What Does It Take To Be A Steelers Linebacker?

“Who Ride?!!” – Joey Porter’s famous team chant while being a Steeler.

You can take it back to the 1960’s if you wanted to. Heck, maybe even the 1950’s if you want to get technical. In 1953 Jerry Shipkey was already attending his third pro bowl. Nine years later, John Reger was attending his third. In these days, stats were not calculated like they are today. We do not know how many tackles or sacks Shipkey and Reger made. However, the late Hall of Fame cornerback Jack Butler said that Reger was the “best linebacker in the league” when the Steelers finished number one in defense in 1958.

Reger would say New York Giants‘ Hall of Fame Linebacker Sam Huff was overrated at the time. In Jim Wexell’s Men Of Steel, Reger said this while being questioned by Wexell: “I think he was overrated,” Reger said. “He was always piling on, and they’d say, ‘Tackle by Sam Huff’ over the loudspeaker when all he did was jump on the pile.” After Reger’s nine years in Pittsburgh, he went on to play with the Washington Redskins.

In 1963, the Steelers drafted Andy Russell who became an early piece to the “Steel Curtain” defense. Russell played 12 seasons with the Steelers and played in all 168 games he attended before retiring in 1977. Russell went to seven pro bowls and helped the Steelers win two of the four Super Bowls they won during the 1970’s.

In 1971 came Jack Ham, the Johnstown native. Drafted in the second round from Penn State, Ham became a six-time first team All-Pro selection, and eight pro bowl selections total. Ham’s covering ability was unique. Intercepting 32 passes in his career. That is more than any defensive player on the Steelers’ roster today. Ham holds the NFL record of most career forced turnovers by a linebacker (53). Ham was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988 and in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1990.

Not only was the 1974 draft for the Steelers one of the best when they came away with Hall of Famers Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, and Mike Webster. They also came away with the face of their franchise in the 1970’s. The mean mug of middle linebacker Jack Lambert. Lambert would keep his job at middle linebacker for 10 years. Only missing the pro bowl once in that time frame. In 1974, Lambert was NFL Rookie Defensive MVP, and in 1976, he was the NFL Most Valuable Defensive Player. Winning four Super Bowls and being a defensive hero, Lambert was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.

When the 1990’s came, so did the presence of Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, and Levon Kirkland. These three ended up playing a Super Bowl together in 1995, but fell short to the Dallas Cowboys. While Kevin Greene spent just three years with the Steelers, he became a dominate force. In those three seasons, he recorded 37.5 sacks and elected to two pro bowls.

Greg Lloyd recorded 53.5 sacks during his time with the Steelers and ranks seventh all-time on the Steelers list in sack totals. Lloyd went on to play in five pro bowls. Lloyd was the new scariest man on the Steelers roster.

When Levon Kirkland was on the field, you would see a man who weighed anywhere between 275-300 pounds playing middle linebacker. Kirkland won team MVP in both 1998 and 1999 before departing from the Steelers after the 2000 season. The two-time All-Pro linebacker recorded over 1,000 tackles at his position in the middle. A member of the NFL 1990’s All-Decade Team.

In 2001, the all-time Steelers sack leader, Jason Gildon attended his first of three pro bowls during his tenure with the black and gold. Gildon has 77 sacks total. The 2000 season was Gildon’s break out year when he recorded 13.5 sacks, 75 tackles, and a defensive touchdown. The Steelers linebackers were still going strong.

Gildon would team up with a young Joey Porter. The 43rd overall pick from Colorado State would become the voice of the Steelers during the next several seasons. Porter is arguably the biggest trash talker in NFL history, but not only did Porter talk the talk. He walked the walk. The trash talking Porter led the Steelers defense to Super Bowl XL. Porter recorded four sacks in the first five games of the season. Then dominated in the AFC Divisonal Round against the Indianapolis Colts. After surpassing Denver in the championship game, Porter and the Steelers would take on the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. Again, Porter would trash talk. Seahwaks tight end Jeremy Stevens and Porter made headlines between each other, but in the end, Porter and the Steelers would seal the deal by winning their fifth Lombardi trophy.

In 2002, Kevin Colbert made his best free agency move of his career. Signing James Farrior. In 2004, Farrior would be the Steelers’ MVP. He helped the franchise win two Super Bowls (XL, XLIII). Farrior is arguably the most underrated middle linebacker in the past decade. From 2004-2010, Farrior’s stats roughly even out with future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis’ in that time frame.

When the Steelers cut tides with Joey Porter in 2007, the next man was up. James Harrison. On November 5th, 2007, the Pittsburgh Steelers were hosting division rival, the Baltimore Ravens. Harrison was making his fifteenth consecutive start at outside linebacker, but never had an over-achieving game. That night the Ravens were held to 104 total yards and only five first downs all night. Harrison had a big role in these statistics. He racked up nine tackles, three and a half sacks, three forced fumbles, and one interception. That started Harrison’s out roar. He was the team MVP that season, and was the league defensive MVP the next. No one can forget the 100 yard interception touchdown return he had in Super Bowl XLIII, when Kurt Warner was driving the Cardinals down the field to take the lead right before halftime. Harrison had other thoughts.

So what does it take to be a Steelers Linebacker?

Do you have to be kind of crazy? During Jack Lambert’s tryout with the Steelers at Kent State, the field was too wet. That didn’t stop Lambert from his chance. Lambert tried out in the parking lot. By time the tryout was over, Lambert was picking gravel out of his knees.

Look at Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Joey Porter and James Harrison. They can be argued as kind of crazy.

So for Jarvis Jones, Vince Williams, Jason Worilds, and all of the current and future linebackers, how will you make your legacy as a Steelers linebacker?

From 1971-1985 (17 consecutive years), the Steelers sent at least one linebacker to the pro bowl.

Who Ride?!! The Pittsburgh Steelers‘ Linebackers Ride.

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