In Part One of this series we looked at what I considered to be a “dream team” starting 11 players on Offense. Now we move onto the side of the field I enjoy most, the Defence!
We will also look at Special Teams as well in this piece, but the defensive side of the ball has had many Superstars and Hall of Famers, so without further ado!
Defensive Line: Joe Greene, Casey Hampton, Ernie Stautner, L.C. Greenwood
Joe Greene, widely known as “Mean” Joe Greene was part of the Steelers legendary “Steel Curtain” defence of the 1970s. Greene has a list of accolades as long as your arm! He is a 4 time Super Bowl Champion (IX, X, XIII, XIV), 2 time NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1972, 1974), NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (1969), NFL Man of the Year (1979), 5 time First team All Pro, 10 time Pro Bowler, NFL 1970’s All Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary & 100th Anniversary All Time Team and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is one of the few Steelers plays who have their number, #75, officially retired by the team. During his career he play in 181 games, recorded 77.5 sacks (4th in team history) 1 interception and 16 fumbled recoveries.
Casey Hampton, also known as “Big Snack” was one of the most feared nose tackles in the NFL during his time in Pittsburgh. He is a 2 time Super Bowl Champion (XL, XLIII), and a 5 time Pro Bowler. During his career he recorded 398 tackles, 9 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries and played 157 games in his career. He was a key player who helped the Steelers defence transform into the dominating force during their Super Bowl runs and part of the legendary 2008 Steelers defence.
Ernie Stautner was part of the Steelers bruising defence from 1950 to 1963 and distinguished himself as one of the best defensive linemen of the era. During his time with the Steelers he never made the play offs and rarely missed a game, in fact during his 14 year career he only missed 6 games despite suffering multiple cracked ribs, nose and finger fractures and even two broken shoulders! He is a 2 time Super Bowl Champion (VI, XII) as a coach, 9 time Pro Bowler, 4 time All Pro and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He recorded 23 fumble recoveries, 3 safeties and 2 interceptions. Sacks and Tackles were not tracked by the NFL when Ernie played. His #70 was the first jersey retired by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
L.C. Greenwood was part of the legendary Steel Curtain defence of the 1970s. He is a 4 time Super Bowl Champion (IX, X, XIII, XIV), 6 time Pro Bowler, 2 time All Pro, NFL 1970s All Decade Team. He recorded 78 sacks (3rd in team history), 1 safety and 14 fumbled recoveries in the 170 games he played from 1969-1981. Greenwood would wear gold cleats when he played to make himself stand out and make it easy to identify him by the announcers on a defence filled with super stars and future Hall of Famers! While sacks did not become an official stat until 1982 many support Greenwood as unofficially holding the most sacks during the Super Bowl, he had 4 in Super Bowl X which is the most in a Super Bowl but it is still classed as an unofficial record.
When you take two members of the Steel Curtain, pair them with the most feared nose tackle and one of the toughest defensive linemen of his era and you will have a four man font that will swarm, punish, and terrorise any opposing Quarterback and would easily control the tempo of any game they were in!
Alternatives: Cameron Heyward, Brett Keisel, Dwight White, Aaron Smith
Linebackers: Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, James Harrison
Jack Ham played Outside Linebacker for the legendary Steel Curtain defence during the 1970s. During his career he was a 4 time Super Bowl Champion (IX, X, XIII, XIV), 8 time Pro Bowler, 6 time All Pro Team, NFL 1970s Team of the Decade, NFL 75th & 100th Anniversary All-Time Team, Football News Defensive Player of the Year (1975) and part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame!
Without a doubt Jack Ham was one of the best coverage linebackers, if not the best, in NFL history. His 32 interceptions ranks 3rd all time for all Linebackers in NFL history which puts him 7th in franchise history for interceptions, he also racked up 25 sacks and recovered 21 fumbles in his 12 season career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Also know as “the hammer” and “jack hammer”, Ham changed the way to OLB was played being not only a text book tackler but also a fantastic in coverage. He was also one of the quietest members of the Steel Curtain defence, he left the intimidation to Lambert and Greene.
Jack Lambert anchored the middle of the legendary Steel Curtain’s Linebackers, while many considered him too “tall and thin” to be a Middle Linebacker, its often said his height gave him an advantage in the position. During his 11 season career his was a 4 time Super Bowl Champion (IX, X, XIII, XIV), NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year (1974), NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1976), a 9 time Pro Bowler, 6 time All Pro, NFL 1970s All Decade Team, NFL 1980s All Decade Team, NFL 75th and 100th Anniversary All Time Team and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Lambert lost his front teeth due to a high school basketball game, and during games he would remove his partial denture, resulting in the toothless snarl many players and fans knew him for along with his hard hits, and smack talking.
A severe case of turf toe resulted in Lambert retiring from the NFL but he managed to record 28 interceptions (10th in team history, 8th in NFL History), 17 fumble recoveries and 23.5 sacks. Lamberts #58 is “unofficially retired” and has never been issued to another player following his retirement
James Harrison, also known as “Silverback” or as “Deebo” by his teammates in reference the Deebo from the movie Friday, went undrafted when he entered the 2002 NFL Draft as teams thought he was both too short (6ft) and too light (240) to play Outside Linebacker, the same mentality many had about Jack Lambert. Harrison was signed as an undrafted rookie in 2002 by the Steelers making him only the 1st Kent State player to play Outside Linebacker for the Steelers since Jack Lambert who was also a Kent State alumnus.
James Harrison would out the league on notice, in Week 9 against the Ravens during the 2007 season, Harrison racked up 3.5 sacks, 1 interception and 3 fumble recoveries, this is also referred to as “The game that made him famous”. During his time with the Steelers he recorded 564 tackles (8th in team history), and is the Pittsburgh Steelers all time sack leader with 80.5 sacks, (although Cameron Heyward (78.5) and T.J. Watt (77.5) are closing in on this!). Harrison is a 2 time Super Bowl Champion (XL, XLIII), was a 5 time Pro Bowler, 2 time All Pro, NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2008), and NFL Forced Fumbles Leader in 2008.
During Super Bowl XLIII James Harrison intercepted Kurt Warner on the goal line and the “Immaculate Interception” was born which became the longest interception return in Super Bowl history!
Without a doubt pairing Ham, Lambert and Harrison together would create the greatest Linebacking Corp in Steelers history! While T.J. Watt in a few years could take Harrisons spot on this list, currently this is the Linebacker Corp I would choose. Realistically I would love to have Ryan Shazier here and if it wasn’t for the devastating neck injury he suffered, Shazier would have been the next great Steelers Linebacker.
Alternatives: T.J. Watt, Greg Lloyd, Joey Porter, Kevin Greene
Cornerbacks: Mel Blount, Rod Woodson
Mel Blount, a Cornerback with a Linebacker build, he forced teams to throw away from his side of the field and bullied the Wide Receiver he covered so badly that the NFL changed the game and implemented the “Mel Blount” rule regarding contact down field with receivers. Even after this rule change Blount was still dominating in zone coverage!
He was a 4 time Super Bowl Champion (IX, X, XIII, XIV), NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1975) and the first Cornerback to ever get the DPOY award, 2 time All Pro, 5 time Pro Bowler, NFL Interceptions Leader (1975), NFL 1980s All Decade Team, NFL 75th & 100th Anniversary All-Time Team and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Mel Blount made your life as a Wide Receiver or Tight End a nightmare with his blanket coverage and hard hits. He holds franchise record of most interceptions in a single season at 11 in 1975 and holds the franchise record for most interceptions all time at 57. The #47 was, like previous numbers (#12, #36, #43, #52, #58, #59, #63, #68, #86) unofficially retired by the Steelers and has not been given to another player since Mel Blount.
Rod Woodson was drafted by the Steelers in 10th overall in 1987 although they never expected him to be available and luck would have it, when the Steelers pick came, Woodson was still available and ended up playing with the Pittsburgh Steelers for 10 seasons.
During his time with the Steelers, Woodson won NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1993), was 5 time All Pro, received 7 Pro Bowl nods, NFL 1990s All Decade Team, NFL 75th All Time Team (the youngest ever selected) & NFL 100th Anniversary All Time Team, Super Bowl XXXV Champion (with the Ravens) and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He also became the first player to suffer an ACL injury and return in the same season to play in the Super Bowl (XXX) with the Steelers.
Not only was Rod Woodson considered one of the greatest ever Defensive Backs in NFL history, he also excelled playing Free Safety and Strong Safety. During his time with the Steelers he recorded 38 Interceptions (4th in team history) and in his career with the Steelers, 49ers, Ravens and Raiders he racked up 1158 tackles, 17 touchdowns, 20 forced fumbles, 13.5 sacks and 71 interceptions (3rd in NFL history).
If Rod Woodson was on the field you could not throw to his side, like Mel Blount he removed a player from your arsenal and if you dared throw his way, he made you pay for it.
Combining Woodson and Blount as starting Defensive Backs on this Dream Team would make it nigh on impossible for opposing Quarterbacks to have any kind of success throwing the ball. Blount and Woodson would pick off anything thrown their way or force a turn over on a ball thrown away from them, truly these two would of been unstoppable if they played together.
Alternatives: Carnell Lake, Ike Taylor, Jack Butler
Safeties: Troy Polamalu, Donnie Shell
Troy Polamalu, the 16th over all pick in 2003 NFL Draft would become on of the greatest Safeties to ever play the position. A 2 time Super Bowl Champion (XL, XLIII), NFL Defensive Player of the Year (2010), 4 time All Pro selection, 8 time Pro Bowler, NFL 2000s All Decade Team and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Polamalu was a human highlight reel, regularly making insane interceptions, even by his finger tips and was a terror in the backfield, so much so he could guess the Quarterbacks snap count and shoot the A Gap for a sack, more than once and even leaping the Offensive Line to sack the Quarterback and who could forget the Pick 6 that sent the Steelers to Super Bowl XLIII!
During his career with the Steelers Polamalu recorded 783 tackles (7th in team history), 12 sacks, 32 interceptions (T-9th in team history), 14 forced fumbles, and 5 pick sixes!
Polamalu spent his entire 12 year career with the Steelers and retired in 2015 and since his retirement, the #43 has been unofficially retired by the Steelers, meaning no player has wore his number since his retirement.
Donnie Shell was an undrafted free agent signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1974 and spent time on Special Teams trying to gain a starting role on the team. The players strike in the same year gave Donnie the opening he needed to make an impact on the team. Shell’s mentality was “Hit or be hit!” and following this mentality, Shell earned himself the nickname “The Human Torpedo” or “Torpedo” due to his hard hits and tackling style.
During his 14 seasons with the Steelers he interception at least one pass per season and was the first Safety to surpass the 50 interception mark in NFL History. Thanks to his ball hawk ability, Shell in both Super Bowl XIII and Super Bowl XIV he prevent several scores which could have cost the Steelers those games!
Donnie Shell is a 4 time Super Bowl Champion (IX, X, XIII, XIV), 3 time All Pro, 5 time Pro Bowler, and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He racked up 51 interceptions (3rd in team history), 19 fumble recoveries and 4 pick sixes!
Pairing the human highlight reel who had a six sense when on the field with the human torpedo, would cause teams to second guess their passing game, their running game, hell their entire game plan. How do you plan for a player who can anticipate your snap count, or a player who hits so hard your going to fumble? Polamalu and Shell together on the same field would cause absolute chaos!
Alternatives: Mike Wagner, Minkah Fitzpatrick
So there we have it, the dream team defence is complete, pulling players from all eras and putting a monster team on the field and depth behind them that would make any team they faced struggle to advance down the field, let alone score!
This wraps up the Steelers dream team thought piece, let me know who you’d put in various positions on both Offense and Defence and keep your eyes open for future Steelers content!