After our article yesterday talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers' third round selection Javon Hargrave being from an historically black college/university (HBCU) in South Carolina State University and the Steelers' historical ties to HBCU's, it seems only fitting to dedicate this week's throwback Thursday to Hargrave's fellow alumnus, former Steelers' safety Donnie Shell.
Shell is a legend in Pittsburgh lore for his many amazing plays during the 1970's and 1980's, as he took over the free safety position on defense after the departure of Glenn Edwards. He is one of the many players from that era that were with the team for all four Super Bowls from the 1970's, but also played through the 1980's well after that dynasty wore out.
We take today's article to look back at some interceptions from Shell's career.
Shell often in the right place at the right time
In the season opener of the 1980 NFL season, the Steelers hosted a pair of familiar opponents in the division rival Houston Oilers but also their new quarterback, and former Oakland Raider quarterback, Ken Stabler. Stabler already knew the prowess of the Steelers' defense from years of getting pummeled by them and watching Pittsburgh win its fourth Super Bowl in six years in the season prior to this game.
That didn't change when Shell and Mike Wagner teamed up to create this interception. Wagner plays the coverage so well on the play that instead of being the wide receiver's shadow, it was more like the receiver was the one shadowing Wagner; a play which created a tipped ball that Shell immediately reacted to and intercepted for what was the Steelers' third takeaway in just the first half.
Working with Mel Blount
Mel Blount was a legendary cornerback in the NFL and ended his career with 57 interceptions, but he also created other plays which allowed the other ball hawks of the secondary to create turnovers. Shell was once again in the right place at the right time to create a turnover and put the Steelers inside their opponent's red zone.
Quick on the ball
The Steelers were on the verge of giving up a fourth quarter comeback to the Minnesota Vikings in 1980, but Shell came through with a big play that would close out the game. Shell darted from behind the receiver while he played as the deepest defender and shot to the ball to create an interception which sealed the deal for Pittsburgh.
Shell needs to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame
After recording 51 career interceptions, winning four Super Bowls and breaking Earl Campbell's ribs, you would think that it would be a no-brainer that Shell would make the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Unfortunately to this day Shell remains without a bust alongside his several teammates in Canton, Ohio.
Shell was an undrafted free agent which Pittsburgh added shortly after the 1974 draft; the same draft class that brought them Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Jack Lambert, all of which are Hall of Fame players. Maybe Shell's lack of a golden jacket ceremony in Canton is due to the theory that the voters think there are too many Steelers from that era that are already inducted into the Hall of Fame to begin with, and that Shell just cannot be added because of the nine other players from that era which are already enshrined.
Maybe Shell's 51 interceptions are not enough in the eyes of many to be in the Hall of Fame regardless of what team he played for and how many of them are already inducted. However at least two defensive backs from the same era had less interceptions but are still in the Hall of Fame in the Houston Oilers' Ken Houston and the St. Louis Cardinals' Roger Wehlri. Several other players have less interceptions as well and are in the Hall of Fame, but coming from different eras there are legitimate arguments that can change the impact of their numbers.
Either way you look at who has less interceptions than Shell, he was still a great player that was a contributor to a great dynasty and has all four Super Bowl rings to prove it. Shell also was not solely a player that intercepted the ball as he developed a reputation as a hard-hitting safety in the NFL, continuing the tradition for Pittsburgh defensive backs.