Ex-Steelers Quarterback Asks: Who Is the 3rd-Best QB in Franchise History?

Bill Cowher with Kordell Stewart

Getty Images Former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher with quarterback Kordell Stewart on December 9, 2001.

Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger are inarguably the two best quarterbacks in Pittsburgh Steelers history, with the former already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the latter a shoo-in to be enshrined five or six years hence. But the third-best QB is a much more difficult question, with the debate coming to life in recent days after Steeler Nation posed the question on July 5.

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Ex-Steelers QB Kordell Stewart Echoes the Thought

That’s when former Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart, 49, replied to Steeler Nation asking fans to weigh in with their thoughts. Some made the case for Stewart, pointing to the fact that he made the Pro Bowl in 2001, the same year he finished fourth in the NFL MVP voting, according to Pro Football Reference (PFR).

Stewart was 46-29 as a starter during the six seasons he played quarterback in Pittsburgh and twice took the Steelers to the AFC Championship Game (1997 and 2001), but he wasn’t a particularly effective quarterback after leaving behind his role as “slash,” when he played a combination of wide receiver/running back/quarterback. In fact, his passer rating during the years he played for the Steelers was a decidedly modest 72.3, which was coupled with a 56.5% completion percentage. He also threw three interceptions during each of the aforementioned championship games, pivotal turnovers in contests that were decided by three and seven points.

A better case can be made for Neil O’Donnell, who wasn’t flashy but was effective during his five-year stint as Steelers starter (1991-95), a run that came to an end after he took the team to the 1996 Super Bowl, which the Steelers lost to the Dallas Cowboys. O’Donnell — a third-round draft choice out of Maryland in 1990 — went 39-22 as Steelers starter and recorded an 81.8 passer rating during that period.

Then there’s former Broncos first-round pick Tommy Maddox, who held down the fort from 2001-03, until the Steelers had the opportunity to draft Roethlisberger No. 11 overall in 2004. Maddox went 15-16-1 as a starter, with a 58.2 completion percentage and a 76.7 passer rating.

Finally, there’s Pro Football Hall of Famer Bobby Layne, who was employed by the Steelers between 1958-62, the final stop on a 15-year career that saw him play for four different teams. Layne posted a winning record as Pittsburgh’s starter (27-19-2), though his numbers don’t stand up in the modern era, as he completed only 49.2% of his passes for the Steelers, with 66 touchdowns against 81 interceptions and a passer rating of 63.7.

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Don’t Forget About Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges and Bubby Brister

The Steeler Nation tweet also prompted some jokester replies, with one observer suggesting Devlin “Duck” Hodges, whom sports media personality Mark Madden recently called the “worst QB ever to start for the Steelers,” though Duck’s numbers suggest otherwise.

Another made reference to Walter Andrew “Bubby” Brister III, now 59, a former third-round pick who played for the Steelers between 1986-92, then proceeded to win a pair of Super Bowl rings with the Denver Broncos while serving as a backup to Pro Football Hall of Famer John Elway.

Brister, a third-round draft choice, went 28-29 as a starter for the Steelers, with a 52.5 completion percentage and 69.8 passer rating, as per PFR. He was succeeded by O’Donnell in 1992.


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