Ever since this year’s Hall of Honor announcement, I haven’t seen Aaron Smith name mentioned without the word “underrated” somewhere in the first paragraph. I even saw one writer call him “the greatest player many fans never heard of.”
Sure, Smith may not be well-known to football fans under 30 outside of the 412. And you may be hard-pressed to find a single 91 jersey on game day that doesn’t say “Greene” or “Tuitt” on the nameplate. But if you claim to be a tried and true member of the black and gold and haven’t already put him in the same echelon as other Steelers greats, you might be what Myron Cope used to call one of “Modell’s Meatballs.”
Smith may have only been named to one Pro Bowl, but his accolades have been well-heralded, not only while he was playing, but also in the first draft of history.
- He was the starting left defensive end for seven consecutive seasons.
- He’s unofficially 12th on the all-time Steelers sack list (officially 9th since sacks were only counted before 1982).
- He’s 14th in all-time Steelers earnings - $46.2 million (more than Deebo earned in Pittsburgh).
- The Tribune Review named him the best Pittsburgh athlete to wear #91, edging out Kevin Greene and Pitt’s Al Romano.
- Sports Illustrated named him to their All-Decade team of the 2000s over Julius Peppers and Michael Strahan.
- Dick LeBeau called him the greatest 3-4 defensive end of all time.
- He’s in the Hall of Honor before any of his defensive teammates, except James Farrior and Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu.
If you still need reminding, let’s look back at some of Aaron’s biggest moments.
10/29/2000: Week 9 at Baltimore Ravens
First, Smith deflected a pass on 3rd and 2 at the 2 min warning to hold Baltimore to a field goal and a 6-0 lead at halftime. Then, he outran Trent Dilfer to keep him from getting the first on a 3rd and 3 with 11:41 left in the game. That would force Baltimore to punt from the Steelers' 37 and hold on to the 9-6 lead that would ultimately be the final score.
Smith opened the season with a sack in 4 straight games.
9/12/2004: Week 1 vs. Oakland Raiders
In the second quarter saw Smith light up the highlight reel. He picked up a fumble caused by Clark Haggans and ran it back 49 yards. Two possessions later, Smith sacked Rich Gannon, causing the ball to come out again. The Steelers would squeak out a 24-21 win on the final drive.
1/15/2005: AFC Divisional Round vs. NY Jets
In the second quarter, Smith sacked Chad Pennington on 3rd and 14 at the Pittsburgh 21 to hold New York to a field goal.
10/23/2005: Week 7 at Cincinnati Bengals
In the third quarter, Carson Palmer was trying to lead to Bengals back from a 10-6 deficit, when he threw an interception to Smith, the only pick in his career.
12/14/2008: Week 15 at Baltimore
This game earned Smith his only AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. He had eight tackles, one sack, and two quarterback pressures in a 13-9 road win over Baltimore, helping the Steelers clinch the AFC North in back-to-back seasons. The defense held Baltimore to 202 total yards on offense and rookie quarterback Joe Flacco to a 22.2 passer rating.
1/18/2009: AFC Championship vs. Baltimore Ravens
Smith sacked Flacco in the 2nd on a 3rd and 6 on the Pittsburgh 39. The game would ultimately be remembered for Polamalu’s pick-six in the fourth quarter, where you can see Smith blocking for Troy on his way to the end zone.
Kyle Chrise is the host of the podcast “What Yinz Talkin’ Bout”