The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the most storied franchises in professional sports. They’ve won 6 Super Bowls, they have the best record and most playoff appearances of any franchise in the NFL since the merger, and the Hall of Fame is filled with former Steelers. The Steelers, however, have had less than an embarrassment of riches at the QB position. In fact, there’s more embarrassment than there is riches after you get past the top 3 guys.
With this in mind, here are the Top 10 quarterbacks in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers, starting with 10, Mark Malone:
10 Mark Malone (1981-1987) – Malone had the misfortune to be the starting QB during the early-1980’s when the Steelers were rebuilding after the dynastic teams of the 1970’s. Malone also had the misfortune of not being very good, throwing 60 TD’s and 81 INT’s during his 4-ish seasons as a starter. Malone did lead the 1984 Steelers into the playoffs and an upset win in Denver, the high-water mark of his career. Well, at least until he went into broadcasting.
9 Tommy Maddox (2001-2005) – Maddox shot to prominence in 2002 when he replaced Kordell Stewart and threw for 2836 yards in only 11 games, propelling the Steelers to a 10-5-1 record and a trip to the playoffs. Maddox quickly remembered that he wasn’t any good, however, posting a 7-11 record over the next 18 starts before giving way to Ben Roethlisberger when Maddox was injured in Week 2 of the 2004 season. Maddox held the team record with 473 yards passing in a 2002 OT tie with the Atlanta Falcons until it was eclipsed in 2009 by Roethlisberger.
8 Mike Tomczak (1993-1999) – The definition of a journeyman, Tomczak was the full-time Steelers starter for only one season, 1996. Replacing the departed Neil O’Donnell, Tomczak led the Steelers to a 11-5 record while throwing for 2747 yards, a figure that was then the 6th highest total in team history. Tomczak also followed up his time as a Steelers QB with a very irritating and short-lived career as a sports radio talk show “expert.”
7 Ed Brown (1962-1965) – Brown was a very good QB for the Chicago Bears in the 1950’s before playing out the string with the Steelers. In his two seasons as a starter, he led the woeful Steelers to a 12-12-3 mark, and his 2982 yards passing in 1963 was the franchise record until it was eclipsed by Terry Bradshaw in 1979.
6 Bubby Brister (1986-1992) – Bet you didn’t know that Bubby Brister was paid to play QB in the NFL for a total of 15 years. The Bubster was an average QB on some bad teams, managing to go 21-21 in his 3 seasons as the starting QB of the Steelers. Brister’s numbers were, in every way, mediocre, but he makes this list in large part due to the 1989 season. The Steelers lost their first two games by a combined 92-10 score, but rallied to make the playoffs and knock off the Houston Oilers in a Wild Card Game in Houston.
5 Kordell Stewart (1995-2002) – Yes, really. The Kordell Stewart era in Pittsburgh is one that most Steelers’ fans remember in a negative light for Stewart’s erratic and unconventional QB play. Had Stewart played in a town with less tradition, less pressure, and more of an open mind about the position, Stewart would likely be recalled more fondly by the fan base. He was 46-29 as a starter and supplemented rather pedestrian passing numbers with rushing totals unseen from the position at that time.
4 Neil O’Donnell (1991-1995) – One of the more polarizing figures in team history, O’Donnell’s legacy as a Steeler will ALWAYS be the two interceptions he threw to Larry Brown in Super Bowl XXX that cost the Steelers a title. O’Donnell, however, had some good moments as the Steelers’ QB, posting a 39-22 record as the starter and being at the helm when the franchise finally broke out of decade-long malaise and returned to prominence. O’Donnell was the ultimate “game manager,” throwing few TD’s but even fewer INT’s, and he was primarily asked to hand the ball off and stay out of the way, something he did well enough to make the playoffs all 4 seasons as a starting QB.
3 Bobby Layne (1958-1962) – Layne is one of two Steelers’ QB’s in the Hall of Fame as a result of his play on the field (Jim Finks made the HOF based on his career as an executive), although the best part of Layne’s career was spent in Detroit. Layne is still 6th on the Steelers’ all-time passing list, however, and even more impressively, he went 27-22-2 as the Steelers’ QB during an era that the franchise was an absolute joke.
2 Terry Bradshaw (1970-1983)– Still the only QB to win 4 Super Bowls, Bradshaw played in an era that disdained the short, high percentage passing game in favor of airing it out down the field. As a result, Bradshaw’s career stats look more like those of a journeyman than a Hall-of-Famer. Bradshaw completed only 52% of his passes, had a TD:INT ratio of almost exactly 1.00, and a career passer rating of 70.9, which would have put him between Rex Grossman and Sam Bradford in 30th in the 2011 NFL. It was, however, a different time, and Bradshaw’s 14-5 record in the playoffs speaks for itself.
1 Ben Roethlisberger (2004- )– While the selection of Roethlisberger over Bradshaw as the greatest Steelers QB will likely be considered heresy by the old-time yinzer nation, to be honest, this isn’t even that close. Comparing across eras is always difficult, and Ben plays in a far more passer-friendly time, but in any statistical measure – QB rating, y/a, and comp%, it’s not even close, and Ben will pass Bradshaw in total yards this year and total TD’s by 2014. Ben Roethlisberger is the greatest QB in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers.