Pittsburgh Steelers Throwback: Two of the Greatest to Ever Do It
Elite cornerbacks are a must in today’s NFL. Rule changes over the past few decades protecting quarterbacks and limiting defenses have changed the way the game is played. Gone are the days of three-meter offenses and a cloud of dust violations. With quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers moving to wide receivers like Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams, the need for quality cornerbacks on an NFL defense is a necessity.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have seen two of the most decorated and illustrious cornerbacks in NFL history play the majority of their careers in black and gold. Melvin Cornell Blount and Roderick Kevin Woodson are arguably two of the top five cornerbacks of all time.
Let’s take a look at their combined stats and accolades, then break them down individually.
Collectively, these two Steelers franchise legends have combined for 128 interceptions, 19 touchdowns, 2 NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, 15 All-Pro teams and 16 Pro Bowl selections. No other franchise can claim a pair of cornerbacks that can match these statistical achievements.
“Mean” Joe Greene will rightfully receive much of the credit for the menacing identity of the Steelers’ 70s Steel Curtain defenses. After drafting Terry Bradshaw with the No. 1 pick in the 1970 NFL Draft, the Steelers with the 53rd pick in the 3rd round drafted a little-known cornerback from Southern University, a small HBCU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, named Mel Blount.
Throughout his career, Blount was renowned for the physicality he displayed as a defender. This was back when defensive backs could maim wide receivers more or less without restrictions, there were times when he would rip doll wide receivers out of the line of scrimmage and continue to do so for the duration In his fifth season, that physical ball mark earned him the 1975 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
In 1978, the NFL created the “Mel Blount Rule” to prevent it from manipulating opposing receivers. The rule still part of the limitations on defensive backs in the NFL today is that defensive backs are not allowed to make contact with receivers beyond five yards. At the time, the rule hampered Blount’s physical style of play, but despite the rule change, Blount would make three more Pro Bowls after the rule change. He finished his Steelers career with 57 interceptions (tied for 13th all-time). He was an integral part of those ’70s Steel Curtain defenses that won four Super Bowls and is considered one of the best defenses in the game’s history. Blount was inducted into the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989.
It takes two to make a pair, so we have to elaborate on the second cornerback, and if not in fact, statistically probably the greatest cornerback in franchise history. That would be Rod Woodson.
The two-time first-team All-American was drafted by the Steelers with the 10th pick in the 1st round of Purdue University’s 1987 NFL Draft.
During his rookie season, Woodson was used primarily as a kick returner, playing just eight games and registering just twenty tackles on defense under legendary coach Chuck Noll.
The rest of his Steelers career would put him in the Pittsburgh Steelers pantheon of greats. He was arguably the greatest Steeler from the late 80s until the early Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu era in the early 2000s.
Woodson had 71 career interceptions, the third all-time (38 with the Steelers), 17 touchdowns (11 as a Steelers), and his 12 interceptions returned for touchdowns is an NFL record. He also set the NFL record for most Pro Bowl nominations in his position (11) and won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1993.
In September 1995, during the season opener against the Detroit Lions. Woodson was juked by Barry Sanders, he tried to plant on the turf at Three Rivers Stadium and tore his anterior cruciate ligament. He missed the rest of the regular season after undergoing reconstructive surgery. His quick recovery from early September to late January would be commonplace in today’s game, not so much in 1996 when he surprisingly returned to play in the Steelers’ 27-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX.
The following season (1996) would be his last in Pittsburgh. Woodson is considered one of the greatest Pittsburgh Steelers of all time.
He would later go on to play with rivals Baltimore Ravens and Oakland Raiders where he moved mostly to free safety. He would record 31 more interceptions during that span and win Super Bowl XXXV with the Ravens on a defense considered one of the best ever, with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 70s and Chicago Bears defenses of 85.
Woodson would reach another Super Bowl with the Raiders, a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003, after which he would retire and conclude his playing career in the NFL.
In August 2009, Woodson was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Mel Blount and Rod Woodson are two of the greatest to ever do it for the Pittsburgh Steelers and in NFL history.