Is Johnny Unitas the greatest NFL player from Pittsburgh? There are many in which to choose.
To keep the order consistent, Pittsburgh is up next, moving west to east, in this 4-part series of the greatest athletes from each of the four AFC North cities. If you need the rules again, click here. While Cleveland is home to 1970s NFL hall-of-famers, Pittsburgh is home to the NFL quarterback, including arguably two of the top five all-time greats, and three of the top 10. If I increased the radius beyond 40 miles, Jim Kelly would be in consideration for the Steel City list. Sorry for the “other” quarterback on this list, Steeler fans. I had to vent. Enjoy.
10. Joe Namath (NFL) – Super Bowl, Super Bowl MVP (throwing for 206 yards and zero TDs, while the Jets running back set a Super Bowl record in yards and scored the only TD), 2 AFL MVPs (throwing 34 TDs in the two years combined to go with 34 INTs), and a career 50.1% completion percentage, 173 TDs, and 220 INTs. With numbers like that, how could voters keep him out of the Hall-of-Fame. Namath is 10th on this list to show how a bold prediction plus a large media market equals fame.
9. Dick Grout (MLB, NBA) – MLB MVP, 2 World Series, batting champion, college baseball and basketball hall-of-fame, #10 jersey retired at Duke. Dick is on this list not only for his fantastic name, but for the fact that he was not only a baseball star, but was also the #3 overall pick in the NBA. He only played in the NBA for a year, probably because the two seasons overlap and had to choose to one.
8. Ken Griffey, Jr. (MLB) – 630 home runs, 4-time HR champion, 10-time gold glove winner, baseball’s all century team. Imagine what his numbers would look like if he didn’t have constant nagging injuries, which were at least partially due to his hustling style on the bases and in the outfield. He played 150 games in just six of his 22 seasons, and played an averaged of roughly half of a season over a six year period. Despite these heath issues, his numbers are up there with the greatest sluggers of all-time.
7. Kurt Angle (wrestling, WWE) – Olympic Gold medalist, world champion in freestyle wrestling. Professional wrestling accolades include European Champ, Intercontinental Champ, Tag-team champ, 6-time world champ, and heavyweight champ, making him a triple crown winner and a grand-slam champ. Angle’s amateur wrestling awards alone may have put him on this list, but the fact that he transitioned so seamlessly to the squared circle solidified his spot. Some may disagree, but I thought I’d throw in a wildcard.
6. Mike Ditka (NFL) – First tight end Hall-of-Fame inductee, NFL rookie of the year, 3 Super Bowls and 1 NFL championship, 50th and 75th anniversary team, 2-time coach of the year and a Super Bowl win. Ditka revolutionized the TE position, proving that not only could they throw crushing blocks, but could also catch. He intimidated in both ways, something that really doesn’t exist today.
5. Arnold Palmer (Golf) – 62 PGA tour wins, 7 major wins, winner of 18 various awards and trophies, and an extremely refreshing drink. Arnold might not be the greatest golfer of all-time but was top three in one of golf’s greatest eras. He is also the greatest ambassador the sport has ever had, especially in terms of skill plus likability.
4. Dan Marino (NFL) – NFL MVP, 2-time AFC player of the year, rookie of the year, multiple NFL record holder. When Marino retired, he was considered the greatest thrower of all-time with the quickest release. The only knock on him was his lack of a Super Bowl win. Although he only has one league MVP, the likes of Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Brett Favre were either flashier or had better teams surrounding them, but non put up the numbers Marino did while he was playing.
3. Stan Musial (MLB) – 7-time batting champion, 2-time MVP, 3 World Series, and 24-time all-star, 4th all-time hit leader. To make things more impressive, in addition to his high batting average, he ranks 30th in home runs (or close to 20th if you take away the roiders), and 6th in RBIs. Musial ranks in the top 5 to 10 of baseball’s all-time greatest players depending on the list.
2. Joe Montana (NFL) – 2-time NFL MVP, 4 Super Bowls, 3 Super Bowl MVPs, NFL 75th anniversary team, 1980’s all-decade team, 2-time male athlete of the year. He is still 1st or 2nd in over a half dozen Super Bowl records. Arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time and could be #1 on this list. He and his coach put “west-coast offense” on the map, a trend that was copied over and over, but never duplicated.
1. Johnny Unitas (NFL) – 4-time league MVP, 4 NFL and Super Bowl championships, NFL 50th and 75th anniversary team, set just about every NFL passing record by the time he retired. He was considered an innovator for the modern day quarterback, which included the 2-minute drill. Before being picked up by the Colts, he was playing QB, safety, and punter in a club league after being cut by his hometown team. To be fair, he was drafted in the 9th round, so most teams passed on him. Like Ken Griffy, Jr., Unitas’s career was plagued by injuries, mainly to his throwing arm, throwing hand, and knees, with a few broken ribs thrown in. His last six seasons, he passed for 7,000 yards total. Later in life he became the poster boy and spokesman for chronically injured and disabled players brushed aside by the NFL. Add that to his on-the-field accolades, and he makes #1 on this list. Despite his injuries, and the fact that season were 12 and 14 games long, Unitas is still at the top of many NFL passing records today.