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 10th. Enjoy.
10: No. 86
Most Notable: Hines Ward 1998-2012, Eric Green 1990-1994, Jim Smith 1977-1982, J.R Wilburn 1966-1970
Current Wearer: None
Sure, the No. 86 has been synonymous with a certain smiling/blocking wide receiver extraordinarie since 1998. It’s probably not getting issued for a very long time either. However, there have been some very good Steelers sporting the ochenta y seis in team lore. Let’s review,
From 1966 to 1970, J.R. Wilburn gained 1,834 yards through the air and scored eight touchdowns for the Steelers in five seasons in the Steel City. Drafted by Buffalo of the AFL and the Steelers, the South Carolina Gamecock chose the hypocycloids to join a more established league. Wilburn averaged 14.5 per reception and led the team in receptions in 1967. After working in metal during his career, Wilburn stayed in the industry for 39 years until retiring.
Not many fans realize just how good Jim Smith was for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the late 70s and early 80s. The problem for the All-American and Steelers third-rounder in 1977 was that he played behind John Stallworth and Lynn Swann for his entire career in the Steel City. But as a third receiver back then, he may have been better than most in the NFL. Tied for 12th with 24 touchdown receptions on the Steelers all-time list, Smith had more end zone grabs than Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, Yancey Thigpen and Bennie Cunningham. In the strike-abbreviated year of 1982, the Michigan Wolverine led the league with 22.8 yards per reception. The USFL came calling and the Birmingham Stallions ponied up money to best the sum of all NFL receivers. Smith signed the contract and became a star in the league under former offensive line coach of the Steelers Rollie Dotsch. In ‘84, Cliff Stoudt, arrived in Pittsburgh South. The former Steeler pair proved to be a top connection in the young league and (along with Joe Cribbs) led the Stallions to two division titles. In 1985, Smith finished third in the USFL with 87 catches for 1,322 yards and led the USFL with a whopping 20 touchdown receptions. In his Steelers career, this No. 86 caught 113 passes for 2,103 yards and the aforementioned 24 touchdowns.
Eric Green was Chuck Noll’s first round pick in 1990 out of Liberty College, but he will always be the player that Pittsburgh traded down for with Dallas. The Cowboys would then select Emmitt Smith with that selection. To make matters worse, the big tight end threatened to hold out and enter the 1991 draft but reported for the first game of the season. When the Steelers went touchdown-less the first four games of ‘90, Eric debuted in Week 5 and scored the first TD of the season. In fact, he caught five of Bubby Brister’s mere seven scoring tosses that year. After a 6-game substance suspension in 1992, the 290-pound tight end returned in 1993 with 63 catches and (a team record for the position) 942 yards. Following another Pro Bowl selection in 2004, Green turned down a $10M offer from the Steelers and signed a free agent deal with the Dolphins. Overweight and out of shape, Jimmy Johnson released Green after one year in Miami. In 1996, No. 86 announced that he and another former Steeler, Bam Morris, had signed with the Ravens for their inaugural season. Green stuck in Baltimore for three seasons and then concluded his 10-year career with one as a Jet in 1999. In his five seasons in Pittsburgh, Green was one of the best tight ends in team history and is tied with Jim Smith and Ron Shanklin for 12th on the all-time receiving touchdown list. His career totals in Pittsburgh include 198 receptions and 2,681 yards.
Hines Ward is one of the greatest players in Pittsburgh Steelers history, but he wasn’t valued right away. Despite 76 catches, 884 yards and 7 touchdowns his first two seasons, the 1998 third-rounder out of Georgia saw the team draft receivers in the first round in 1999 (Troy Edwards) and 2000 (Plaxico Burress). Hines outlasted them all. With 1,000 career receptions, Ward is tops all-time when listing the best Steelers receivers. His 12,083 receiving yards ranks him 23rd in NFL history. One of the most popular players to wear the black-and-gold, Hines was a devastating blocker when he didn’t have the ball. The 14-year veteran was a four-time Pro Bowler, a three-time All-Pro, a two-time Super Bowl champ and the Super Bowl XL MVP. A member of the Steelers All-Time Team, the Dancing With The Stars-Mirror Bowl winner also wore #86 and scored a touchdown for the Gotham Rogues in The Dark Knight Rises. The career of Hines Ward in Pittsburgh is proof that sometimes you don’t realize that what you need is right under your nose the whole time. Everybody knows his value now.
Check back soon for the 9th 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.
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