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Steelers Throwback: Two of the greatest to ever do it

Philadelphia Eagles v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Elite cornerbacks are a must have in today’s NFL. Rule changes over the past few decades protecting quarterbacks and limiting defenses have changed the way the game is played. Gone are the days of three-yards and a cloud of dust offenses. With quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers passing to wide receivers like Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams, the need for quality cornerbacks on an NFL defense is a necessity.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had two of the most decorated and illustrious cornerbacks in NFL history play the majority of their careers in the black and gold. Melvin Cornell Blount and Roderick Kevin Woodson are arguably two of the top five cornerbacks of all-time.

Let’s take a look at their combined statistics and accolades and then break them down individually.

Collectively these two legends of the Steelers franchise have combined for 128 interceptions, 19 touchdowns, 2 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Awards, 15 All-Pro Teams and 16 Pro Bowl selections. No other franchise can stake claim to a pair of cornerbacks who can rival these statistical accomplishments.

“Mean” Joe Greene will get a lot of the credit, deservedly so, for the menacing identity of the 70’s Steelers Steel Curtain defenses. After drafting Terry Bradshaw with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1970 NFL draft, the Steelers with the 53rd pick in the 3rd Round would draft a little known cornerback from Southern University, a small HBCU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana named Mel Blount.

Throughout his career, Blount had a reputation for the physicality he displayed as a defender. This was in the era when defensive backs could maul wide receivers more or less without restrictions, there were times he would rag doll wide receivers off the line scrimmage and continue to do so throughout the duration of the entire play. In his fifth season this physical brand of ball earned him the 1975 NFL Defensive Players of the Year.

In 1978 the NFL created the “Mel Blount Rule” in order to prevent him from man-handling opposing receivers. The rule is still part of the limitations put on defensive backs in today’s NFL, it is that defensive backs are not allowed to draw contact with receivers past five yards. At the time, the rule impeded Blount’s physical style of play, still, in-spite of the rule change, Blount would make three more Pro Bowls post-rule change. He finished his Steelers career with 57 interceptions (tied for 13th all-time). He was an integral part of those 70’s Steel Curtain defenses that won four Super Bowls and is regarded as one of the best defenses in the history of the game. Blount was inducted into the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989.

It takes two to make a pair, therefore we need to elaborate on the second cornerback, and if not actually, statistically probably the greatest cornerback in franchise history. That would be Rod Woodson.

The two-time First-Team All-American was drafted by the Steelers with the 10th pick in the 1st Round of the 1987 NFL Draft from Purdue University.

During his rookie season, Woodson was primarily used as a kick returner, playing in only eight games and recording only twenty tackles on defense under legendary coach Chuck Noll.

The rest of his Steelers career would put him among the pantheon of Pittsburgh Steelers greats. He was arguably the greatest Steeler during the era of the late 80’s until the beginning of the Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu era in the early 2000’s.

Woodson had 71 career interceptions, third all-time (38 with the Steelers), 17 touchdowns (11 as a Steelers), and his 12 interceptions returned for touchdowns is an NFL record. He also set the NFL record for most Pro Bowl nominations at his position (11) and winning the 1993 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

In September 1995, in the season opener against the Detroit Lions. Woodson was juked by Barry Sanders, he tried to plant on the turf of Three Rivers Stadium and tore his ACL. He missed the rest of the regular season after having reconstructive surgery. His speedy recovery from early September to late January would be commonplace in today’s game, not so much in 1996, he surprisingly returned to play in the Steelers’ 27-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX.

The next season (1996) would be his last In Pittsburgh. Woodson is considered one of the greatest Pittsburgh Steelers of all-time.

He would later go on to play with the rival Baltimore Ravens and Oakland Raiders where he transitioned to primarily playing free safety. He would record 31 more interceptions during this time and win Super Bowl XXXV with the Ravens on a defense that is considered one of the greatest all-time, along with the 70’s Pittsburgh Steelers and ‘85 Chicago Bears defenses.

Woodson would reach one more Super Bowl with the Raiders, a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003, after which he would retire and conclude his NFL playing career.

In August of 2009 Woodson went into the NFL Hall of Fame as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Mel Blount and Rod Woodson are two of the greatest to ever do it for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and in NFL history.