In Part One of Steelers Digit Dynasty, BTSC examined the best of the best to wear the numbers from 0-25 in franchise history. This time around, our journey takes us through No. 50. We will answer such burning digital questions like:
- Will Le’Veon Bell’s gaudy stats place him as the all-time best two-sixer?
- What free agent departs in 2021 as the best to wear his jersey number?
- Is the No. 33 the numerals that has the most worthy competition?
- Can Minkah Fitzpatrick’s amazing accomplishments in a short amount of time give him the crown as the top No. 39?
We will see. Let’s take a look.
Part Two: Numbers 26-49
Note: Years provided came from The Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 Media Guide
No. 26 CB/KR/PR Rod Woodson (1987-1996)
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. The world-class hurdler thrived for seven more seasons in the NFL after departing Pittsburgh. It’s hard not to wonder if his leadership on defense would have brought another title to the City of Champions, especially in 1997. During his Steel Town tenure, Woodson was named All-Pro six times, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1993, three-time Steelers MVP and was included on the 75th Anniversary All-Time team. Rod holds the NFL record for most interceptions returned for touchdowns at 12. To illustrate how huge these numerals have been in Steelers’ history, Le’Veon Bell isn’t the best to wear the number for the franchise despite the gaudy offensive numbers he’s produced.
Other Notables: Brady Keys 1961-1967, Deshea Townsend 1998-2009, Le’Veon Bell 2013-2017
Current Wearer: RB Anthony McFarland Jr. S Donovan Stiner
No. 27 S Glen Edwards (1971-1977)
Edwards is another one of those 70s Steelers who gets overshadowed by the Hall of Famers of that era. In eight seasons as a member of the Steel Curtain defense, Edwards picked-off 25 passes. The four-time All-Pro played in Super Bowl IX and X, before leaving for San Diego.
Other Notables: Thomas Everett 1988-1991, Brent Alexander 2000-2003, Willie Williams 1993-1996 and 2004-2005
Current Wearer: S Marcus Allen
No. 28 S Chris Hope (2002-2005)
Hope started 32 games with the Steelers in four seasons. The talented safety started in Super Bowl XL and then departed for Tennessee, where he enjoyed a Pro Bowl season in 2008.
Other Notables: Lupe Sanchez 1986-1988
Current Wearer: LB/ST Miles Killebrew
No. 29 Barry Foster-RB (1990-1994)
The ball-carrier served five enigmatic seasons for the Steelers. Foster enjoyed the finest single-season ever in club history in 1992, rushing for a team mark of 1,690 yards and earning the team’s MVP honor. Foster ran and received for nearly 5,000 yards and scored 28 times in Pittsburgh. The emergence of Bam Morris plus some nagging injuries hastened his departure in 1995. Foster joined Carolina and Cincinnati in 1995, but he never played a game for either club.
Current Wearer: RB Kalen Ballage, CB Shakur Brown
No. 30 RB Frank Pollard (1980-1988)
The high school track star won a state track team championship in Texas as the only member of the team. Pollard was a very productive runner in Pittsburgh during the eighties. In nine seasons, Pollard ran for 3,989 yards and 20 touchdowns. He spent his entire career wearing black-and-gold, but part of it wearing No. 44 as well.
Other Notables: Larry Anderson 1978-1981, Chad Scott 1997-2004, James Conner 2017-2020
Current Wearer: CB DeMarkus Acy
No. 31 S Donnie Shell (1974-1987)
Not only did the Steelers draft four Hall of Famers in 1974, Donnie Shell, the undrafted safety from South Carolina State will now join them in Canton. In 14 seasons with the Steelers, Shell amassed 51 interceptions. Two of those picks came in the 1984 season-finale win over the Los Angeles Raiders that propelled the team into the playoffs. He ranks third in franchise history, six behind the leader, Mel Blount.
Other Notables: Mike Logan 2001-2006
Current Wearer: CB Justin Layne
No. 32 RB Franco Harris (1972-1984)
The Super Bowl IX MVP and owner of four rings is the all-time team rushing leader with 11,950 yards. His Immaculate Reception remains the greatest play in NFL history and some people believe it marked the turning point for a perennial loser. His is another non-retired number that is no longer issued. Harris thrilled his Italian Army as a nine-time Pro Bowler and a member of the 1970s All-Decade team and even earned a visit to practice from the legendary Frank Sinatra.
No. 33 RB John “Frenchy” Fuqua (1970-1976)
Fuqua had 2,492 yards for the Steelers and held the single-game rushing mark of 220 yards in a 1970 contest. That record lasted 36 years before Willie Parker broke it in 2006 (Le’Veon Bell owns it today by virtue of his December 2016 performance in Buffalo). “The French Count” is the only man who knows the truth behind the Immaculate Reception. Fuqua, who remains mum on the subject and has turned down large sums to reveal, was the player for whom the fateful pass was originally intended. Fuqua narrowly edges out Merril Hoge and Fran Rogel for No. 33 supremacy and also reigns as the most fashionable personality in team lore. And yes..he wore shoes with live goldfish in the heels.
Other Notables: Fran Rogel 1954-1957, Merril Hoge 1987-1993, Byron “Bam” Morris 1994-1995, Isaac Redman 2011-2013
Current Wearer: RB Trey Edmunds, LB Calvin Bundage
No. 34 LB Andy Russell (1967-1976)
Andy Russell was a part of the greatest trio of linebackers in NFL history. Not as recognizable as Jack Ham and Jack Lambert, Russell still thrived for 12 years and won two Super Bowl titles. His 93-yard fumble return in the 1975 playoffs versus Baltimore was voted by fans as the seventh best play in Three Rivers history. Russell was selected to the Pro Bowl seven times and was a four-time All-Pro.
Current Wearer: S Terrell Edmunds
No. 35 RB John Henry Johnson (1960-1965)
Hall of Famers galore wore No. 35 in Pittsburgh, including Bullet Bill Dudley, Walt Keisling and John McNally. However, John Henry Johnson wore it for six seasons during his Hall of Fame career in Pittsburgh. Johnson ranks fourth all-time on the team’s career rushing list.
Other Notables: Delton Hall 1987-1991, Dan Kreider 2000-2007
Current Wearer: S Arthur Maulet
No. 36 RB Jerome Bettis (1996-2006)
The Rams’ presumed “trash” became the Steelers’ treasure when they acquired the big rusher in exchange for a second- and fourth-rounder in the 1996 draft. The Bus trails only Franco Harris for the team lead in most rushing categories. Despite spending his first three years in LA and St. Louis, Jerome rushed for 10,571 yards and scored 80 touchdowns for the Steelers. As the Steelers celebrated their Super Bowl XL win, Bettis retired on the podium in his home city of Detroit. Bettis, who was enshrined in Canton finally in August 2015, is sixth all-time on the NFL rushing list.
No. 37 S/CB Carnell Lake (1989-1998)
A linebacker at UCLA, Lake switched to safety in the pros and his play earned him inclusion on the 1990’s All-Decade team. Lake, who stepped down in February 2018 as the Steelers defensive backfield coach, was a 5-time Pro Bowl selection and a 4-time All-Pro during his time with Pittsburgh. Lake tallied 677 tackles, 25 sacks, 16 interceptions and 16 fumble recoveries during his 10-year career by the three rivers. Lake’s defining moment was switching to cornerback in 1995 after Rod Woodson’s season-ending injury in the opener. Lake’s performance that season proved to be a major factor in the team’s SB XXX entry.
No. 38 RB Sidney Thornton (1977-1982)
Thornton was picked in the second round of the 1977 draft. Mostly a backup to Franco Harris, Sidney played in 76 games, hit pay-dirt 18 times and combined rushing and receiving for more than 2,000 yards. Thornton played in both Super Bowls XIII and XIV.
Other Notables: Earl Gros 1967-1969, Tim Worley 1989-1993, Jon Witman 1996-2001, Carey Davis 2007-2009
Current Wearer: RB Jaylen Samuels, DB Stephen Denmark
No. 39 RB Willie Parker (2004-2010)
Fast Willie Parker wasn’t supposed to start in Pittsburgh, but in 2005 when both Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley were deemed unable to play in the opener, Parker ran the rock for 161 yards and finished the season with 1,202. In Super Bowl XL, Parker’s 75-yard dash is still the longest running-play in Super Bowl history. Injuries cut short the career of the 2-time Pro Bowler, who finished his career as the third best rusher in team history with 5,378 yards and 29 touchdowns. Parker held the record for most rushing yards in a single game, notching 223 on a frigid December night in 2006, until Le’Veon Bell broke it in 2016. Pretty soon, Minkah Fitzpatrick might just take over the list.
Other Notables: Bobby Walden 1968-1977, Rick Moser 1979-1982, Darren Perry 1992-1998
Current Wearer: S Minkah Fitzpatrick
No. 40 S Myron Bell (1994-1997 and 2000-2001)
The man known as “Boo” played six non-consecutive seasons for the Steelers. The safety from Michigan State collected three interceptions during his time and started in Super Bowl XXX against Dallas.
Current Wearer: LB Tegray Scales
No. 41 S Lethon Flowers (1995-2002)
Flowers was a big-league hitter and an all-league talker. Lee never met a microphone he didn’t like. In eight years, Flowers had four picks, 432 tackles and 12 sacks. Lee appeared in 3 AFC title bouts and Super Bowl XXX.
Other Notables: CB Sam Washington 1982-1985, CB Antwon Blake 2013-2015
Current Wearer: LB Robert Spillane
No. 42 RB Dick Hoak (1961-1970)
Dick Hoak is one of the longest-tenured Steelers with ten years as a running back and 36 years as a running-backs coach. Hoak’s 3,965 yards ranks him sixth all-time on the list of Steelers’ rushers.
Current Wearer: CB James Pierre
No. 43 S Troy Polamalu (2003-2014)
The 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year retired as one of the most popular players in the history of the team. The eight-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro was known for his kamikaze-style of play and his trademark hair. Troy is a member of the NFL’s 90’s All-Decade team, the franchise’s All-Time team and the 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and team MVP. Polamalu concluded his career after the 2014 season with 581 tackles and ranks seventh all-time with 32 interceptions. Troy became a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2020.
Other Notables: RB Ernest Jackson 1986-1988, WR Frank Lewis 1971-1977
No. 44 D.J. Johnson-CB (1989-1993)
The bandana-sporting Johnson stood out opposite Rod Woodson at corner in the early 90s. During his Steelers career, he thieved 19 passes.
Other Notables: Mike Collier 1975-1976
Current Wearer: FB Derek Watt, LB Jamir Jones
No. 45 Chris Fuamatu Ma’afala-RB (1998-2002)
The massive Hawaiian spent five years carrying the pigskin for the Steelers. Referred to as “One Bad Ma’Afala”, Chris chipped in with eight touchdowns during his era and scored his biggest in the epic Wild Card Game against the Browns following the 2002 season.
Current Wearer: LB Jarvis Miller
No. 46 Reggie Harrison-RB (1974-1977)
Harrison lasted four years with the Steelers and made his mark on special teams. His pivotal punt-block in Super Bowl X resulted in a safety. Twice a Super Bowl Champ, Harrison started in place of the injured Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier in the 1976 AFC Championship. He’s now known as Kamal Ali Salaam-El.
Other Notables: Will Johnson 2012-2015
Current Wearer: LB/LS Christian Kuntz
No. 47 CB Mel Blount (1970-1983)
The Hall of Famer was so dominant that the league instituted a rule — the 5-yard chuck — primarily because of him. In fact, teammate John Stallworth credits that rule as a part of his own success. Blount revolutionized the corner position and ranks as the team-best with 57 interceptions during his career, including 11 in 1975 when he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The 5-time Pro Bowler made All-Pro six times and is a member of the 1970s All-Decade team and the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team.
Other Notables: Marv Woodson 1964-1969
No. 48 OLB Alvin “Bud” Dupree (2015-2020)
Dupree, the 2015 top selection out of Kentucky, had a promising rookie season for the Steelers. Dupree accumulated 11.5 sacks in 2019 which earned him the franchise tag for 2020. After eight sacks in a mere 11 games, Alvin “Bud” suffered a season-ending knee injury against Baltimore on 12/2. Upon departing for a lucrative free agent deal with the Titans in the offseason, Dupree wrote a love letter to the team and city to celebrate his six years in Pittsburgh.
Current Wearer: LB Quince Roche
No. 49 C Dwayne Woodruff (1979-1990)
As good as Woodruff was for 12 seasons for the Steelers, the work that the 1982 team-MVP does now impacts more people. A member of the SB XIV winning squad, Woodruff was elected to serve as a judge in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in 2005. He also ran for openings on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, but fell short. His 37 interceptions in 12 seasons ranks him fourth all-time in Pittsburgh.
Current Wearer: LB Cassius Marsh, TE Dax Raymond
No. 50 LB Ryan Shazier (2014-2019)
In 12 years with the Steelers, David Little had 10 interceptions, 11 fumble recoveries and was selected to the Pro Bowl after the 1990 season. Even though Little had a long and successful career, Ryan Shazier accomplished a pretty amazing body of work in a small amount of time. The Steelers’ top pick in 2014 out of Ohio State had 299 tackles, seven sacks and seven interceptions. What he might have accomplished during a full career, we most likely will never know due to his career-threatening injury in 2017. Shazier was a field general on defense and his dominating performance against Cincinnati in the 2015 Wild Card Game made the victory possible by forcing two fumbles late in the game.
Other Notables: LB John Reger 1955-1963, OL Jim Clack 1969-1977, LB David Little 1981-1992, Earl Holmes 1996-2001, LB Larry Foote 2002-2008 and 2010-2013
Current Wearer: LB Jamar Watson
Feel free to state your own claims in the comments section and check back for Part Three very soon.
If you missed Part 1 of Digit Dynasty, check it out here.