Despite the disappointing end to the decade, the Steelers won two Super Bowls, went to three AFC Championship games, and won five division titles, putting them up there amongst the most dominant teams of the decade. Only New England won more division titles (7 if they hang on this year), and Super Bowls (3). But Pittsburgh was never accused of cheating.
We'll have a whole series of these, and while we could make quite extensive lists, people love top 10 lists. 10 is a great round number, and it leaves plenty of room for people to debate. Of course, these are just our opinions, so feel free to give us your own in the comments!
Given that the 2009 season isn't over yet, if events occur that necessitate us revising our lists (such as Ben's 503-yard game against Green Bay) we will re-release revised lists after the season is over. Why after the season is over you ask? Well, just to be sure that there is nothing more that can be added.
For today's list, we tried to determine the top 10 players of the decade. Determining All-Decade teams (which we will post at the conclusion of the "Decade in Review" series) was hard enough. Cutting that list down to ten people that were the Top 10 players of the decade was almost impossible. For this list, we looked at the entire body of work of a player, rather than where they are right now. For example, Heath Miller is the best tight end in Steelers history. And while he is playing the best football of his career this year, he did not make the list because his body of work during this decade was not quite at the level of the other ten.
Obviously, there were some players whose careers spanned more than this decade. For instance, Hines Ward and Deshea Townsend were both drafted in 1998. For the purposes of the Decade in Review series, we only considered the performance of players between 2000 and 2009.
- Marvel Smith (9 yrs) 108 starts, 1 Pro Bowl
- Heath Miller (5 yrs) 74 starts, 236 rec, 2630 yds, 26 TD
- Jeff Hartings (6 yrs) 89 starts, 2 Pro Bowls
- Jeff Reed (7 yrs) 116 games, 183/221 FG, 283/286 XP, 832 points
Top 10 Players
10) Joey Porter
106 starts, 58 sacks, 10 INT, 16 FF, 6 FR, 442 tackles, 2 TD, 3 Pro Bowls
In his seven years in Black and Gold during this decade, Porter stepped into the shoes vacated by Greg Lloyd and became a force. He had 9 or more sacks in 4 of the first 7 years of the decade. Porter was a one-man wrecking crew in the 2005 playoffs against Indianapolis where he ruined Peyton Manning's season. The 3-4 scheme only works if outside linebackers get pressure, and from 2000-2006, no one did it better than Porter.
9) Deshea Townsend
74 starts, 15.5 sacks, 20 INT, 5 FF, 4 FR, 386 tackles, 3 TD
Deshea, along with Hines Ward, are the longest tenured players on the team. This alone doesn't get him on the list, but his big play ability over the whole decade has. He led Steelers cornerbacks in interceptions during the decade and has produced big plays at big times. He had a key sack of Matt Hasselbeck in Super Bowl XL. His pick-six to seal the game against Dallas was one of the top 10 plays of the decade. His pick-six against Tom Brady in the "21 and Done" game broke open the Steelers lead to 21-3 in the first quarter. Deshea stepped into the starting lineup after the utter failure that was Dewayne Washington and held off camp challenges from Bryant McFadden. Deshea ultimately lost his starting job to McFadden when he went down with injury, but came back in the lineup as a nickel back. Deshea has done whatever has been asked of him, including filling in in the safety rotation this year.
8) Jerome Bettis
54 starts, 1373 att, 5199 yards, 50 TD, 2 Pro Bowls
It's impossible to make a list recapping the decade in Steelers football without mentioning the Bus. The Bus came to Pittsburgh in a draft-day trade with St. Louis, and became a fixture of the offense. From the 5 carries for 1 yard and 3 TDs game against Oakland to running over Brian Urlacher and the Bears "stout" run defense. Jerome had a hell of a career as a Steeler, amassing enough yards to put him in the top 5 for career rushing yards. Jerome will be going to Canton within the next few years.
7) James Farrior
122 starts, 22 sacks, 7 INT, 11 FF, 9 FR, 881 tackles, 1 TD, 2 Pro Bowls
Farrior came to the Steelers in 2002 via Free Agency from the New York Jets. He filled the role at inside linebacker that had been vacated by Earl Holmes. Farrior has led the team in tackles every year since joining the team and has been a force in the run game. In his eight years with the team, he has rarely missed a start, and has been an incredibly durable, stable force at linebacker. As a team captain, he has led the defense to great success in stopping the run. The Steelers haven't given up a 100-yard rusher since 2007.
6) Ben Roethlisberger
84 starts, 63.4% completions, 18,823 yds, 123 TD, 91.6 rating, 1 Pro Bowl
How great a group of players have we had for Ben Roethlisberger to not be one of the top five players of the decade? Incredible. Ben is one of the top two quarterbacks in team history, and when all is said and done, might just be the best we've had. He makes plays out of nothing by using his size and strength in the pocket to shrug off defenders. He had the greatest rookie season of any quarterback, winning 15 consecutive games before losing in the AFC Championship game. The next season, he led the Steelers to their first Super Bowl in 26 years. Ben has won 2 Super Bowls, 3 Division titles, and has an 8-2 record in the postseason.
5) Troy Polamalu
75 starts, 7 sacks, 20 INT, 7 FF, 3 FR, 455 tackles, 3 TD
Does anyone remember how bad our secondary was before Troy? He took over as a starter after the 2003 season when we finished 6-10 and got blitzkrieged by a slew of opponents through the air. Over his career, Polamalu not only was an impact player in the Steelers secondary, but his ability to come up and play the run, as well as drop into coverage, revolutionized the strong safety position. Before his injuries this season, Polamalu was poised to have a signature season. The first half against Tennessee was a performance worthy of getting him into the Pro Bowl. He has made ridiculous interceptions, including finger-tip catches against Philadelphia and San Diego last season when he led the team with 7 picks.
4) Alan Faneca
127 starts, 7 Pro Bowls
In his eight years with the Steelers this decade, Faneca was elected to seven Pro Bowls. In and of itself, that number is ridiculous. But consider also the fact that Faneca, a left guard by trade, has played both guard positions and tackle during his time with the Steelers. He was the ultimate team player, always willing to step up and fill in where he was needed. The Steelers running game took a big hit when he left in free agency, and they are just now beginning to recover. Faneca was one of the best NFL linemen of the decade and is another sure-fire Hall of Famer.
3) Casey Hampton
126 starts, 8 sacks, 3 FF, 2 FR, 294 tackles, 4 Pro Bowls
Only two other players this decade have dominated their position more than Big Snack. Hampton has not only anchored the defensive line, making it impossible for opposing backs to run up the middle. Hampton is one of the major reasons that the Steelers have been one of the best run defenses this decade. Hampton is immovable in the middle of the line and is simply unblockable by just one person.
2) Aaron Smith
149 starts, 44 sacks, 1 INT, 7 FF, 9 FR, 436 tackles, 1 Pro Bowl
On the defensive side of the ball, no player has dominated their position more this decade than Aaron Smith. Smith has been one of the most under-rated players in the league, mainly because he plays the inglorious position of a 3-4 defensive end. Aaron Smith has consistently made plays over his career that can't be measured. By getting past linemen, or pushing them into the backfield, Smith single-handedly blows up running plays, turning backs back into the middle of the field where the inside linebackers clean up the trash. Want to know why the Steelers run defense is so dominant? Look no further than #91. The last time an opponent ran for over 100 yards on the Steelers was in 2007 when Smith was on IR.
1) Hines Ward
150 starts, 807 rec, 9,965 yards, 71 TD
If you had to pick one player from the decade that personified Steelers football, it would be Hines Ward. A tough, gritty player that will take the big hit and pop back up smiling. Hines has been the ultimate Steelers player this decade, breaking almost all of John Stallworth's receiving records and being named Super Bowl XL MVP. Hines has been the most consistent offensive threat throughout the decade and has been incredibly durable over his career. He had the best decade of any Steelers receiver, and, on a team known for running the ball, he put up a ton of yards and made a bunch of catches. Hines is the quintessential Steelers player, in the mold of the greats of the 1970s and will be enshrined in Canton as one of the best ever.