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The 5 Greatest Tackles in Steelers History

The 5 Greatest Tackles in Steelers History

 

I don’t consider myself much of an opinion writer, partly because relying too much on opinions will take any researcher away from the core of their work, so it’s ironic that I would make a list of the greatest tackles in Steelers history until I realized that the top five tackles are as close to indisputable as possible, especially considering that I’ve chosen to ignore a countdown presentation and simply showcase them in chronological order, thus eliminating further debate.

This article best acts as an accompaniment to the video and is intended to simply add context to the visual.

Since these tackles are chosen based on the importance of the tackle and are not to be confused with a list of the greatest hits in Steelers history, then a more accurate title would be “The Most Important Tackles in Steelers History.”

Almost any Steelers fan would rank one of these five tackles as the greatest, so you decide which one you think is truly the best.

 



JACK LAMBERT TD-SAVING TACKLE ON CLIFF BRANCH

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP – Dec 29, 1974

In the ’74 AFC title game, the Steelers led 17-10 with 9 minutes left. Ken Stabler found his trusty receiver, Cliff Branch, who beat Mel Blount on a short slant and raced passed both Steeler safeties, Glen Edwards and Mike Wagner. A rookie linebacker named Jack Lambert found himself as the last Steeler in Branch’s path far downfield and made sure to keep ahead of him. Branch would normally fly right by him but the angle Lambert had on Branch was too much for the crafty receiver to break away from. Lambert’s positioning was perfect and he made a textbook open-field tackle on the Raider who scored a TD earlier in the game and finished with 9 catches for 186 yards. This tackle denied Oakland a game-tying touchdown and they eventually had to settle for a field goal. The Steelers ultimately responded with a Franco Harris game-clinching touchdown and then marched to the first Super Bowl victory, and NFL championship victory, in franchise history.


DONNIE SHELL SHATTERS EARL CAMPBELL’S RIBS

WEEK 14 – Dec 3, 1978

This would almost certainly be #1 in a countdown of the Greatest Hits in Steelers History. The iconic shot forced Campbell out of the game, which was significant due to Campbell’s 21 carries for 89 yards and 3 TD’s in their first meeting that the Oilers won in Pittsburgh. Earl Campbell was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1978 and also led the league in rushing.

The Shell hit took place in the 1st quarter when the Steelers led 3-0 and caused a fumble that Pittsburgh cornerback Ron Johnson recovered. They went on to win 13-3 and the victory meant they were AFC Central champions. Thus, it forced Houston to settle for a Wild Card, win two playoff games on the road, and then be the unfortunate visitors to Three Rivers Stadium in the AFC Championship where they were dismantled in the rain by a score of 34-3. Of course, the Steelers went on to win their 3rd Super Bowl in 5 years.

Shell’s hit on Earl Campbell is the only tackle out of the five on this list that occurred in a regular season game but the noted ripple effect of the hit proved that it was an important moment in their championship run. In the 3 collective games between the two division rivals in 1978, Earl Campbell’s stats can be split up into two parts. Before the hit, he had 28 carries for 130 yards and 3 TD’s. After the hit, which is merely his numbers in the AFC title game, Campbell had 22 carries for 62 yards and 0 TD’s.


ROD WOODSON’S HIT, FORCED FUMBLE, AND RECOVERY AT THE EXPENSE OF LORENZO WHITE

AFC WILD CARD GAME – Dec 31, 1989

This is second tackle of the five that occurred in the Houston Astrodome.

In the 1989 AFC Wild Card Game, the Oilers were 7-point favorites, partly because Houston twice beat Pittsburgh during the season, including a 27-0 win in the Astrodome. The Steelers, however, were able to tie the game in the final minutes to force sudden death overtime.

The Oilers began their first, and what would be their last, OT possession at the Pittsburgh 45-yard line. The Steelers appeared doomed, especially considering that both of the previous two full possessions of the Oilers offense resulted in touchdown passes to Ernest Givins and thus it didn’t appear that the Steelers could contain the explosive air show of Warren Moon any longer.

Being so close to field goal range, the Oilers decided to run on first down. Lorenzo White took the handoff outside where Woodson stalked him and then blasted him, targeting the ball with his shoulder pads as the Houston fans gasped at the loose ball. Woodson recovered it and, a few plays later, Gary Anderson kicked a 50-yard field goal for an unlikely Pittsburgh playoff win. I consider the play to be the greatest play in Rod Woodson’s career.

 




WILLIE WILLIAMS CATCHES LAMONT WARREN TO DENY CRUCIAL FIRST DOWN

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP – Jan 14, 1996

The Colts faced a 3rd & 1 at their 31-yard line with 3:50 remaining in the game. They held an improbable 16-13 lead and the Steelers had 2 timeouts remaining. Indianapolis called a run to Lamont Warren off left tackle and it was wide open. Every Steeler at the line of scrimmage was blocked and there was no safety in sight. Warren had daylight, some suggest he would have scored a long touchdown but he clearly was about to convert a first down until cornerback Willie Williams authored a plot twist.

Williams had no one to cover and thus lined up outside the right tackle. At the snap, he flew into the backfield and, despite coming from the other side of the line of scrimmage, dove for Warren’s legs and caught him from behind for no gain. Dick Enberg, realizing the immediate importance of the play, quickly proclaimed it the tackle of the year. Of course, it was one of the greatest tackles in team history, allowing the Steelers to earn a comeback victory and a trip to the Super Bowl.


BEN ROETHLISBERGER DESPERATELY TACKLES NICK HARPER

AFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF – Jan 15, 2006

The greatest tackle ever by a quarterback (so much for my claim of not really being an opinion writer) and we all know the story so I’ll make this one brief. The Steelers won, Jerome Bettis fumbled, Nick Harper recovered, Big Ben tackled, Vanderjagt missed, the Steelers won.


I hope you enjoy the video of the 5 Greatest Tackles in Steelers History and appreciate the additional info here. Worth noting that three of the tackles occurred during Super Bowl winning seasons for the Steelers and the other two changed the course of their respective playoff games.

#SteelerNation

Honoring Steelers history through extensive research. Contributor to numerous projects for multiple outlets, including NFL Alumni and CBS.

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