Where you love them or hate them (looking at you bitter Cleveland Browns fans), there’s no denying that the Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the most iconic franchises in NFL history. If you need evidence, just look at the roughly two dozen division championships and six Super Bowl wins. There are a lot of reasons for their success, but the Steelers never could have experienced that level of success without great quarterback play. With that in mind, we thought it was only appropriate to give recognition to the five best quarterbacks in Steelers history.
Nobody ever confused O’Donnell for the most talented quarterback in the NFL. But he was more than good enough to win games with the Steelers during the early part of his career. For a third-round pick who didn’t become the starter until his second pro season, the Steelers have to be happy with what they got out of O’Donnell during his time in Pittsburgh.
Granted, the Pittsburgh defense did a lot of the heavy lifting, but the Steelers averaged over 10 wins per season from 1992 to 1995 when O’Donnell was at his peak. He also helped Pittsburgh win three division titles and reach the playoffs in all four of those seasons. Ultimately, the three interceptions O’Donnell threw in Super Bowl XXX hurt his legacy. However, that doesn’t completely take away the good seasons he had in Pittsburgh.
We all know Stewart was more than a quarterback, which is why they called him “Slash.” During his first two seasons in the league, the Steelers found a way to utilize Stewart’s unique skill set. He then spent five seasons as the team’s starting quarterback. Of course, Stewart threw more interceptions than touchdowns twice during those five seasons and even lost the starting job at one point.
However, Slash was something special and always entertaining to watch. He also helped Pittsburgh win two division titles during his time as a starter, as the Steelers went 11-5 in 1997 and 13-3 in 2001. Stewart managed to get Pittsburgh to the AFC Championship Game in both seasons, proving that he was capable of being a winning quarterback in the NFL.
Unfortunately for the Steelers, they got Layne at the end of his career when he was a little past his prime. He was also unable to lead Pittsburgh to an NFL championship, although the Steelers had a winning record in three of Layne’s five seasons and finished second in the Eastern Division in 1962, which was the final year of the Hall of Famer’s career. He even stated later on that not winning a championship in Pittsburgh was one of his biggest regrets.
That being said, Layne still gave the Pittsburgh faithful plenty to cheer about. He was still good enough to make the Pro Bowl in 1958 and 1959, his first two seasons with the Steelers. In 1959, he threw 20 touchdown passes, which was the second-highest total of his career. Layne still had plenty left in the tank when he got to the Steelers and remains one of the best quarterbacks in franchise history.
Bradshaw spent all 14 seasons of his Hall of Fame career with the Steelers and is one of the greatest players in franchise history. Things may have fallen apart toward the end, but Bradshaw was still one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks during the 1970s. He went to three Pro Bowls and won MVP honors in 1978 while accruing over 200 touchdown passes.
Of course, Steelers fans care more about the winning the team did with Bradshaw. Pittsburgh became an undeniable dynasty while Bradshaw was at the helm, winning four straight division crowns from 1974 to 1979 and winning four Super Bowls during that span. Naturally, the Pittsburgh defense helped, but that dynasty doesn’t happen without Bradshaw.
As great as Bradshaw was, Roethlisberger has surpassed him as the best quarterback in Steelers history. Big Ben spent nearly two decades in black and gold, earning a reputation not only as one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL but also one of the toughest and most resilient. Time after time, he put his body in harm’s way for the sake of the team, and that goes a long way with Steelers fans.
More importantly, Roethlisberger was a winner right from the start, going 13-0 as a starter in his rookie season. He then led the Steelers to two Super Bowl wins in his first five seasons, re-establishing Pittsburgh as an AFC heavyweight for Roethlisberger’s entire career and solidifying Roethlisberger’s standing as a legendary figure in Steelers history.