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 first. Enjoy.
2) No. 26
Current Wearer: Anthony McFarland Jr.
Most Notable: Le’Veon Bell 2013-2018, Will Allen 2010-2012, Deshea Townsend 1998-2009, Rod Woodson 1987-1996, Preston Pearson 1970-1974, Rocky Bleier 1968
In five seasons, Le’Veon Bell was one of the finest, all-around running backs in the game of football. Drafted in the second round in 2013 out of Michigan State, Bell burst on to the scene with 860 yards and 8 touchdowns during his Joe Greene Great Performance Award rookie season. The next season, Bell reached superstardom as a Pro Bowler and All-Pro with a combined 2,215 (1,361 yards rushing/854 yards receiving). Despite the gaudy numbers, trouble began early for the second-year man when he and his backup LeGarrette Blount were arrested for 420 on McKnight Road before leaving for the team’s first preseason game in Philadelphia.
The season didn’t end well either as Bell missed the playoffs after hyperextending his knee against Cincinnati in the regular season finale. Without Blount who went AWOL for lack of playing time and Bell, the Steelers had no running game to speak of and were bounced quickly in the Wild Card against Baltimore. Healthy but suspended for the marijuana on McKnight incident, Le’Veon missed the first two games of 2015 and was lost for the year after a knee injury against Cincinnati in Week 8. At the time of injury, “Juice” was averaging 4.9 yards per carry.
Again in 2016, Bell was suspended for three games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. When Bell made is season debut, he returned with a 144 yard vengeance. In Buffalo of December of that year, Bell broke Willie Parker’s Steelers franchise record for rushing yards in a game with 236 rushing yards and three touchdowns. In 2017 contract discord set in with Bell reportedly having turned down a 2 -year deal worth $30 Million. Despite speaking out and rapping periodically about the money, Bell still gained 1,906 yards from scrimmage with 11 total touchdowns.
The loss against Jacksonville in the Wildcard was his last with the Steelers as the running back held out the entire 2018 season. The Jets gave him a big money deal in 2019, but his numbers nowhere resembled his five-year total of 7,996 yards both running (5,336) and receiving (2,660), as well as his 42 total touchdowns as a Steeler. Love him or not, he was one of the franchise’s best over to wear the No. 26.
Will Allen is not the man some people thinks he is. The man was an All-American safety and National Champion from the Ohio State University that played twelve seasons in the NFL, including six years in two stints with the Steelers. The man is more than just football a the driving force behind a foundation created in May 2008 to inspire youth to attain their personal best and to provide students a program with “real” life experiences that expose them to new and rewarding opportunities in Dayton, Tampa and Pittsburgh.
More specifically, he’s Willie James Allen. He’s many more things besides a name. But one thing that the 2004 fourth-round pick of the Buccaneers is NOT is a criminal. The closest thing he’s ever done resembling a crime was his seven career interceptions, with two for the Steelers. Will D. Allen is a completely different man altogether. The Giants, Dolphins and Patriots cornerback from Syracuse was convicted and imprisoned for running a Ponzi scheme in 2015. This has caused a headache of mistaken identity and harsh words of ignorance from the public towards the former Steeler. What’s not mistaken is the solid contributions of the man who wore No. 26 in his first stint with the Steelers after signing a free agent contract in 2010.
Allen signed as a free agent with the Cowboys in 2013, but was released and returned for three more seasons. This time around, Le’Veon Bell started wearing No. 26 and Allen assumed the No. 20. After starting 13 games in 2015, Allen did not catch on with another team and retired. But the Will Allen Foundation lives on and proves that there is more to a man then football and a name.
Deshea Townsend is one of those blue-collar Steelers that will never be recognized as a team legend, but he was a prominent piece of the puzzle for two Pittsburgh Super Bowl winners. Drafted in the fourth round of the 1998 NFL Draft, the Alabama Crimson Tide corner began to make a name for himself as a special teams standout as a rookie. The first player to be issued No. 26 since Rod Woodson’s departure, Townsend was a valuable reserve for the Steelers secondary corps before finally becoming a starter in Year 7 opposite Ike Taylor.
Townsend held down his post as the team’s primary right corner for four straight seasons before accepting the responsibilities as the teams slot corner for his final two seasons. Deshea always had a knack for coming up big when the team needed a big stop on defense. His sack of Matt Hasselbeck (pictured above) helped seal the victory for the Steelers in Super Bowl XL, while his 25-yard pick-six of Tony Romo was the winning score in a key December 2008 game during the Super Bowl XLIII season. After a 12-year career in Pittsburgh, Deshea left the Steelers in 2010 for half of a season with the Colts. His final tallies as a Steeler were 183 games, 15.5 sacks and 21 interceptions. Since retiring, Deshea has been a defensive backs coach for the Arizona Cardinals, Mississippi State, Tennesse Titans, New York Giants and currently with the Chicago Bears.
Rod Woodson spent ten years of his Hall of Fame resume’ in black-and-gold, but most Steelers fans still view him as the one that got away. A world-class hurdler and All-American defensive back at Purdue. legend has it that Head Coach Chuck Noll mandated defensive backs coach Tony Dungy spend very little time scouting the blue-chipper due to hopes of his availability at No. 10 in 1987 being very slim. However, head scratching picks by Cleveland and the Cardinals led to Penn State’s Shane Conlan and Woodson dropping. After Buffalo selected Conlan, a future Hall of Famer landed in the lap of the Steelers. Woodson’s Steelers career took a while to get started as he staged a contract holdout that lasted 95 days.
The fourth fastest 110-meter hurdler in the world spent his time out of pads back in the track-and-field world. He won the bronze medal at the 1987 USA Olympic festival, as well as several medals competing in Europe. Finally Woodson signed a deal to join the team in late-October. Ironically his holdout was the longest in team history until another 26er, the aforementioned Bell, sat the entire 2018 season.
During his Steel Town tenure, Woodson hauled-in 38 interceptions and is tied with William Gay for the most pick-sixes in team history with five. Hot Rod also fielded punts and kickoffs for 2,362 yards/two touchdowns 4,894 yards/two touchdowns respectively. In his ten seasons in black-and-gold, Woodson was named to the All-Pro team eight-times (six first-team), was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1993 and was included on the 75th and Anniversary All-Time team. After a gruesome knee tear during the 1995 opener, the three-time Steelers MVP missed the entire regular season and playoffs. He returned to play in the Super Bowl XXX loss to Dallas. After his return in 1996, the free agent defensive back was low-balled by the Steelers by offering only a three-year contract not fitting his value. Woodson then took his services to San Francisco ending his decade-long tenure with the Steelers.
Woodson thrived for seven more seasons in the NFL after departing Pittsburgh. He won a Super Bowl with another AFC Central franchise in 2000 and played in another with Oakland in 2002. Woodson is third in NFL history with 71 picks, set the record for most interceptions returned for touchdowns at 12, made the NFL’s 75th and 100th All-Time teams, is an 11-time Pro Bowler and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
Rod Woodson had a great NFL career for four teams, but he will be linked most with the Pittsburgh Steelers. But again, he’s the one that got away. It’s hard not to wonder if his exceptional play and leadership on defense would have brought another title to the City of Champions, especially in 1997 had he stayed.
Drafted in the 12th round of the 1967 Draft by the Colts, Preston Pearson never played a down of football at the University of Illinois. His athleticism as an Illini basketball player led Pearson to a career in the NFL. After spending three years in Baltimore as a running back, special teams captain a Super Bowl III participant, Pearson was traded along with Ocie Austin to Pittsburgh for Ray May and a twelfth round draft choice before the 1970 season.
In Pittsburgh, Pearson was given the No. 26 that was last worn by Rocky Bleier before he departed for military service in Vietnam. Preston immediately became the starter in the Steel City and was the ranked 15th among rushers his second season with the team in 1971. In 1972, the wearer of the two-six was ranked eighth in the National Football League in rushing when he tore a hamstring in Week 5.
The injury paved the way for the team’s top choice in 1972, Franco Harris, to assume the starting role and embark on a Hall of Fame path. In 1973, Pearson spent time at wide receiver in training camp, but switched back to being a running back to start the season. After earning a ring with the Steelers for their victory in Super Bowl IX, the outspoken player representative began to fall out of favor with Head Coach Chuck Noll. Despite being the seventh leading rusher in franchise history (2,243 yards and eight touchdowns) at the time, the Steelers waived Preston Pearson early in the 1975 season and he found a home with the Dallas Cowboys a few days later. The player would meet the Steelers again in Super Bowl X, having played with both championship participants in the same season.
When it was all said and done, Pearson played for three legendary coaches (Don Shula, Noll and Tom Landry) and earned two rings in five Super Bowls. In 1981, Pearson concluded his 14-year career. While being associated more as a Cowboy, however, Preston Pearson had his greatest statistical success with the Steelers.
Robert Patrick Bleier, a four-time Super Bowl champion and member of the 1966 National Champs while at Notre Dame. More impressive, he is also a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient. After his rookie season, No. 26 was drafted into the U.S. Army and was sent to Vietnam where a grenade blew off part of his foot. While recovering, Rocky received a note of encouragement from the Chief Art Rooney Sr. that read “Rock-the team’s not doing well, We need you.” A year later, the Rock returned, this time wearing No. 20 (due to Preston Pearson wearing the two-six) and became an important cog in the Steeler’s offensive machine.
Although Bleier never was elected, but he rushed for 1,036 yards in 1976 and was a key member of all four Super Bowl winning teams. His touchdown in Super Bowl XIII proved to be huge. Bleier retired after the 1980 season with 3,865 rushing yards, 136 receptions for 1,294 yards and 25 total touchdowns. The Rock’s 1975 autobiography, Fighting Back, became a made for TV movie in 1980. A 2018 inductee in the Steelers Hall of Honor, Bleier remains a Steelers ambassador and is a sought after motivational speaker.
There you have it, the absolute best number to adorn a jersey in BTSC’s countdown of the most prolific jersey number stables in Steelers history. One last time, a recap of the countdown.
Honorable Mention: No. 51, No. 93, No. 27 and No. 33
25) No. 24
24) No. 43
23) No. 83
22) No. 67
21) No. 53
20) No. 10
19) No. 20
18) No. 63
17) No. 50
16) No. 34
15) No. 78
14) No. 98
13) No. 68
12) No. 77
11) No. 56
10) No. 86
9) No. 73
8) No. 99
7) No. 55
6) No. 39
5) No. 91
4) No. 82
Until next time, keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the hypocycloids.