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Steel Curtain Defense

Pittsburgh Steelers Steel Curtain Defense

By Loot, NFL Handicapper,

Without even having anyone tell you, it would easy to guess “The Steel Curtain” in a football conversation would refer to the Steelers, from the steel-city of Pittsburgh. It’s a name that originally was meant to describe the feared defensive line of the Steelers during their dominance in the 1970’s. Nowadays, “The Steel Curtain” is used to describe the entire Pittsburgh defense during this period of unprecedented glory.

Pittsburgh certainly didn’t rely only on their defense, with a group of Hall of Famers also on the other side of the ball. At the same time, if not for the defense, it is unlikely the Steelers would have won 4 Super Bowls in 6 years, while establishing themselves as the best dynasty from the Super Bowl era. The Pittsburgh defense from this era reads like a who’s-who of great players from the 1970’s.

They probably hit their peak in the ’76 season. The Steelers had gotten off to rough beginning at 1-4. As if that weren’t bad enough, they lost QB Terry Bradshaw to an injury. The “Steel Curtain buckled down in an unprecedented show of defensive prowess. They recorded 5 shutouts in the remaining 9 games and in 8 of those games, didn’t allow a single touchdown. Of the 11 starters, 8 made the Pro Bowl. It’s doubtful another defense will ever be able to dominate in that fashion again.

The “Steel Curtain” originally referred to the all-time great Steelers defensive front four, which included:

Mean Joe Greene: Iconic defensive tackle and one of the more feared D-linemen in NFL history. The Hall of Famer was a 10-time Pro Bowler. One of the emotional leaders of this defense, Greene was in the most famous commercial of all-time and even flipped Sheriff Buford T. Justice’s car in Smokey and the Bandit.

Ernie Holmes: Overweight and undisciplined on and off the field, but an absolute menace in the pass rushing department. Holmes was one of the scariest members of a frightening defense.

LC Greenwood: The 6-time Pro Bowler was a beast and a constant thorn in the sides of opposing offenses. One of the fiercest defensive ends ever at 6’6” and a mean streak.


Dwight White: Clutch Pro Bowler was an intense presence and a key contributor to Pittsburgh’s glorious Super Bowl run in the 70’s. Drowned out by the other illustrious names on this list, White was a key guy on the Steelers’ Super Bowl teams.

Other luminaries from the “Steel Curtain” defense include:

Mel Blount: Fast, precise, strong, and big, Blount was a handful and one of the great cornerbacks to ever lace on the cleats. The Hall of Famer was a 5-time Pro Bowl selection and an irreplaceable part of the great Steelers teams in the 70’s.

Jack Ham: An outside linebacker who was one of the best ever at the position. A member of the Hall of Fame, Ham was an 8-time Pro Bowl selection. Ham possessed incredible quickness and he exploded on opposing offenses for all of the 70’s.

Jack Lambert: An absolute animal and enforcer on the field and perhaps the top inside linebacker of his generation. The Hall of Famer made 9 Pro Bowls and was a hard-hitting and fear-inducing force for the Steelers’ glory years. Lambert grew into one of the leaders on the team.

Photo of Jack Lambert

Donnie Shell: A strong safety as good as you could hope for, Shell picked off 51 passes. The 5-time Pro bowler was a key part of all 4 of Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl wins, where he always played well.

Andy Russell: Already a veteran by the time Pittsburgh hit their stride, Russell still was a Pro Bowler for every year from 1971 to 1976. A very dependable linebacker who came up big in the postseason.

Mike Wagner: The two-time Pro Bowler was a safety for all of Pittsburgh’s 4 Super Bowl victories and was a dependable part of the awesome Steelers secondary. In both Super Bowl IX and X, Wagner recorded an interception.

Glen Edwards: The two-time Pro Bowler was part of two Steelers Super Bowl wins as a safety. His name may be overshadowed by the other greats and Hall of Famers from this era of Steelers defense, but in Super Bowls IX and X, his contributions were huge.

JT Thomas: The Pro Bowler played for Pittsburgh from 1973-1981, and was a major contributor on all of their Super bowl champion teams.

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