The Steelers Hall of Honor was created to honor those who have made immeasurable contributions to the organization, whether it be on the field, or off the field.
On Saturday, the newest additions to the group were welcomed into the fold when the Hall of Honor Class of 2023 was announced during a ceremony at Saint Vincent College as a part of the Steelers Back Together Weekend celebration.
The Hall of Honor Class of 2023 includes four Super Bowl champions who appeal to fans from all generations and includes legends James Harrison, Ray Mansfield, Gerry Mullins and Aaron Smith.
"I think it's a great class," said Steelers President Art Rooney II. "It represents the kind of guys that were a great part of Steelers football and deserve to be recognized in our Hall of Honor.
"A lot of guys who were part of the foundation going way back, and this year Ray Mansfield, he started in the humbler times of Steelers football. We always try to talk about the older guys and have some representation of the earlier teams. It's good to have a mix of different eras."
Smith was on hand for the announcement and said he was humbled when he got the call from Art Rooney II delivering the news.
"It's hard to describe. You play for a team with the legacy and tradition that the Steelers and to be put in a group with the names on that wall, you almost don't believe you belong," said Smith. "A lot of those guys are the greatest football players ever to play this game. It is humbling and I am honored just to be thrown in the same sentence as them."
The team introduced the Hall of Honor in 2017, an idea that came from Steelers President Art Rooney II, along with late Chairman Dan Rooney. The Hall of Honor was established to recognize former players, coaches, and front office personnel who played an integral role in the success of the franchise, from the beginning in 1933 until now. To be considered, a player must be retired at least three years and played a minimum of three seasons for the Steelers. Former coaches and contributors had to make significant contributions to the team and community.
The Steelers will welcome the 2023 Hall of Honor Class on the weekend the team takes on the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Steelers will enshrine the new class, which includes an on-field presentation during the game on Sunday, Oct. 29. The Hall of Honor Dinner will be held on Sat., Oct. 28., when the team officially inducts this year's Hall of Honor class during a special ceremony at Acrisure Stadium. A limited number of tickets are available for purchase here.
The Hall of Honor display is part of the Steelers Hall of Honor Museum, which is located at Acrisure Stadium. The Steelers Hall of Honor Museum is located near Gate B above the team's Pro Shop. Fans can visit the Steelers Hall of Honor Museum year-round and tours can be secured by clicking here.
Meet the Hall of Honor Class of 2023:
2002, 2004-12, 2014-17
His name is often mentioned in the same breath as some of the best linebackers ever to play for the Steelers, and rightfully so.
Because James Harrison did the same thing some of the great linebackers before him did. He changed the outcome of games with his play, caused offensive coordinators to lose sleep, and dominated on defense game in and game out.
"I don't feel like I am up there as being one of the legendary linebackers the Steelers had," Harrison once said. "There are some big names up there to compete with. Just to have my name in the argument feels very good to me."
And rest assured, his name will be in more than the argument. He will always be a part of the Steelers lore. Harrison was one of the most menacing linebackers ever to play for the Steelers.
Harrison originally retired from the Steelers in 2014 but made a return to the black and gold three weeks later when injuries left the team without depth at his spot. He remained with the black and gold into the 2017 season, finishing out the season and his career with the New England Patriots.
There is plenty Harrison will be remembered for from his playing days, from his on-field demeanor that was reminiscent of Greg Lloyd's nasty personality to his 100-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. What matters to him, though, is that he is remembered for playing like a Steelers' linebacker should play.
"I guess I want to be known as one of the typical Steelers linebackers, hard-working, and a guy that gave his all," said Harrison.
For many fans though, it will always come back to that play in Super Bowl XLIII. The Cardinals had the ball at the one-yard line with 18 seconds to play in the half and the Steelers having a slim three-point lead. Harrison stepped in front of a Kurt Warner pass and rambled down the sideline for 100 yards, sending the Steelers into the half up 17-7 and taking the wind out of the Cardinals sails.
"To be honest it was a good play," he said. "I don't look at it as this great, significant, overly whatever you want to call it play. It was just a good play. I had 10 other guys on the field with me who were a great part of that play. Without them you don't accomplish what we did, and I don't get to the other end zone. That wasn't just me; that was 10 other guys on the field. They all should be in on that, not just me."
Harrison was named the AFC and NFL's Defensive Player of the Year during that 2008 Super Bowl season, setting a then Steelers' single-season record with 16 sacks, which was broken by T.J. Watt when he had 22.5 sacks in 2021. He was voted to the Pro Bowl five consecutive years (2007-11) and twice voted Steelers MVP (2007-08). He is the Steelers all-time sack leader with 80.5 sacks.
It's hard to imagine that Harrison entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie, signing with the Steelers in 2002. It wasn't an easy road for him. He was released before the start of the 2002 season, signed to the practice squad, and then activated late that season. The following year, it was again a struggle when he made the final roster in 2003, but was released days later, signed to the practice squad, and then released from there to sit out the entire year.
The third time was a charm for him, finally catching on in 2004 when he played in 16 games, starting four of them. He is easily the poster child for never quitting, not letting the ups and downs keep him from pursuing his dream.
Take a look at some of the best photos from the career of Steelers LB James Harrison.
When you talk about the standard, it was Ray Mansfield who set the standard for Steelers' centers.
While he began his career in the black and gold on the defensive line, it was his time at center that earned him the glory in his career.
Mansfield played 13 seasons (1964-76) for the Steelers and was a part of two Super Bowl championship teams. He still holds the Steelers record for most consecutive games played with 182 straight regular season games.
"Ray was a special person," late Steelers coach Chuck Noll once said. "He was one of the guys who was a Steeler when I arrived in '69, and he was great in the locker room. He was a guy that everybody rallied around. He always had a certain amount of levity, but he was a tremendous football player."
Mansfield was originally drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the second round of the 1963 NFL Draft. After one season with the Eagles, he was traded to the Steelers in exchange for cash.
Mansfield was the starting center for the Steelers Super Bowl IX and X teams, one of just a handful of players who were a part of Noll's first season in 1969 that went on to win a Super Bowl with the team.
Adhering to Chuck Noll's mantra of 'Whatever It Takes,' Mansfield also kicked two extra points in the 1976 postseason after Roy Gerela pulled a groin muscle. He kicked the first one in a win over the Baltimore Colts in the 1976 AFC Divisional Round and another in a loss to the Oakland Raiders in the 1976 AFC Championship Game, the final game of his career as he retired that offseason.
"You know, it's hard to come in here and say, 'I quit,'" said Mansfield to the gathered media the day he retired in 1977. "I guess I never was prepared for retiring. But I don't think I'm going back. Still, after 14 years, it's hard to tell yourself no.
"There comes a time for a guy to quit and it's time for me to quit. I decided an athlete should go out while he still has something to give. He should be remembered for being able to give something to his team.
"My only regret during that time was that it wasn't 14 years with the Steelers instead of 13.
"The thing I'm going to miss most are in the people in the game. Those guys out there are my friends, although they've been calling me their father for a long time now. It's going to be hard to come to the stadium or watch on TV. It's going to be like a father watching his sons play."
Mansfield, who was nicknamed 'The Ranger' for his love of the outdoors, died at just 55-years-old when he collapsed during a hike in the Grand Canyon in 1996.
Gerry Mullins was a player who would have perfectly fit the bill for what Coach Mike Tomlin preaches … position flexibility.
Mullins, the Steelers fourth-round draft pick in 1971, played guard, tackle and even tight end on short yardage situations before settling in as a starting guard in 1974 and playing on all four Super Bowl teams in the 1970s.
"We didn't realize how good we were," said Mullins of the group that won Super Bowl IX, X, XIII and XIV. "It was a process, growing together as a unit. It was the culmination of a lot of hard work, making the whole better."
Mullins helped to block for an offense that was filled with Hall of Famers in quarterback Terry Bradshaw, running back Franco Harris, and receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. He said it was those teammates and others, the people in the organization, that still hold a special place in his heart, more than any win ever will.
"What stood out in my mind were the people, my teammates, coaches, the ownership and especially Art Rooney, Sr.," said Mullins. "They cared about me as an individual. The victories were great, but the people were what was important.
"The highlight of my career was Super Bowl IX seeing Mr. Rooney get the Lombardi Trophy after all of the years of frustration. He was a great individual. He cared about the players. He visited the locker room every day. You wanted to give your all to him. He was a big part of motivating guys to the next level."
Another person who motivated Mullins to the next level was Ray Mansfield, the legendary center who took him under his wing and a perfect teammate to go into the Hall of Honor with.
"He was a veteran when I got here as a rookie," said Mullins. "He and Bruce van Dyke were veteran players. I heard stories about veteran players not getting involved with rookies. It was just the opposite with those two guys. They took me under their wing. I got to be one of the guys when I was a rookie. They were trying to help me, pointing out things to help me in my game.
"Ray gave me insight on how to analyze film, breakdown the opponent's game. We were always working to perfect minor details that would be overlooked. You need somebody to show you the way and he was really important in that."
Also showing him the way was Joe Greene, who Mullins had to face his rookie season in the famed Oklahoma drills.
"My first experience we had to do the Oklahoma drill the first day of practice," recalled Mullins. "I was a tight end in college and there was a group of us out there being filmed, offense vs. defense. They randomly called an offensive name and a defensive name and unfortunately for me I got called with Joe Greene my first time out. I thought I might get cut before my first practice. I figured Joe was going to kill me.
"I said give it your best shot. I came off the ball and hit him pretty good and the running back went through. A lot the guys on the offense were going crazy because I handled Joe Greene. I turned around because you only had to do it once. I was walking back to the group of offensive guys, and everyone got quiet. I see this big hand come around and grab my facemask and say you aren't done rookie. We are going to do it one more time. I said I know I am going to die now.
"I sort of neutralized him. I think I gained a little respect. That helped me out throughout the rest of my rookie year. I thought maybe I do belong."
When Aaron Smith retired from the Steelers, he wanted to just quietly walk away from the game, no fanfare, no attention.
It was typical of Smith, who just wanted to quietly walk away from the game he loved.
The Steelers, though, were able to convince Smith to join three of his former teammates, Willie Parker, Joey Porter and Marvel Smith, for a ceremony during the team's training camp where the four of them shared the stage to say goodbye to Steelers Nation.
And it was a salute that Smith deserved.
"It was big," said Smith at the time of his retirement. "First of all, it's the greatest organization in professional sports. Just the way they handle things, do business, the record speaks for itself and the fans, to be a part of something and to finish it is great.
"There are people who would dream of being on this team their entire career. Guys come back to retire. It's a special place and to be a part of that is special."
Smith was drafted by the Steelers in the fourth round of the 1999 NFL Draft, the 109th overall pick, and went on to play 13 seasons. He was a two-time Super Bowl champion, playing on the Super Bowl XL and XLIII teams. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2004 and was named to the Sports Illustrated 2000s All-Decade Team.
Smith, who played his entire career in black and gold, finished with 44 sacks while playing in 160 games, starting 152 of them. He added nine fumble recoveries and seven forced fumbles, along with one interception.
In addition to his on-field contributions, Smith showed his vulnerable side when he revealed his son, Elijah, was undergoing treatment for leukemia during his playing days. Smith didn't just share the story, but also shared his passion for helping those fighting the same disease as the family participated in the Leukemia Lymphoma Society Light the Night Walk along with teammates, family, friends and Steelers staff, celebrating Elijah being a survivor year after year.
"I don't think we can have enough awareness," said Smith at the time. "I was naïve before I went through this. I don't think another family or child should have to go through this. I don't think we can bring enough awareness to this."
Check out the greatest photos of Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith.