clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The career of former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Frank Pollard

Former Steelers running back Frank Pollard may not have been a superstar, but the 11th round pick out of Baylor was one of the best underdog stories of the 1980s.

Rick Stewart/Getty Images

When I think of former Steelers running back Frank Pollard, one of the lasting images I have is of him bowling over several New York Jets during a 28-yard run in a Week 15 match-up at Shea Stadium late in the 1983 season.

I can recall Pollard taking on one defender after another, and my mother, who normally didn't pay much attention to the TV when I was watching football as a kid in those days, reacting as if it was the most amazing thing she'd ever witnessed.

As Pollard, an 11th round pick out of Baylor in the 1980 NFL Draft, told the sports site, PGH Sports Daily, in an interview from 2015, it was a bit of a shock to get drafted by the running back-rich Steelers:

"When I first started the draft process, the Cowboys and the Seahawks were the only two teams that showed interest in me. The Cowboys said they'd take me in the fifth round if they didn't draft anyone by round three, but they took James Jones in the third. I had no idea the Steelers were in the picture. But I'm glad they were!"

With Greg Hawthorne, a first round pick in 1979, Sidney Thornton, a second round pick in 1977 and, of course, the legendary Franco Harris already on the roster, the odds were stacked against the late-round rookie.

However, Pollard made the '80 squad, and while he did very little that year, he made the roster again the following season. In the aftermath of the retirement of Rocky Bleier, the second-year man started 10 games alongside Harris in Pittsburgh's backfield and racked up 570 yards on 123 carries.

Unfortunately for Pollard, the Steelers drafted Walter Abercromie (a fellow Baylor alum) in the first round of the 1982 NFL Draft and did so with visions of him being their featured back for a long time to come.

But after a contract dispute with Harris, Pittsburgh released the future Hall of Famer prior to the 1984 season. In Harris' absence, Pollard assumed the starting fullback job. Beings that the fullback was the featured back in head coach Chuck Noll's offense, this proved to be a bounty for Pollard. Pollard started 15 games in '84 and totaled 851 yards and a touchdown.

In Pittsburgh's famed playoff upset of the Broncos at Mile High Stadium that year, Pollard rushed for 99 yards and two scores--including the game-winner with mere minutes left--as the Steelers won, 24-17.

The following season was Pollard's best and most productive, as he carried the football 233 times and came within  a whisker of reaching the 1,000-yard mark (991).

Pollard's career started to wind-down after that, as the malaise and mediocrity that had slowly been overtaking the Steelers organization during the first half of the '80s was in full-swing during the latter half of the decade. Pittsburgh only won 19 games from '86-'88, while Pollard rushed for a total of 715 yards--including just 86 in '86 and 93 for an '88 squad that finished 5-11.

Pollard was out of football after  the '88 campaign, but not before rushing for 3,989 yards and 20 touchdowns over a nine-year career. Not only was Pollard the Steelers leading rusher of the 1980s, believe it or not, by the time his playing-days were over, he was third all-time in franchise history.

Today, some 28 years after playing his last game, Pollard still ranks fifth in team history.

Frank Pollard may not have been a superstar, but in terms of draft bargains in team history, he was one of the best in recent memory.