The Steelers have officially retired only two jersey numbers in its history. On December 24, 2022, Franco Harris will finally become the 3rd such player.
Franco Harris will finally join the small group of illustrious players and have his legacy cemented in the annals of Steelers history. Precisely 50 years to the day of Franco’s amazing playoff touchdown reception against the Raiders, the Steelers will play the Raiders on the 50th anniversary of the game. At halftime, they will retire Franco Harris’s number 32 forever.
If nothing unremarkable occurs in the game, the Raiders fans will be agonized by having to watch a tribute to the man to score a last-second touchdown dashing their hopes of a Superbowl appearance in 1972. If Steelers fans consider it the greatest play in the NFL of all time, Raiders fans, and Oakland in general, contend the referees made a mistake of gargantuan proportions. Nonetheless, Steelers fans will have fun seeing his number retired finally.
Other Steelers numbers that could be retired
With the decision to retire Franco’s, many Steelers fans will say it’s about time, and it’s long overdue. Those words are as true as ever. But the Steelers decision to take the historic step brings back to life the arguments as to whether the Steelers should retire several other Jersey numbers in the wake of retiring Franco’s jersey.
In the press conference announcing the retirement event of number 32, the media asked Art Rooney III about the possible retirement of other jerseys. He replied that they had discussions and that numerous players were worthy of consideration. He left open the possibility of future retirements but indicated it’s something to be taken slowly and coordinated with special events.
Currently, the black and gold still have the following numbers in consideration 7, 12, 36, 43, 47,50, 52, 58, 59,63, and 86. Several of those the Steelers have held out of circulation for decades but have not officially retired them
Then there are fans who want to see James Harrison 93 retired, Kevin Greene’s, Greg Lloyd’s, or Rod Woodson’s. Then you have Maurkice Pouncey and will eventually have Cam Heyward and TJ Watt. If you retire, everyone’s number you will start to run short on jersey numbers.
That said, the Bears and Giants both have 14 retired jerseys and still seem to function fine with only 85 jersey numbers at their disposal. Thus the Steelers still have some room for a few additional jersey retirements.
Other Jerseys which would make sense for the Steelers to retire
When it comes to the Steelers, debates as to which jerseys to retire could go on endlessly. However, look at it from this perspective. Retire the ones that make the most sense; retire the jerseys of the players whose careers defined what it meant to be a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
So within perspective, you can eliminate retiring 63 for Dermontti Dawson/Ernie Holmes as much as it should be. Although Kevin Green was a great player, his stint with the Steelers did not define his career. Rod Woodson did not stay with the Steelers for his entire career, you can eliminate his number. Jack Ham is a tough decision. His number should be retired, but as great as he was, he narrowly misses out on being that quintessential player.
So these are the numbers that should be retired.
Terry Bradshaw # 12
Perhaps in the history of the NFL, he does not compare with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, or even Ben Roethlisberger. Yet, Bradshaw played in a much different era which did not have the luxury of the passing rules today’s quarterbacks enjoy. Given that he led the Steelers to 4 championships in 6 years and nearly 5 in that time frame, it’s still an achievement no other quarterback has surpassed
Ben Roethlisberger # 7
While Big Ben did not compare in winning titles, he dismantled Bradshaw’s passing record and holds the record of playing the most games in Steelers history. Fans will see his records stand for decades, and it is unlikely that Kenny Pickett will surpass his achievements.
Jack Lambert #58
Lambert redefined what it meant to play middle linebacker. Even today, no linebacker instills as much fear in opposing offenses and quarterbacks as Lambert did. Even though Joe Greene was the defensive fan favorite, Lambert was the quarterback of the defense calling the defensive plays. His interception sealed the fate of the Rams in Superbowl XIV and rallied the Steelers in Superbowl X. If his number is not retired, why even bother retiring jerseys?
Troy Polamalu #43
Troy Polamalu came from the mold of the defensive players who played in Pittsburgh in the 70s yet had a talent never seen before and was a product of the modern age of football. He had an unparalleled instinct of knowing what would happen before it happened and made big plays as a result, and he could do things very few others have ever been able to do or will ever be able to do. He could make the impossible seem like child’s play. It’s hard to argue why he should not have the honor of having his number retired.
Hines Ward #86
There is no doubt that Stallworth’s 82 and Swann’s 88 should be on this list, but that ship has sailed and it’s doubtful that will occur. That said if theirs won’t be, then at least retire Hines Ward’s jersey. Ward had a career as great as theirs despite not winning as many titles. Yet like Mel Bount, Ward forced the NFL to change blocking rules. If you don’t consider him a great receiver, he was also a great blocker. He had a toughness few others had and had very few injuries. It appears he may never make the Hall of Fame like Swann and Stallworth; thus, the Steelers should at least retire his jersey.
Jerome Bettis #36
When it comes to running backs, many have been great, but only two stand out above all others. Franco will be honored this season, which leaves Jerome Bettis. While the Steelers did not draft Bettis, he found a home and a new identity as a bus, rebooted his career, and led the Steelers to its first championship since 1979. He may have been on the short side but steamrolled defensive linemen and linebackers as he rumbled down the field. No one wanted to be on the receiving end of one of his rushes. He quickly became a fan favorite and represented a bygone era of old-school running backs like Jimmy Brown
Mel Blount #47
Very few defensive backs are so dominant that the NFL has to rewrite its rules to give wide receivers a fair shot. Blount was a defensive back so big and dominant that many wide receivers felt an accomplishment just making it 10 yards downfield against him, let alone catching a pass. Honestly, if the Steelers handed out his jersey again, whoever wore it could never measure up, so why not retire it?
Mike Webster #52
Very few players personify the type of smash-mouth football fans expect from the Steelers, but Webster was one of them, something he wore with a badge of honor. Webster had longevity and toughness in which only Ben Roethlisberger played more games than he did for the Steelers. To the point, his toughness cut his life short. He sacrificed his body to be tougher than all other defensive linemen in the NFL and had a career that no one may ever duplicate. When Webster stepped onto the field, he gave everything he had for a victory. If for that reason alone, not to mention the four titles he helped them win, the Steelers should retire #52
If these jerseys were retired, it would bump the Steelers up to 11 jerseys in all retired. Still, they have room for a few additional players down the road to have a career that exemplifies what it means to be a member of the Steelers, such as future candidates Cam Heyward or TJ Watt, who may end up in Canton someday. But with the above having their jerseys retired, they will serve as a benchmark of all who came before; setting a high standard for any player in the future hoping to have their jersey retired; they would have to be extraordinary.