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"Slash", not Neil O'Donnell, is Steelers' third best all-time quarterback

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NFL.com recently listed the top-three quarterbacks in each franchise's history. There was no surprise that Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger went 1-2 for the Steelers, but the selection of Neil O'Donnell was the team's third best quarterback should be slashed in favor of "Slash".

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NFL.com's selection of the Steelers' third-best all-time quarterback was about as accurate as a Neil O'Donnell fourth quarter pass in a Super Bowl.

Well, it might not have been that bad, but it's pretty close. While NFL.com's list of the Steelers' top-three all-time passers hit the mark by selecting Terry Bradshaw No. 1 and Ben Roethlisberger No. 2, Kordell Stewart, not O'Donnell, should have been selected as the third best quarterback in team history.

Yes, O'Donnell did do something Stewart didn't do, which was help Pittsburgh reach a Super Bowl, which the former did on January 14, 1996, helping Pittsburgh defeat the Colts in the AFC title game, 20-16. O'Donnell also helped lead the Steelers to four straight playoff appearances, three division titles, three playoff victories and two AFC title games.

But O'Donnell was merely a glorified game manager, instructed to not make mistakes (he had the best touchdown to interception ratio in NFL history, which seemed ironic after Super Bowl XXX) and to occasionally convert the big third down. He wasn't mobile, wasn't terribly accurate, and didn't play particularly well on the biggest stage. Yes, he converted the fourth and three and the 37-yard bomb to help the Steelers outlast Indy in that epic AFC title game, but he threw high and away two weeks later, leading to Yancy Thigpen, Ernie Mills, and Andre Hastings to have to continuously stretch their bodies in balletic ways (which being exposed to bone-jarring hits) to come down with catches. As good as these receivers were, they couldn't bail O'Donnell out on his two horrendous interceptions to essentially dismantle any chance Pittsburgh had at upsetting Dallas in a Super Bowl in which the Steelers outplayed their heavily favored foe.

O'Donnell also had the luxury of offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt's famed "Five Wide" receiver set, a strong running game and a defense that was the best in the NFL during that span. O'Donnell did some nice things wearing the Black and Gold, but if I could pick between him and Stewart to lead the Steelers to one victory, it's Slash getting the start under center.

Stewart didn't string together the four consecutive solid seasons O'Donnell enjoyed, but Stewart's circumstances were different. Chan Gailey, the offensive coordinator Stewart enjoyed his most success with, left after the 1997 season to become head coach of the Cowboys. He endured another change at offensive coordinator before enjoying a second stretch of his career with Mike Mularkey. Stewart and the Steelers also watched a bevy of talent on both sides of the ball leave Pittsburgh post Super Bowl XXX that included wide receivers Thigpen, Hastings, Mills, and Charles Johnson. Thigpen's departure, the receiver Stewart easily had the best chemistry with, was the biggest blow to Stewart's development. The losses of Chad Brown, Willie Williams, and others also led to less dominant defense during several of Stewart's seasons as the team's starting quarterback.

Despite these challenges, Stewart prevailed to have a very solid tenure as the Steelers starting quarterback, which stretched from 1997-2002. Stewart helped the Steelers reach an AFC championship game, bounce back from mediocrity, then to another AFC title game.

The quarterback formally known as Slash also recorded two of the most electrifying seasons by a quarterback in franchise history. In his first season as starting quarterback, Stewart and the Steelers overcame a 2-3 start to finish 11-5, winning the AFC Central and advancing to the '97 title game. Stewart was devastating as both a passer and rusher, becoming the first quarterback in league history to pass for over 20 touchdowns and rush for over 10 in the season season. He led Pittsburgh to a 3-0 overtime record that season, as his story was the main one in one of the more exciting seasons in team history. Led by Stewart's five touchdowns, Pittsburgh overcame a 21-0 deficit to defeat the Ravens in Baltimore, 42-34. Down 21-7 to Denver, five Stewart scores spearheaded the Steelers' 35-24 comeback victory. Down 14-0 and 21-13 late a week later at New England, a fourth down conversion, two point conversion pass and overtime pass to Courtney Hawkins led to a game-winning field goal by Norm Johnson in a shocking 24-21 overtime triumph.

After two rebuilding seasons, the Steelers started 0-3 with Stewart on the bench to start the 2000 season. Stewart got the nod to start in Week 4, and quarterbacked the Steelers to a 9-4 record down the stretch to post the team's first winning season since '97. Stewart enjoyed the best passing season of his career the following year, setting a then team record for a single season completion percentage in leading the team to its best regular season record since the 1978 team. Stewart earned a Pro Bowl nod for his sensational season, along with guiding Pittsburgh back to the AFC title game.

While many lament on what Stewart couldn't do, Stewart was able to achieve a bevy of success, especially for a player that spent his first two seasons playing three different positions. Stewart was a sensational athlete that could run and throw, a leader that led the team to some of its best seasons over the past quarter century, and was a electrifying performer that you could never count out. He could beat you in multiple ways, and his teams were never out of the fight, not with No.10 under center.

Looking back, Stewart always seemed to be embraced by his teammates; you could tell that he was very well liked by everyone on the team, especially by running back Jerome Bettis, who enjoyed his finest seasons with Stewart as his quarterback. It's that leadership, that ability to get an entire team to play for you, is what truly puts Stewart over the top in this quarterback comparison.

It's those tangibles and intangibles that warrant Stewart's place among the Steelers' Mount Rushmore of quarterbacks, a spot that shouldn't be relinquished any time soon.