Some of you will argue that a number of these players were, in fact, successful, and you'll be correct. One of these men actually won four Super Bowls. But controversy followed each one at some point in their career.
Being that I was born in 1977, I was obviously unable to watch all of these players in their respective heydays. So there will be no 1-10 rankings in this article. You can discuss that in the comments section, but for now, in alphabetical order, here are my choices for the 10 Most Controversial QBs in Steeler history:
Bobby Layne (1958-62)
A prized treasure for those who collect other people's old magazines
Layne was an established quarterback with pedigree when he came to the Steelers via a trade with Detroit in 1958. Layne was so upset about being traded, he proclaimed that Detroit would not win again for 50 years. Well, I guess that means only two more years until Millen and Co. can plan the victory parade, because that prediction has been correct through the first 48 years. Detroit fans have bought into this so much that the inevitable Curseofbobbylayne.com was created.
Layne was by no means horrible as a Steeler, but in five seasons at the helm he threw for more TDs than INTs just once. But apparently Layne was the precursor for Mr. Drink Like a Champion
Yep, old Robert liked to do some late-night bar-crawling in the ol' city. If only we had cell phone cameras and Deadspin in the 1950s, we'd probably have a few pictures resembling this:
As others have speculated, one would think Ben's liver would go far before his appendix
Bubby Brister (1986-92)
Curious...I wonder how many of these still hang in Pittsburgh households?
Cliff Stoudt (1977-83)
Stoudt. Zubaz. Nuff said.
Jim Miller (1994-96)
Jim Miller, victim of an impatient Craftonite
I always thought Cowher had sort of a quick hook that day, and they ended up losing anyway (24-9), but I doubt Miller could have taken that team much further than they ultimately went. Miller resurfaced years later with the Bears, leading them to a 13-3 record in 2001. He actually earned a Super Bowl ring as the emergency QB for the 2004 Pats, and was still kicking around as recently as last year with the Giants.
Joe Gilliam (1972-75)
"Jefferson Street Joe" was one of the very first Black Quarterbacks to suit up in the NFL. He led the Black and Gold to a 4-1-1 record in 1974 when starters, including Terry Bradshaw, went on strike. Gilliam kept the job even after Bradshaw's return, but was then benched for the playoff run. Race was speculated by some as one of the reasons Gilliam sat, and Bradshaw himself admitted Gilliam was more deserving of the job at the time. But the results were hard to argue: the Steelers won the Super Bowl, kicking off a run of four wins in six years.
The sad part was that Gilliam's life then spiraled out of control due to substance abuse, and 1975 was his final NFL season, at age 25. Gilliam ultimately died of a heart attack on Christmas Day in 2000, after a lifetime battle with drugs and alcohol.
Kordell Stewart (1995-2002)
Kordell, in a much happier moment
No player in recent memory epitomizes the word "mercurial" more than Kordell. He burst onto the scene in 1995, changing the way the quarterback position would be viewed forever. Yes, I know he wasn't the first scrambling QB, but no other quarterback had ever been used in the "Slash" role he created.
He energized the team with his schoolyard-style plays in his 1995 rookie season, ultimately contributing to their AFC Champion standing. He became the starter in 1997 and led the Steelers to the AFC Championship. He actually had 21 TD passes and 11 TD rushes in 1997, accounting for 32 total. Say what you want about Michael Vick, but the most TDs he's ever accounted for in one season is 24 (16 pass/8 run) in 2002. Unfortunately, Kordell had several backbreaking turnovers in the '97 AFC Championship, eventually falling to John Elway and the Broncos. That was officially the first chink in the Kordell armor.
Chink #2 came in 1998 when he was benched in Tampa during a particularly poor showing and was seen crying on the sidelines. That didn't go over too well back home in Pittsburgh.
Chink #3 was the 1999 season. The line was in shambles, Yancey Thigpen was a Titan, and the team won just six games. Naturally, the city responded with the following support:
1. Constant booing at home games
2. A golden shower of beer at one selected home game
The Kent Graham Era came in 2000, and Pittsburghers were subjected to eight games and one touchdown pass before Mr. Bill came to his senses and yanked the NFL's all time leader in Passes Knocked Down at the Line of Scrimmage. Sure enough, Kordell rose like a phoenix, pulling the team out of the abyss and to a respectable 9-7 record. The turning point was a 21-20 win against a very strong Raiders team, when he came back after injury and led the team to victory.
On the momentum of his 2000 finish, Kordell had one of his better seasons in 2001, accounting for 19 TDs and a career high 3109 yards passing. He took the Steelers to the AFC Championship, but it was virtually a re-run of the 1997 AFC Championship, with Kordell tossing three crucial interceptions in another disappointing home playoff loss.
Kordell ultimately lost his job to some insurance salesman and looks like he may finally be out of the NFL. He just took a gig on Spike TV's Pros vs. Joes. If careers were roller coasters, Kordell's was the Steel Phantom.
Mark Malone (1980-87)
The Original Slash?
Malone was a first-round draft pick and reportedly the nation's most heavily recruited high school quarterback in 1975. He was drafted as the heir apparent to franchise icon Terry Bradshaw. So his career stats of 60 TDs, 81 INTs, a 50% completion pct., and 1-2 playoff record would probably be looked at as a bit of a disappointment after all that hype. Of course, he did have that Steeler-record 90 yard touchdown catch from Bradshaw in 1981. Was he really the first Slash?
Neil O'Donnell (1991-95)
O'Donnell looks for a wide open Larry Brown
Poor Neil O. Five VERY solid years as the starting QB in Pittsburgh. A $25 million contract with the Jets. Several well-paying years backing up Air McNair in Tennessee. But those interceptions. Ahh, the interceptions. O'Donnell is virtually the Pittsburgh equivalent of Bill Buckner. Buckner had a 22-year MLB career, with a lifetime average of .289 and over 2,700 career hits. But all anyone ever remembers is the one that got away. Super Bowl XXX should have been O'Donnell's coming out party, but the only thing that came out of that game was Neil in a Steeler uniform. It was the last he would ever play as a Steeler. Sure, the Jets gave him more money than he could have ever imagined. But you know, deep down, that he couldn't face those Pittsburgh fans in 1996. What if he would have re-signed? Would he have led the Steelers back to the Super Bowl? Would the Kordell Era ever have happened? We will never know.
Terry Bradshaw (1970-83)
The most successful, and sexiest, QB in Steeler history
As I mentioned in my Deadspin article, Bradshaw's early stats looked like current day Brett Favre stats; in fact, they were even worse. In his rookie season of 1970, Bradshaw completed a mind-numbing 38% of his passes, throwing 6 touchdowns and completing 24 passes to the opposition. His TD/INT ratio did not improve for the next few seasons, either: 1971:13/22 1972:12/12 1973:10/15 1974:7/8.
Here's a great Terry quote from his 1973 book, "No Easy Game":
"I always wanted everyone to like me. I wanted the city of Pittsburgh to be proud of me. But my first few seasons, I could to count the number of people on my bandwagon on one finger. I had people call me a dummy and a hick. I had a lady stop me outside the stadium and tell me I stunk. I heard the people cheer when I got hurt. Rub up against enough briar patches and your hide will get pretty tough. Mine did."
He eventually turned things around, as history would indicate. But controversy still seems to follow Bradshaw, for whatever reason. As recently as February, Bradshaw saw himself in the middle of a maelstrom regarding the Super Bowl XL MVP ceremony. The NFL had every Super Bowl MVP present, with the exception of the deceased Harvey Martin, the vacationing Jake Scott, and the "staying at home" Bradshaw and Montana. Bradshaw's absence was a major letdown for Steeler fans on their big day.
And then on March 10, 2006, the world was treated to a naked Bradshaw, courtesy of the movie Failure to Launch. So in addition to living up to four championships, now Big Ben has the added pressure of baring his backside in a feature film once his playing days are over.
Tommy Maddox (2001-05)
The injury that changed the course of a franchise
Tommy Maddox had one of the strangest careers in NFL history. Maddox was originally supposed to be the successor to John Elway in Denver. But things didn't really pan out that way. Elway ended up playing seven more seasons after Maddox was selected, a statistic that really scares Packers QB and 2005 #1 pick Aaron Rodgers.
Maddox was drafted in 1992 and was out of the NFL by 1997. Having given up football, he became an insurance salesman. But the lure of Vince McMahon was too much to pass up, so he joined the XFL for its one and only year in 2001. He was the MVP and performed so well that the Steelers signed him to back up Kordell later that year. He actually snatched the starting job from our favorite Slash and took the Steelers to the playoffs in 2002, with a dramatic first-round comeback win against Cleveland and a near-miss in the second round against Tennessee (the Joe Nedney game).
It may have been fate, it may have been destiny, it may have been a grudge Gary Baxter had, that historic day in Baltimore. But Tommy was out, and Big Ben was in. The rest, as they say, is history....
Except that Maddox would be back.
Tommy Gun started two games for the 2005 Super Steelers, posting an 0-2 record, 47% completion percentage, two touchdowns, and four interceptions. Refusing to accept blame, Maddox effectively burned his bridge with The Jaw, to the point that Maddox refused to even attend the Super Bowl ring ceremony. Their relationship soured so bad, beat writer Ed Bouchette recently said after Roethlisberger's appendix surgery that the Steelers would rather sign Jeff George as a backup than bring back Maddox. I would say the garbage-tossing, Maddox kid-taunting Steeler fans would probably agree.