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Ranking the best Pittsburgh Steelers receivers of the past 50 years

I don’t want to hear about passing over players who suited up before JFK was elected.

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Before the 2010 season, the Steelers traded Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets. That left the team with a receiving corps of only Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. An embarrassment of riches, to be sure, but that depth is a tribute to the organization’s eye for talent. 

That many great receivers is good on the field, but it’s tough to deal with when you’re compiling a list of the Steelers’ top 10 wide receivers of the past 50 years. I know that Elbie Nickel and Buddy Dial used to haul passes before pansies played the game, but I don’t want to hear from you old-timers about passing over players who suited up before JFK was elected.

Mike Wallace. He holds just one Steelers record — a 95-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger. Wallace left the team in 2012 after committing the cardinal sin against Steelers Nation: He held out of training camp for more money. Around here, that’s the fastest way out of town.

Emmanuel Sanders. “Easy Money” set an NFL record by being the first player in the league ever fined for faking an injury. Sanders played possum to stop the clock in the waning minutes of a game versus Cincinnati. Tapes showed him outrunning teammates on the very next play after the injury. It was against the Bengals, and the Steelers won, so that’s fine with us. He’s currently tearing it up for the Denver Broncos.

Plaxico Burress. Plax is the only guy on the list to shoot somebody. It was himself in the thigh, accidentally, in a nightclub after leaving the Steelers, but he still went to prison for nearly two years. Burress had a 353-yard receiving game in a tie with Atlanta. That was the team record for yards in a game until Antonio Brown broke it. Burress never won a Super Bowl with Pittsburgh, but did win one with the Giants over the Patriots, so all is forgiven.

Yancey Thigpen. An underrated two-time Pro Bowler, Thigpen caught a touchdown in Super Bowl XXX, one of the few passes thrown by Neil O’Donnell that wasn’t caught by a Dallas Cowboy. No rings for Yancey, but he was on the Tennessee Titans team that missed the trophy by one yard in 1999.

Santonio Holmes. “The catch” is all you need to know and why he’s so high on this list. A lot of people are known for one incident in their lives, whether it’s Neil Armstrong or Pee-wee Herman. (Holmes was more Armstrong than Herman.) His game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII made him a Steelers legend for life.

Louis Lipps. He didn’t get to catch passes from Big Ben or Terry Bradshaw. Lipps had to depend on Mark Malone, Bubby Brister, David Woodley and Todd Blackledge to get him the ball. Lipps played eight years with the Steelers and never went to the Super Bowl, but still, he’s one of the best.

Lynn Swann. Another Super Bowl MVP, he won the title in Super Bowl X after spending two days in the hospital with a concussion suffered in the AFC Championship game. He was drafted in the first round of the Steelers’ 1974 draft and currently resides in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Pittsburgh Steeler Antonio Brown - CP PHOTO BY LUKE THOR TRAVIS
  • CP photo by Luke Thor Travis
  • Pittsburgh Steeler Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown. Brown is the most exciting player I’ve ever seen. He is second in Steelers history in receptions and he’s only 28. Enjoy his career because there are not many like him.

Hines Ward. No. 86 had 86 career touchdowns and 1,000 career receptions. He’s got a Super Bowl MVP, a Dancing With the Stars trophy, and two championship rings on his impressive record. Ward has the best numbers of anyone on the list, but he played in a very receiver-friendly era. That’s why No. 1 on the list is …

John Stallworth. In Stallworth’s first few seasons in the league, defenders were allowed to slap receivers in the head and basically tackle you at the line of scrimmage. Stallworth was the leading receiver in every major category until the era of the quarterback who throws 45 passes a game. His most iconic moment is the Sports Illustrated cover of him catching the game-winner in Super Bowl XIV over the Los Angeles Rams.


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