History Of Steelers Starting Quarterbacks

April 7, 2022

Yinzer Faithful has been blessed to have a quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger under center for 18 years. Just floating through life not having to worry about the search for a franchise quarterback. But now the Big Ben era is over. Coach Tomlin and the front office is trying to fill Big Ben’s cleats if that is even possible.

Franchise quarterbacks don’t just grow on trees. Especially ones fit to don the Steelers jersey in those fierce AFC North battles in late December and early January. Having Big Ben always made you feel comfortable on days like that. Now, the Steelers head into the unknown for the first time since 2004.

If you take a look in the history books this isn’t new territory to some of our older Steeler fans. Many men served as quarterback for the Steelers between 1984 when Terry Bradshaw called it a career and 2004 when Big Ben trotted out onto the field for the first time as your Steeler’s beloved QB.

Finding Footing At Quarterback

Seven quarterbacks not named Ben Roethlisberger have played more than 10 games as the Steelers starter since Bradshaw retired in 1984. Many names have come and gone without much success in that time. Some had a good stint but none were the franchise guy. Mark Malone was with the team for eight years after being selected 28th overall in the 1980 draft. Malone went 21-24 as a starter while throwing 54 touchdowns and 68 interceptions before departing for San Diego to play for the Chargers.

Cliff Stoudt was barely here to have a cup of Turners’ Iced Tea. He went 9-7 in his three years as a Steeler. Appearing to have the same problem as Malone, turnovers. Stoudt threw just 14 touchdowns to his 28 interceptions. After those three seasons, the Steelers decided it was time to move on.

Then the Steelers started to get more momentum in the quarterback room. Gathering guys that weren’t a franchise QB, but it was a step in the right direction at least. Bubby Brister wasn’t the answer but did have his moments, going 28-29 in his Steelers tenure. It was a step in the right direction. Brister amassed 10,104 yards on his way to 51 touchdowns and 57 interceptions.

On The Cusp

Head Coach Bill Cowher was ready to take the reigns from Chuck Noll in 1992. With him was a third-round pick, Neil O’Donnell, who got a chunk of starts for the Steelers from 1991 to 1995. When given the keys O’Donnell went on to a 39-22 record for the Steelers. Throwing for 12,867 yards and 68 touchdowns. The first quarterback on the list so far to not have more interceptions than touchdowns! While O’Donnell did throw 39 interceptions in his Steelers stint, the most fatal may have been those thrown in the second half of Super Bowl XXX, losing to the Dallas Cowboys 27-17.

Mike Tomczak was around for some of the O’Donnell days and even got to start some games himself. The journeyman quarterback made stops in Chicago, Green Bay, and Cleveland before his stop in Pittsburgh. Tomczak spent seven seasons with the Steelers from 1993 to 1999 including a trip to the playoffs in 1996. Tomczak didn’t return to the Steelers the following season. He finished his Steeler career 15-12 throwing 37 touchdowns to go with 6,649 yards and 43 interceptions.

Right Place, Wrong Time

Maybe the most polarizing guy on the list is “Slash” himself, Kordell Stewart. Stewart played all over the field on the offensive side of the ball. Coming into the draft, teams wanted him to switch to the receiver but Stewart remained adamant in wanting to be a quarterback. Almost seems Slash was in the wrong era. Now teams would love to have a guy like that playing quarterback. Slash still managed to throw for 13,328 yards and 70 touchdowns with 72 interceptions. When playing receiver he hauled in 5 touchdowns in his career on 41 catches for 658 yards. Big surprise, he could run the ball too, rushing for 2,874 yards on 560 attempts and 38 rushing touchdowns. Slash would’ve been CRAZY in Madden.

Tommy Maddox took over for Stewart during the 2001 season. That would be the end of Slash’s time in Pittsburgh. Maddox would go on to be the starter for the next couple of years until it was Big Ben time in the Burgh. Maddox would go 15-16-1 in his 32 starts in black and gold. He threw for 713 yards with 42 touchdowns and 40 interceptions. Tommy Maddox is the only player to ever win an XFL Title and Super Bowl ring, never forget.

The moral of the story is that franchise quarterbacks can be few and far between. Pittsburgh has been blessed with a couple of guys that have been generational and can’t take that for granted. Some teams go decades without having that franchise quarterback, which usually results in minimal results. It’s the most important position in football so when you have a chance to get your guy, you have to go get him. Hopefully, The Steelers already have him in the building in former NVP Mitch Trubisky.