (1957–1960)

Keisling’s decision to cut Unitas is made worse by the fact Keisling went with Ted Marchibroda as his starting quarterback, whom would leave the club a year later.

Makes you wonder if he really wasn't “smart enough” for their job...

Len Dawson

Traded in 1959

New York Jets v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The Steelers quickly recognized the mistake they had made with Unitas and would turn to the NFL Draft in 1957 in hopes to finally end their quarterback curse. Unfortunately, they never truly realized what they drafted in Dawson. Instead of giving Dawson a glimmer of a chance to play, they pulled off a trade for for future Hall of Fame QB Bobby Layne in the twilight of his career. Layne would go on to make the Pro Bowl in his first two years in Pittsburgh, but his star would quickly flame out.

Dawson on the other hand would be traded to Cleveland in 1959, after a tough pair of seasons with the Browns where he just couldn't pass Milt Plum on the depth chart, Dawson would be released. But a trip to the AFL shot Dawson’s career to the stratosphere and ultimately the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Some of Dawson’s achievements include:
Super Bowl IV champion & MVP
Pro Bowl (1971)
NFL Man of the Year (1973)
3× AFL champion (1962, 1966, 1969)
6× AFL All-Star (1962, 1964, 1966–1969)
2× First-team All-AFL (1962, 1966)
2× Second-team All-AFL (1964, 1968)
AFL Most Valuable Player (1962)

The Release of Dawson should be a lesson to every GM. Never give up on high potential for an aging star.

Earl Morrall

Snubbed in 1956 & Traded in 1959

Super Bowl III - New York Jets v Baltimore Colts

Somehow the Steelers didn't mess this up once, but they did it twice within 4 years. The Steelers held the 1st pick in the 1956 NFL Draft and selected Saftey Gary Glick (Fun fact, Glick is the only DB to be drafted 1st overall in NFL history), with the 2nd overall pick the San Fransisco 49ers took Earl Morrall. Glick, would only play 4 seasons in Pittsburgh, while the Steelers would have to trade linebacker Marv Matuszak and two first-round draft picks to acquire the player they should have taken from the beginning in Morrall.

A year and some change later the Steelers would deal Morrall straight up for Bobby Layne. Just check out what Morrall accomplished over the next 18 seasons (Layne would only play 5 more years)

3× Super Bowl champion (V, VII, VIII)
NFL champion (1968)
2× Pro Bowl (1957, 1968)
2× First-team All-Pro (1968, 1972)
NFL Most Valuable Player (1968)

Now I ask, what do you think? Which miss was the biggest mistake? Did I miss any players? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!