Labriola's Top 10 Steelers

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NFL Network To Air Top 10 Steelers
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Dick Hoak's tenure with the team, first as a player and then as an assistant coach, spanned 46 years and included five Super Bowl rings. He said he couldn't do it. "There were so many great football players," said Hoak, whose spot as the No. 6 rusher in franchise history indicates he could play a little bit himself.

Brent Musburger's NFL broadcasting career on CBS began in 1973 and spanned 17 years, and he stood on same the stage as Pete Rozelle when the NFL Commissioner presented a Lombardi Trophy to Art Rooney Sr. for the fourth time in a six-season span. "I think it's virtually impossible to take the Steelers and make a list of 1-to-10."

I'm with Brent on this one. Making a list of the greatest players in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers is difficult but doable. Limiting the number to 10? Not so much. In fact, it's a simpler matter to identify No. 1 than it is to determine the other nine, but more on that later.

NFL Network has come up with its list, and it will premier the decision at 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve when it airs "The Top 10 Pittsburgh Steelers."

The network has itself a series that's both entertaining and interesting with its many variations of The Top 10, and the subjects run the gamut of "The Top 10 Quarterbacks" to "The Top 10 Players under 5-foot-10."

"The Top 10 Steelers" promises to be among the most debated once it's announced, simply because it has to come down to personal preference. A strictly objective method can't work.

It has to come to personal preference, because if individual excellence is the criteria, there are 12 players already enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who got there by what they did while wearing a Steelers uniform. If the winning of championships is the be-all-end-all, well, there are 14 players with four Super Bowl rings apiece who were named to the Steelers' All-Time Team as part of the franchise's 75th Season celebration in 2007. If toughness and a career spent playing the game in a physical fashion is the criteria, there literally are hundreds of players who qualify.

Since it's to be about personal preference, I will offer my Top 10. I offer it with humility, completely understanding that my perspective is limited. The honest truth is it was an assignment.

"That's like saying, which one of my children is my favorite," said Tunch Ilkin about trying to pick only 10, and he was a player good enough to be on the Steelers' All-Time Team.

I may not have any children, but I feel the sentiment. Nevertheless, here goes, and you will notice there are no active players on this list because in my opinion it's impossible to measure a career accurately until it's over, and there are too many outstanding bodies of work already completed to get involved with projections:

JOE GREENE (1969-1981): He is listed first because Greene is the No. 1 player in franchise history. Only the truly great can change history, and that's what Joe Greene did. When Chuck Noll first met the team he inherited in 1969 he told the players that the goal was to win a Super Bowl championship but that most of them weren't good enough to be a part of that. Then, the first player Noll added to that room was Joe Greene, whose legacy to the Steelers transcends any statistics. Greene was all about the winning, and his standing among his peers in the locker room led them in that same direction. In a 1972 game the injury-ravaged Steelers had to have to win the first division title in franchise history, Greene had five sacks and blocked a short field goal attempt by the Oilers; he recovered one fumble and forced another, and those takeaways led to two field goals in a 9-3 win. A defensive tackle, Greene was twice voted the league's Defensive Player of the Year award. The Steelers have won more games and more championships than any other team since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, and Joe Greene was the player who set the tone for all of it. Hall of Fame Class of 1987.

The rest of this list is presented in alphabetical order:

JEROME BETTIS (1996-2005): The Steelers have built their success on the twin cornerstones of running the football and rock-ribbed defense. Bettis is one of the two best running backs for a franchise that has rushed for more yards than any other since 1970. Bettis was the unquestioned leader of the Steelers team that won Super Bowl XL, the fifth in team history. As the most productive big back in NFL history, Bettis will be enshrined in Canton one day.

MEL BLOUNT (1970-1983): He was so big, strong and fast that Blount helped force the NFL to change its rules on pass defense after the 1977 season. Blount played 14 seasons and 200 games in Pittsburgh, and his 57 interceptions are tops in team history. In 1975 Blount recorded 11 interceptions and was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He was a first-team All-Pro four times. Hall of Fame Class of 1989.

TERRY BRADSHAW (1970-1983): Winning championships is what distinguishes the great NFL quarterbacks, and that's why Bradshaw was a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee in 1989. While calling all of his own plays, Bradshaw quarterbacked the Steelers to eight division titles and four Super Bowl championships; Bradshaw was voted the MVP of Super Bowls XIII and XIV, and NFL Player of the Year in 1978. In 19 career playoff games, Bradshaw threw 30 touchdown passes, and his record as a starter in conference championship games and Super Bowls was 8-2. Hall of Fame Class of 1989.

DERMONTTI DAWSON (1988-2000): His first season as a center was 1989, and his final season was ruined by persistent hamstring injuries. In the decade of the 1990s, Dawson was voted first-team All-Pro six times, and since there is only one center on the team that's compelling evidence he was the best center in football throughout most of his career. If it's my team, Dawson is the center over Mike Webster. A two-time finalist for induction into the Hall of Fame, Dawson eventually will have his bust in Canton.

JACK HAM (1971-1982): There have been 60 Pro Bowls played, and the Steelers have had at least one linebacker in 42 of them. That's an impressive legacy of linebackers, and Jack Ham was the best of them all. Ham earned All-Pro or All-AFC honors in seven consecutive seasons, played in eight straight Pro Bowls and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988. Ham never lost his poise and seemed immune to making mistakes on the field. Hall of Fame Class of 1988.

FRANCO HARRIS (1972-83): Said team founder Art Rooney Sr., "We didn't win too much until he got here. And then we didn't lose very often after he did." Harris was the kind of player who was always hustling to the football, which put him in position for the Immaculate Reception. Always at his best in the biggest of games, Harris was named Super Bowl IX MVP after rushing for a then-record 158 yards and a touchdown; in 19 playoff games, he rushed for 1,556 yards and 16 touchdowns to go along with 51 catches for 504 yards. Hall of Fame Class of 1990.

JACK LAMBERT (1974-84): Forever, there will be the vision of Lambert throwing Dallas safety Cliff Harris to the ground in Super Bowl X, and when it came to passion and intensity few could match him. When asked after a 1981 game about a hit on Browns quarterback Brian Sipe that got him ejected, Lambert said, "Brian has a chance to go out of bounds, and he decides not to. He knows I'm going to hit him. And I do. History." He was a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, eight-time All-Pro and nine-time Pro Bowl selection. Hall of Fame Class of 1990.

ERNIE STAUTNER (1950-63): "What made him was his strength," said Dan Rooney. "This was a time players didn't have strength, they didn't lift weights. I remember we were playing the Giants at Forbes Field one time and it was a very close game, and they were moving the ball. He sacked the quarterback three times in a row." The franchise retired his No. 70 jersey in 1964 following his retirement, and he remains the only Steelers player to have received that honor. The Steel Curtain was one of the greatest defensive lines in NFL history, and Stautner would have taken one of that quartet's jobs. Hall of Fame Class of 1969.

ROD WOODSON (1987-96): He didn't win his Super Bowl ring with the Steelers, and he played seven seasons after leaving the team. But if my life depended upon the outcome of a football game, my cornerbacks in that game are Woodson and Blount. One of only five active players selected to the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team in 1994, Woodson was a six-time All-Pro cornerback during his 10 years in Pittsburgh and was the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 1993. Hall of Fame Class of 2009.

Don't forget, Christmas Eve, 8 p.m., NFL Network. Enjoy the show, and let the arguments begin.

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