Great NFL football players leave the game with a litany of accolades to their names. The best of the best made multiple Pro Bowls and All-Pro rosters, and may even have an MVP award or two. But when an athlete achieves greatness while playing for one team for the majority of his career, there is one honor that might trump them all, and that’s having his jersey number retired.
Retired jersey numbers are off-limits, never to be worn by another player again. It is the ultimate show of appreciation from franchise to player. Historic NFL franchises with multiple championships under their belts have removed many jersey numbers from circulation.
When it comes to championships and Hall-of-Fame players, there aren’t many NFL franchises with an edge on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Six Lombardi trophies adorn their hallowed halls, and dozens of former players and coaches are enshrined in Canton. But they do things a little differently in the Steel City. Despite decades of greatness, the Steelers have retired only two jersey numbers in team history.
- Number 70, worn by Ernie Stautner, defensive tackle, 1950-1963
- Number 75, worn by Joe Greene, defensive tackle, 1969-1981
Those are the officially retired numbers. However, a handful of numbers belonging to former greats are off-limits for new players. This is the Steelers’ "unofficial" retired numbers list. While staff and management rarely comment on the status of these jersey numbers, it is clear you’d have to be a very special player to earn the right to wear one of them.
The best we can do as fans is speculate, but here are the numbers that the Steelers appear to consider "unofficially" retired.
Steelers Unofficially Retired Numbers
5 Steelers Jerseys That Should Be Retired
Pittsburgh’s approach to honoring great players of the past is interesting, but one must wonder what it would take for a player to earn the right to wear one of those "unofficially retired" jersey numbers. It is tough to imagine a rookie with enough clout to deserve one. What about veterans? If Aaron Rodgers somehow came to play for the Steelers, would they assign him his number 12?
Like most Steelers fans, my answer is no way, man. Rodgers is incredible, but there is only one Steeler I want to see wearing that number in my lifetime, and that’s Terry Bradshaw.
In fact, here are five jersey numbers I’d like to see join Greene's and Stautner's as officially retired and out of circulation.
Worn By: Terry Bradshaw
Terry Bradshaw is a Hall of Famer and the quarterback behind the Steelers’ Super Bowl dynasty of the ’70s, but his journey to Canton didn’t start out so smoothly. Drafted in 1970, Bradshaw struggled early in his career and was even benched during the 1974 season. The Steelers made do with a powerful running game and tough defense.
With the addition of future Hall-of-Fame wide receivers John Stallworth and Lynn Swann, Bradshaw eventually came into his own. He won NFL MVP in 1978, and two Super Bowl MVP awards following the 1978 and 1979 seasons.
While his stats aren’t impressive by today’s standards, Bradshaw was a winner who got the job done in big games. He holds a regular-season record of 107 wins and 51 losses and a playoffs record of 14 and 5. Four of those wins were, of course, Super Bowl Championships. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989.
Terry Bradshaw's Stats With Steelers
- 27,989 Passing Yards
- 212 Passing TDs
- 2,257 Rushing Yards
- 32 Rushing TDs
Worn By: Franco Harris
Position: Running Back
While Bradshaw struggled to put the pieces together early in his career, another Steeler took the NFL by storm in his rookie year. Drafted in 1972, fullback Franco Harris ran for 1,055 yards and scored 10 rushing touchdowns during his 14-game rookie season.
He then punctuated his year with the most incredible play in Steelers history when he found himself the surprise receiver on a desperation throw at the end of a Steelers—Raiders playoff game. The ball careened off of Steelers’ running back Frenchy Fuqua and/or Raider defensive back Jack Tatum (depending on who you ask) and landed in Harris’s arms, who ran it into the end zone for an incredible last-second winning touchdown. The play is now known as the Immaculate Reception.
Harris earned a Rookie of the Year award for that performance and made nine Pro Bowls in his 12 years in Pittsburgh. He finished his time in the Steel City as Pittsburgh’s all-time leading rusher, an honor he still holds today, and at the time he retired, he was the third leading rusher in NFL history.
Harris went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a Steeler in 1990.
Franco Harris' Stats With Steelers
- 11,950 Rushing Yards
- 4.1 YPC
- 91 Rushing TDs
Worn By: Troy Polamalu
When football fans think of the Steelers dynasty years, naturally the 1970s come to mind. But there was another mini-dynasty period of sorts in the mid-to-late 2000s when the Steelers appeared in three Super Bowls and won two. As it was in the 1970s, the defense was a key part of their success, and for several years, safety Troy Polamalu was arguably the best defensive player on the best defensive team in the NFL.
He seemed to be everywhere at once, sacking the quarterback on one play and intercepting a pass deep down the middle on the next. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau gave him the freedom to improvise on the field, and Polamalu’s instincts were rarely wrong.
In his 12 seasons with the Steelers, Polamalu made eight Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams. He earned Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020.
Troy Polamalu's Stats With Steelers
- 32 Interceptions for 398 Yards and 3 TDs
- 7 Fumble Recoveries for 120 Yards and 2 TDs
- 12 Sacks
Worn By: Mike Webster
Mike Webster was an undersized offensive lineman drafted by Pittsburgh in 1974. Through strength training and sheer will, he built himself into one of the best centers in NFL history. He took over the starting center role in 1976, where he remained until 1988. During that time, Webster never missed a game, earning him the nickname “Iron Mike.” In 15 seasons as a Steeler, he played in 220 games, 194 of them as a starter.
Webster made nine Pro Bowls and earned five All-Pro nominations as a Steeler, as well as four Super Bowl rings. When he left the Steelers after the 1988 season, he was the last remaining player from the Super Bowl dynasty of the ‘70s. He finished out his incredible career with two seasons in Kansas City, then went to Canton as a Steeler in 1997.
Worn By: Jack Lambert
Position: Middle Linebacker
Lambert is on any shortlist of the greatest middle linebackers in NFL history and is widely regarded as one of the best Steelers players of all time. He was part of the legendary 1974 draft class that included Hall-of-Famers Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, and Mike Webster. Undersized and downright lanky even in the era he played, Lambert made the roster as a backup outside linebacker.
However, he soon found himself cast into a starting role when starting middle linebacker Henry Davis was lost to an injury. The rest is history.
Like the defense he commanded, Lambert was tough, mean, and hated to lose. He made up for his lack of body weight with ferocity and grit. Lambert personified the Steeler attitude, along with defensive players such as Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, and Mel Blount.
Jack Lambert made nine Pro Bowls and six All-Pro teams during his 11-year career. He was Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1974, AP Defensive Player of the Year in 1976, and UPI Defensive Player of the Year in 1976 and 1979. He retired with four Super Bowl rings and was part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 1990.
Jack Lambert's Stats With Steelers
- 28 Interceptions for 243 Yards
- 17 Fumble Recoveries
- 8 Sacks*
- * NFL did not start tracking sacks until 1982
Honoring the Past
The Steelers are an organization that does things a little differently, so it is no wonder their approach to retired numbers is unique as well. As a fan, I don’t want to see a 58 or a 47 or a 36 running around out there in the black and gold. Those numbers are sacred, and their stories have already been written.
In fact, there are a few more numbers the Steelers might think about taking out of circulation, at least unofficially. L.C. Greenwood’s number 68. Lynn Swann’s number 88. John Stallworth’s number 82. All have been issued for decades, but maybe it is time.