This is the third installment of this series, which looks at the players who have worn the jerseys of the Steelers throughout the history of the franchise. Some of these players were Hall of Fame players, some were stars, while some were popular role players. This edition will be taking a look at the players who wore the jersey numbers 20 through 29, so without further adieu, here is a look at those players.
Number 20-Rocky Bleier:
Rocky Bleier was a 16th round draft pick in 1968, out of Notre Dame, by the Pittsburgh Steelers. In December of his rookie year, Rocky was drafted again, only this time it was by the U.S. Army, during the Vietnam War. In May of 1969, Rocky was shipped out to South Vietnam and assigned to Company C, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, where he officially joined the war. On August 20th, while Rocky was on patrol with his platoon in Heip Duc, he was shot in the left thigh during an ambush in a rice paddy. While down with the bullet wound, an enemy grenade landed near him and exploded, sending shrapnel into his lower right leg and causing him to lose part of his right foot as well. While he was recovering in a Tokyo hospital, doctors told him his football career was over. Soon after, Rocky received a post card from Art Rooney that read “Rock, the team’s not doing well. We need you, Art Rooney. After two painful years of rehabbing, and being waived twice, Rocky rejoined the Steelers in 1971, and became a starter in 1974. In 1976, Rocky joined Franco Harris in the 1,000 yard club, as they became just the second pair of running backs to do that since Mercury Morris and Larry Csonka did it for the Dolphins in 1972. Rocky Bleier won four Super Bowl rings in his career with the Steelers. He retired following the 1980 season, after rushing for 3,865 yards and 25 touchdowns. he also caught 136 passes for another 1,294 yards. At the time of his retirement, Rocky Bleier was the Steelers fourth all-time leading rusher.
Number 21- Tony Dungy:
Tony Dungy may be best known as the Super Bowl winning head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, but his NFL start came as safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1977-1978. During his two years, he was a contributing member of the Super Bowl XIII champions. After leaving the Steelers after 1978, Dungy played one year for the San Francisco 49ers, before finishing his playing career on the 1980 New York Giants practice squad. Recognized as an intelligent player who was like a coach on the field, Chuck Noll hired Dungy to coach his secondary in 1981. Dungy’s performance as defensive backs coach earned him a promotion, as Chuck Noll named him defensive coordinator in 1984, becoming the first african-american in NFL history to be named as a defensive coordinator. Dungy ran an aggressive attack style defense, led by mike Merriwether, that led the Steelers to the ’84 AFC Championship game. Dungy would serve as the Steelers defensive coordinator until 1988.
Number 22- Bobby Layne:
Bobby Layne was originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the third overall pick in the 1948 NFL draft, however didn’t want to play with the Steelers because they still ran the single wing formation, so the Steelers quickly traded his rights to the Chicago Bears. Eleven years later though, in 1957, Steelers head coach Buddy Parker arranged a trade with the Detroit Lions to bring Bobby Layne to Pittsburgh. In 1958, Layne began the first of his five seasons with the Steelers, two of which he made the pro-bowl, and while he never lead the Steelers to the playoffs, he brought them to respectability. In his five years as the Steelers starting quarterback, Layne had a record of 27-22-2. He completed 569 passes out of 1,156 attempts for 9,030 yards, with 66 touchdowns and 81 interceptions. He was also credited with creating the two-minute drill that Ben Roethlisberger runs so well. In 1962, Layne’s last with the Steelers, and in the NFL, he published his biography “Always on Sunday”. Bobby Layne later went on to say that his biggest regret was that he never won a championship for the Steelers, and specifically, Art Rooney.
Number 23- Mike Wagner:
Mike Wagner was an 11th round draft pick for the Steelers in 1971, out of Western Illinois. He played Safety from 1971-1980, and was a key member and signal caller for a legendary Steel Curtain defense that led Pittsburgh to four Super Bowl titles in six seasons. Wagner was intelligent and physical, racking up 36 career interceptions while playing alongside Mel Blount and Donnie Shell. He was a two time Pro-Bowl selection in 1975-1976, and tied for the NFL lead in interceptions in 1973. In 2015, Mike Wagner was inducted into the Pittsburgh Pro Football Hall of Fame, alongside players like Dermonti Dawson, Andy Russell, Ernie Mills and announcer Bill Hillgrove. In addition to his 36 career interceptions, Wagner recovered 12 fumbles and forced 5 more.
Number 24-Ike Taylor:
Drafted by the Steelers in 2003 out of Louisiana-lafayette, Ivan “Ike” Taylor was an extremely raw but athletic prospect who Bill Cowher hoped would have an impact in the secondary. What made Taylor so raw, was that he was a converted running back who played one season at cornerback in college. Used mostly on special teams, with some spot duty on defense, Taylor cracked the starting lineup in 2005, helping the steelers win the franchises fifth lombardi Trophy in super Bowl XL, with a key interception. In 2006, Ike’s play regressed to the point that he was benched in favor of deShea Townsend, but he regained his starting spot in 2007, under new head coach, Mike Tomlin. Ironically, Taylor has a franchise record for consecutive post-season games with an interception (3), when the biggest knock on him was his ability to catch a football. He tried working out with the receivers every offseason after 2009, but never really showed any improvement. Ike Taylor played his entire career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and from 2007-2011, was one of the best shutdown corners in the league. Ike was also a sure tackler and was very physical in run defense. During his twelve year career, Taylor totaled 517 tackles, 3 sacks, 14 interceptions and recovered 5 fumbles.
Number 25-Ron Shanklin:
Ron Shanklin was a talented wide receiver that the Steelers drafted out of North Texas, in the second round of the 1970 NFL draft. Shanklin spent five years with the Steelers, which also coincided with the growing pains that plagued the first five years of Terry Bradshaw’s career. Because of Bradshaw’s and the rest of the offensive struggles, the Steelers never got to see the full abilities that Shanklin possessed. Over his career with the Steelers, Ron Shanklin averaged 18.4 yards per catch, with a career long reception of 81 yards, which also went for a touchdown. Over Shanklin’s five years with the Steelers, he caught 166 passes for 3,047 yards and 24 touchdowns. Ron Shanklin’s career in Pittsburgh might have lasted longer if not for the arrival of a high flying talent out of USC in 1974, Lynn Swann.
Number 26-Rod Woodson:
When the Steelers selected Rod Woodson with their first pick in the 1987 NFL Draft, they knew they were getting a special player. Nobody, however, could have predicted he would become the best all around cornerback in NFL history. At 6,0″ 205 pounds, Rod Woodson was a physical presence on the field, who was equally adept at stuffing the run as he was in coverage. Woodson played with the Steelers from 1987 through the 1996 season, and during that time he went to the Pro-Bowl seven times and was a five time all-pro. In 1995, Rod Woodson became the first player to return during the same season in which he had reconstructive knee surgery. In the first game of the 1995 season, Woodson tore his ACL attempting to tackle Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders. Bill Cowher’s refusal to put Woodson on season ending IR, gave him the chance to rehab after surgery and allowed him to return in time to play in Super Bowl XXX. During the game, Rod Woodson broke up a pass intended for Michael Irvin and hopped up and pointed at his surgically repaired knee, implying that it was good to go. Over his ten years with the steelers, Woodson recorded 644 tackles, recovered 21 fumbles and forced 22 more. He intercepted 38 passes, returning 5 for touchdowns. Rod Woodson was the ultimate shutdown corner and a major part of the best defense in Pittsburgh since the Steel Curtain days of the 70’s.
Number 27-Glen Edwards:
Glen Edwards was a big hitting safety who played for the Steelers from 1971-1977. Drafted out of Florida A&M, Edwards was very productive in his time with the Steelers. During his seven seasons, Edwards was a two time Pro-Bowler, 1974-1975, and was an AP first team All-Pro in 1976. He won two Super Bowl rings, one for Super Bowl IX and Super Bowl X. In Super Bowl IX, Edwards assisted Mel Blount’s near goal line interception by belting Minnesota receiver John Gilliam just as the ball arrived, deflecting the ball into the hands of Mel Blount. Glen Edward’s end zone interception of a Roger Staubach pass, as time expired, preserved the Steelers second consecutive world championship in Super Bowl X. After the 1977 season, the Steelers traded Edwards to San Diego for a 6th round pick in the 1979 draft. Glen Edwards had 25 interceptions during his Steelers career, returing two of them for touchdowns. He also recovered 8 fumbles and forced 7 more.
Number 28-Lupe Sanchez:
Guadalupe Ledezma “Lupe” Sanchez came to the Steelers as a free agent in 1986, after being picked by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2nd round of the 1984 NFL Supplemental Draft. Lupe Played for the Steelers from 1986-1988 and saw early action as a kick returner. For his three year NFL career, Lupe returned 35 kickoffs for 778 yards with a long of 64 yards. He also returned 2 punts for 11 yards. As a safety, Lupe played in 39 games, starting in 9 of them. He recorded 4 interceptions and returned them for a total of 71 yards and a touchdown, with his longest return being 67 yards.
Number 29-Barry Foster:
Barry Foster was drafted by the Steelers, out of Arkansas, in the 1990 NFL Draft. After rushing for 691 yards and 2 touchdowns over his first two seasons, Barry absolutely exploded on the scene in 1992, becoming the NFL’s other Barry after rushing for 1,690 yards and 11 touchdowns in Bill Cowher’s first season as the Steelers head coach. While Foster wasn’t exactly a one year wonder, he only rushed for 1,562 yards over the final two years of his Steelers career (1993-1994), which ended due to an ankle injury. Over his five year career with Pittsburgh, Foster gained 3,943 yards on 915 carries with 26 finishing up in the end zone. Barry Foster was built like a bowling ball, with a nice combination of speed and power, and chose to retire following his departure from Pittsburgh.
This finishes up the the players who wore Steelers jersey numbers 20 through 29. I know it was a bit long, but it was very interesting putting it together. the next installment in this series will cover those who wore jersey numbers 30 through 39, until then, Happy Holiday’s.