The Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be on the verge of a change at quarterback.
The last time the Steelers moved on from a Hall of Fame quarterback it proved difficult. From the time Terry Bradshaw hobbled off the field as the winningest quarterback in NFL history, the Steelers took 22 years before finding the organization’s next great quarterback.
Steelers fans, especially those of us getting older, hope it isn’t 22 more years before the team finds a suitable signal caller.
Bradshaw left the game with a .677 winning percentage and 4 Super Bowl rings. Still today, only Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Joe Montana have a higher winning percentage.
The guy who may walk away this offseason—Ben Roethlisberger—would leave with a .677 winning percentage and 2 Super Bowl rings. For those doubters that he is a first ballot Hall of Famer…shutty. It’s a no doubter.
During the 22 years after #12 stopped slinging footballs around Three Rivers Stadium, fans saw some decent, some adequate, and some dreadful quarterback performances. The Steelers didn’t stink all the time and, in fact, were pretty good on occasion. They just didn’t have that “stud” at quarterback.
Thirteen different quarterbacks took snaps. Not all of them were terrible, yet none of them were great. Let’s look back and rank the gentlemen that all tried to be the next great Steelers quarterback.
My only criteria is the quarterback had to play a minimum of ten games. Rankings like this are always somewhat subjective, and this will be viewed through my eyes only. Clearly I will look at numbers and wins, but won’t be married to any singular statistic.
With all due respect to Scott Campbell, Steve Bono, Todd Blackledge, Kent Graham, and Jim Miller, here is my not all that great eight quarterbacks in the post Bradshaw/pre Roethlisberger era.
8. David Woodley: Woodley started 13 games between the 1984 and 1985 seasons. He was 7-6 and threw an interception every 16 pass attempts. The 1984 team reached the AFC Championship game, but Woodley had little to do with that. Woodley’s short tenure can be summed up by the fact he couldn’t beat out wide receiver Mark Malone for the permanent starting quarterback job.
7. Cliff Stoudt: The 1983 Steelers were Cliff Stoudt’s team. Well, sort of. Terry Bradshaw was still on the roster, his throwing elbow hanging by a thread. Stoudt was—well, let’s be nice—adequate. Like Woodley, Stoudt had interception problems. He threw an interception every 18 pass attempts. When the team needed a late season win to clinch a playoff spot it was Bradshaw that dragged his weary elbow on to Shea Stadium’s turf to throw two TD passes in the first half before he couldn’t go anymore. With a playoff berth secured, the Steelers wouldn’t win another game with Stoudt under center.
6. Mike Tomczak: Tomczak was mostly a spot starter during his Steeler career, but he did have one really good season as the starter in 1996. Tomczak led the Steelers to a division championship and one playoff win, putting up modest numbers. The Steelers moved Kordell Stewart in as the starting QB the next season and left the aging Tomczak on the bench. He did get four starts in the ugly 1999 season.
5. Mark Malone: Malone is better known for his 90 yard touchdown catch in 1981 vs Seattle. It is probably not a good sign that your exploits as a receiver are more known than what you did as a quarterback. Malone started out okay in 1984. Malone helped lead the Steelers to the AFC Championship by going 6-3 as a starter and winning their first round playoff game. By 1987, fans had grown weary of Malone. He had 6 touchdowns and 17 interceptions that season and left for sunny San Diego soon after.
4. Tommy Maddox: Maddox arrived in Pittsburgh via the Arena Football League and the XFL. After being the XFL MVP, Maddox signed in Pittsburgh and reached near legend status after replacing a frustrating Kordell Stewart in the third game of the 1999 season. Maddox had an 85 QB rating, and he had a knack for making the big play. The season ended in overtime in the divisional round vs Tennessee. The next season Maddox was poor enough to get the Steelers in draft position to nab their next Hall of Fame quarterback, so kudos to him for that, too.
3. Bubby Brister: Scrappy, sassy, and fresh off the Bayou, Brister was a breath of fresh air. His numbers were average, like all the rest, but his in your face, scrappy personality were endearing. In 1989 Brister led the Steelers into the playoffs where they won a thriller in Houston and lost a one point heartbreaker in Denver. Brister was excellent in both games. 9-7 wasn’t good enough for the playoffs in 1990, and by the middle of 1991 Brister was replaced—and not successfully—by Neil O’Donnell. In 1992 Brister took over at the end of the season for four games before ceding control back to O’Donnell for the playoff loss in Buffalo. Brister was average, but had a personality that at least made him interesting.
2. Neil O’Donnell: O’Donnell gets ranked this high because he is the only one of this bunch to reach a Super Bowl. His performance in that Super Bowl is why I refuse to put him first on this list. Look, O’Donnell had four really solid seasons as a starter. He benefited from 1,700+ yards rushing from the likes of Barry Foster and Bam Morris in his first three seasons. His best season was in 1995 when he didn’t have a great running game. I downgrade O’Donnell for not being able to go out and win a game for his team. In the 1994 AFC Championship Game, an undermanned Chargers team shut down the Steelers potent running game. Though O’Donnell threw for 349 yards, his team only mustered 13 points. And everyone remembers the disastrous Super Bowl following the 1995 season. Three interceptions—two of which set up Dallas for touchdowns—by O’Donnell cost the Steelers any chance and made Dallas DB Larry Brown a lot of money. O’Donnell was the ultimate game manager, and never resonated with me.
1. Kordell Stewart: I know this will be disputed by many, but I feel strongly on this one. I absolutely loved Slash. He was fun. He was exciting. He was a game changer. But Slash wanted to be a quarterback, and I respected that. Stewart faced an uphill climb as a black quarterback in Pittsburgh. In a piece Stewart wrote in The Players Tribune recently, he revealed that some of the ugly false rumors were started by a city police officer. Every mistake was magnified in some fans’ eyes. Stewart led the Steelers to two AFC Championship games. In between were three non-playoff seasons where he threw 28 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. Accuracy was always a problem for Stewart, as it was for most of the guys on this list. In 1997 and 2001 Stewart took the team to the AFC Championship Game with a mix of throwing and running. He was Lamar Jackson before Lamar Jackson. Unfortunately, Stewart threw 6 total interceptions in those championship games. Head coach Bill Cowher preferred less flashy quarterbacks and eventually benched Stewart in 2002, leading to a somewhat bitter separation. Stewart was far from great, but added a level of excitement and play making ability that the others on this list didn’t have.
Whether you agree with my rankings or not, the purpose of this was to show that none of these guys were all that great. Some were boring. Some were exciting. Some showed flashes of glory. Some couldn’t get out of town fast enough. None became Super Bowl champions. Many failed in AFC Championship games. All would have carried clipboards if they had played with #12 or #7.
Twenty-two years. One Super Bowl appearance. A proverbial revolving door at quarterback.
If and when Ben Roethlisberger stops putting on that #7 jersey, Steelers fans will cross every finger and every toe that they don’t have to wait twenty-two years for the next championship level quarterback to appear in Pittsburgh.
Two Cent Takes
~I can’t make up my mind which is funnier in this clip from elastic week. Calipari with the sarcastic peace sign or Jerry Stackhouse with the wave off. Nothing like a heated Kentucky/Vanderbilt rivalry.
— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_ATH) February 18, 2021
~Madness looms but one week away. Really, the Madness has already begun. Tis the season for teams taking really bad losses to put their bubble prospects in danger and improve other teams’ chances. This week let’s look at bad losses, good wins, and bubble/seed movement from around the country.
- Pitt losing to Florida State Saturday is understandable, but an early week loss at home to NC State is unacceptable. Pitt is out.
- Virginia may have cost themselves a seed or two with two losses this week. Saturday’s loss to Duke puts the Blue Devils back in the mix. I’m telling you, Duke will make the tournament.
- North Carolina 99 Louisville 54. Yikes. Losing was inevitable for the Cardinals after three weeks of almost no practicing due to COVID-19. Getting embarrassed is a whole other thing. Louisville has a tough stretch to end the season, including Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Duke. The Cards will barely make the tournament if they do at all.
- Seton Hall losing to Georgetown was not helpful to the Pirates cause. Seton Hall seems secure, but games against fellow bubblers UConn and St. John’s will make things interesting for all three teams.
- UConn losing to Villanova was expected, but the Huskies probably need a win or two down the stretch.
- St. John’s losing to bottom feeder DePaul was a real blow. The Johnnies had played their way into the tournament, but this puts them firmly back on the bubble.
- Mississippi climbed up onto the bubble, and slid right off the other side with a home clunker of a loss to Mississippi State. That bubble can be slippery.
- Tennessee got thumped at home by Kentucky on Saturday. The Vols seed is dropping like a lead balloon.
- Stanford lost a triple overtime thriller to bottom feeder Washington State on Saturday. Stanford got hot with a depleted roster. Now they have all their guys back, including freshman phenom Zhaire Williams, and they have gone in the tank. The Cardinal have a tournament quality team, but they are trying very hard to miss out on the fun.
- In typical Andy Enfield fashion, his USC Trojans laid an egg Saturday afternoon. Losing to an average Arizona team at home is vintage Enfield. He was moving the Trojans in to top 4 seed territory. Now, Trojan hoops fans(all 6 of you) will hope they don’t do the fade away late in the season.
- UCLA avoided a really bad loss by taking their first lead against Arizona State with less than two seconds. The win keeps the Bruins in line for a 6 or 7 seed and a chance to win the conference. Mick Cronin gets his teams to never quit.
- TCU is out. Losing at home to 5-18 Kansas State when you weren’t exactly on the bubble to start with is the final nail in the coffin.
- Texas blew a 19 point lead, during which their two star players had to be separated, against West Virginia. The teams are evenly matched so it’s not the loss so much as the way it went down. Huge lead, fighting teammates, and a wobbly two weeks make one wonder if Shaka Smart is losing his team. It wouldn’t be the first time.
- Illinois 94 Minnesota 63. It sort of feels like the wheels are coming off for Richard Pitino. Key injuries and a brutal Big Ten schedule has backed the Gophers on to the bubble. A relatively easy—by Big Ten standards—schedule may save Minnesota.
- Michigan State over Indiana gives the Spartans life, and nobody will convince me that Tom Izzo won’t get the benefit of the doubt from the committee. For Indiana, a team that started to look fairly solid, it leaves some doubt. That doubt grows when you look at their remaining schedule. Finishing with five straight losses isn’t out of the question.
- Penn State dropped yet another close game, this time to Iowa. That has been there M.O. for a long time. This year’s team plays hard, but just can’t make enough shots to win these close games. The only way for the Nittany Lions to go dancing is to make it to the conference championship.
- Maryland beat Rutgers Sunday. The Terps have definitely moved to the correct side of the bubble.
~How to stoke a rivalry. The video below is Louisville coach Chris Mack with his neighbor and former Louisville/NFL football player Eric Wood the night after Louisville beat a bad Kentucky team. A pro Kentucky Wildcats radio station didn’t release the video until Sunday morning, the day after Kentucky upset Tennessee and Louisville got humiliated by North Carolina. Ah, timing.
If anyone knows a good address for Eric lemme know, I’d like to send him a Thank You card https://t.co/YYzgGtMgeK
— Kevin Wright (@KLW0408) February 21, 2021
For those that don’t know…Kenny Payne, who Wood keeps yelling about, played at Louisville and coached at Kentucky until this year. So the insinuation is that the reason Louisville couldn’t beat Kentucky before was because of Payne. In that sense the video is funny. It shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It is what makes rivalries great. I guess.
Having said that, it isn’t a good look for Mack. Partying with a group of people during Covid looks bad. It looks worse considering your team has been maybe the worst team at dealing with the virus. Mack has, on his best day, seemed annoyed by all of it. It would certainly appear he hasn’t stressed the importance of precaution to his team. Oh, and he had Covid last week himself and still looks miserable. I’m pretty sure that Coach K, Roy Williams, Mark Few, and many other big time coaches would have never put themselves in that situation. Mack needs to grow up and prove he can coach at this level. To date he has failed on all accounts.
~Good for San Diego. Spending a lot to keep Fernando Tatis, one of the biggest stars in baseball, in your grasp. They’ve built a great roster and are doing everything they can to win. Something Bob Nutting never did(or will do) in Pittsburgh. Plus, nothing says you can’t trade Tatis at some point. It keeps him out of LA and New York which, contrary to some network morons, is good for all of baseball.
~JT Realmuto broke his thumb. He says it should be fine. Jared Hughes, one of baseball’s nicest guys, retired. I only mention these two things to show one of my favorite memes of all time. The reaction from Realmuto when he saw Hughes doing his patented sprint from the bullpen was priceless.
— Jacob Realmuto (@JTRealmuto) February 17, 2021
~Pitchers and catchers have reported to camp, or in Bradenton, anyone who can throw a baseball. The Pirates did sign Todd Frazier to a minor league contract. Colin Moran is left handed, so why not get the right handed version of Moran to platoon with him? It would also give Moran someone to make him feel not so slow.
~I’ve read a lot of complaints, but I don’t know how you can’t like this.
Guys there was an outdoor hockey game played in my town today and look at this view pic.twitter.com/zWv8R43woT
— Kyante Wilson 🦍 (@kyantewilson) February 21, 2021
The NHL needs all the positives they can get, and this Outdoor Series is one of them. They just have to be smart about it. The ice conditions always seem to be an issue, and actually delayed this year’s first game for 8 hours. Finishing the game at midnight Eastern time is certainly not ideal. Find locations and methods to keep the ice in good condition, and use this series to continue promoting the sport.
~Man, this guy really can do it all. Gritty in Tahoe for the Flyers/Bruins game. He should have suited up in goal.
Peace, love, & powder. pic.twitter.com/tXoW6lJV2Z
— Gritty (@GrittyNHL) February 20, 2021
~Sidney Crosby played his 1,000 game in Pittsburgh Saturday night. How fortunate if you are a Pittsburgh sports fan. In most other cities this guy would be considered the greatest athlete of all time. In Pittsburgh he isn’t even the greatest hockey player of all time, and that’s saying something considering he is all time top five.
~In the Zoom era created by COVID-19, strange things occur. Like covering a postgame press conference from your bed. Doc Rivers’s reaction…classic.
"Jesus Christ, Jackson."
Doc Rivers called out a reporter after he asked a question while laying in bed 😂 pic.twitter.com/CN7c1Ocoyn
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) February 18, 2021
A Penny For My Final Thought…
“COVID-19 is costing us millions and millions.”
“How will we ever survive?”
“We will have to raise tuition.”
“Season ticket prices will have to go up.”
“We may have to drop tennis or lacrosse or golf.”
This is all we heard from college administrators and athletic directors during the first several months of the pandemic. Doom. Gloom. BS.
Sure, universities lost a ton of money. Athletic budgets no doubt had to be tightened. I’m certainly not denying any of that.
These athletic departments find ways. Big money boosters help out. I said it then and I’ll say it now, there is no school that should have to drop a sport.
We saw multiple schools fire football coaches and eat the buyout money. We saw new coaches hired at a high cost. A baseball player just got a $340 million contract for goodness sakes.
You can’t cry about finances when you spend like water year after year after year.
The latest expenditure that makes you scratch your head is up for vote at Penn State. The athletic board voted 10-1 to send the proposal to the main board of trustees. The proposal is for a $48 million upgrade to the Lasch Building that is used mainly by the football program.
The building received a $36 million upgrade not too long ago. This is the same school that pulled a fast one on season ticket holders to assure they kept their ticket money despite no games being played. Not exactly consistent in their approach.
Which is it? So hard up we weasel the season ticket holders or we can afford a $48 million upgrade that probably isn’t necessary?
Make no mistake, Penn State certainly isn’t the only school doing stuff like this. It is, however, yet another example of the spend, spend, spend mentality that happens in college athletics. A silly pandemic isn’t going to stop the spending. It happens everywhere, from Happy Valley to Baton Rouge and Austin to LA.
The Lasch Building vote is going to get at least one no vote. Trustee Jay Paterno has gone on record as saying it is ridiculous optics to ask for this while students and their families are trying to make ends meet to stay enrolled. With people struggling, to ask for $48 million is absurd. It remains to be seen how many people join Paterno when the trustees hold their vote.
Raise tuition. Raise room and board. Drop an Olympic sport. Pull a fast one on season ticket holders. What a mess college sports has become. And don’t let the players ask for a penny. Oh, and stop blaming it on the pandemic.
What a joke.
I always knew Jay Paterno would turn out to be the voice of reason.