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, 31, 32, 52, 59, 36 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 11th. Enjoy.
11 No. 56
Most Notable: LaMarr Woodley 2007-2013 (pictured above), Chukky Okobi 2001-2006, Mike Vrabel 1998-2000, Robin Cole 1977-1987, Ray Mansfield 1968-1976
Current Wearer: Alex Highsmith
The number 56 had some greats to don the digits. While it’s hard to deem the greatest of the stable, here are the most memorable.
Mike Vrabel? Yep, that Mike Vrabel. Before the Titans Head Coach and Patriots Super Bowl champ made a big name for himself, the two-time Big 10 Defensive Lineman of the year was a third round selection for the Steelers in 1997. The special teams phenom and linebacker claims that he learned a lot about leadership in Pittsburgh, playing under Bill Cowher and alongside Greg Lloyd, Jason Gildon and Levon Kirkland. In his rookie season, Vrabel helped clinch a 7-6 victory over New England in the AFC Divisional Game with a sack and forced fumble on Drew Bledsoe that was recovered by Gildon. With all of those linebackers in the fold, Vrabel left via free agency in 2000 and the rest is history.
Chuwunweze Okobi was drafted in the fifth round by the Steelers in 2001. Known as Chukky, the center out of Purdue only started seven games for the Steelers in his six seasons but he was a valuable reserve to Jeff Hartings during his tenure. Okobi, born in Pittsburgh, played his final NFL season for the Cardinals in 2007 with an attempt to play for the Texans in 2008 being unsuccessful. The winner of a Super Bowl XL ring, Okobi was awarded workmen’s compensation in 2015 for injuries sustained to his neck and back with the Steelers to the tune of $779 a week.
Ray Mansfield was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1963 and joined the Steelers a year later. The man known as “Ranger” during his playing days started his career with the Steelers as a defensive tackle. Mansfield, who could place-kick also, was best known as a center during his 13-year Steelers tenure. The two-time All-Pro was a Super Bowl IX and X champion and played in 182 consecutive games for the Steelers. Ray passed away at the young age of 55 when he suffered a heart attack while hiking the Grand Canyon in 1996.
Robin Cole was the only first round pick out of this particular group. The All American from New Mexico came to the Steel City in 1977 and eventually replaced Andy Russell on that great linebacking unit alongside Jack Ham and Jack Lambert. In eleven seasons, Cole started 131 of 166 games and amassed 19.5 sacks and 15 fumble recoveries. Cole was a Pro Bowler and an All-Pro in 1984 and won two rings with the Steelers for Super Bowl’s XIII and XIV. His performance in the latter championship netted him a Super Bowl MVP Runner-Up honor. Cole was a great Steeler sometimes lost in the shuffle among legends on the Steel Curtain defense.
LaMarr Woodley could have been an all-time great in Pittsburgh, but injuries shortened his career. The time he did spend in Pittsburgh though was memorable. A second-round pick out of Michigan in 2007, the unanimous All American was issued No. 55 and then switched to No. 56 when the aforementioned Chukky Okobi was released. A force to be reckoned with almost immediately, Woodley became a starter in his second season of 2008 and sacked quarterbacks 11.5 times in that Super Bowl season. His two sacks of Kurt Warner in XLVII, including one to clinch the win with five seconds remaining, extended his streak to four playoff games with a sack. In fact, Woodley racked-up 11 sacks in eight career playoff games and ranks 7 all-time in team sacks with 57. After the Super Bowl loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Steelers signed the big backer to a 6-year/$61 million contract. However, the rash of injuries commenced and Woodley was cut in 2014. LaMarr spent a year with the Raiders and the Cardinals before calling it quits after the 2015 season. Despite only seven seasons in black-and-gold, LaMarr Woodley is still considered a recent great in some minds.
Check back soon for the 10th 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.