Underrated Steelers Players: Part Three

One of the best-known eras that the Pittsburgh Steelers have ever gone through was when the Steel Curtain was pummeling offenses and making it look easy. Among the players that made up the destructive defense in the 1970’s, there’s one strong safety that specifically sticks out to me. One player that in my opinion, is incredibly underrated, Donnie Shell.

The 5-time Pro Bowler had so much potential, physicality, and versatility in the earliest stages of his career that the Steelers knew that he would be an asset to the team that the decision was made to trade their former safety, Glenn Edwards, to get Shell in the starting lineup. Shell is by far, one player who should have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Shell ended his career as the NFL’s strong safety career leader, ending with 51 receptions. He saw the Pro Bowl 5 times, started eleven straight years for the Steelers, selected to be apart of the NFL Silver Anniversary Super Bowl Team, and the Steelers All-Time Team. With a history like that, he must have been doing something right.

I wasn’t lucky enough to be able to watch Shell play, but talking to other longtime Steelers fans, Shell was such a unique and consistent player that anyone can agree he earned his spot in the Hall of Fame. Shell made the Steel Curtain more of a threat than it already was, and that was exactly his goal. Shell’s nickname, the Torpedo, had everything to do with his remarkable closing speed and his hunger to take down anyone, without size in mind.

Watching his highlight videos are just riveting to watch. A player who was apart of all four Super Bowl championships in the 70’s and being able to just tell by specific plays how dependable he was, makes you wonder how anyone could pass up a player like this in the Hall of Fame.

His first major achievement was his first Pro Bowl selection in 1978. Shell made the performance of his career when he picked off three passes and recovered five fumbles, one of which was returned for a touchdown. His aggressiveness while playing allowed the Steelers to hang up a 14-2 record that eventually led to the Super Bowl XIII championship win.

Shell became a regular at the Pro Bowl after that. Not only was his passion for the game undeniable but his ability to lead the young defensive backs while apart of the team didn’t come unnoticed. Tony Dungy, former safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1977-78, accredited Shell to being a mentor on and off the field. Someone he specifically looked up to because of his versatility during games.

“He was probably the most physical player on a physical defense and also had 51 interceptions,” Dungy said. “He covered Hall-of-Fame tight ends like Ozzie Newsome man-to-man and covered wide receivers in the nickel package. He patrolled the deep zones. He could do it all.”

Shell didn’t let age stop him from playing the game he loved either while playing and starting in every game from 1982-85. He added at least 5 intercepted passes each season from 1979-84.

Shell had such a fearless persona, his effort on every snap enabled mostly everyone to see his athleticism. He is the definition of what every Steeler should strive to be. This attitude for the game spread him apart from other stand-out defensive backs during his era.

Shell was way more valuable than just someone you expected a turnover from, he had the ability to represent safeties in the Hall of Fame justifiably, an area that is well underrated. Ranked as the 8th greatest safety in NFL history, Donnie Shell is one of the most underrated players of all time, but his effort never went unnoticed.

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