Ranking Pittsburgh’s top 5 athletes of all-time


Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Joe Greene eyes the contest as he watches momentarily from the sidelines.
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Who from the Steelers reigns supreme in the city of champions?

In the city of champions, there have been more than a handful of incredible athletes that Pittsburgh fans will forever be blessed to support. This list focuses on both talent and impact to the city of Pittsburgh in their respective sport, with the Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins being the three teams in consideration to have athletes chosen from.

Honorable mention: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger exits the field high-fiving fans amid his final ever game at Heinz Field.
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Big Ben — what an incredibly big career he had.

The two-time Super Bowl champion (XL, XLIII) fancied the best quarterback career in Steeler history.

Roethlisberger posted a 165-81-1 record in his time as the starter with the black and gold. Along with the record, his 64,088 yards essentially double the legendary Terry Bradshaws’. Furthermore, Ben served as the Steelers’ starting quarterback for an astonishing 18 seasons. This shows his dedication, desire, and durability to be one of Pittsburgh’s greats.

No. 7 will no doubt be barreling his way to Canton sooner than later and will forever remain in high praise in Pittsburgh lore.

5. Steelers RB Franco Harris

Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris fends off Philadelphia Eagle defenders during a contest in 1974 from Three Rivers Stadium.
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The late Franco Harris will forever be a legend in Pittsburgh both in sports and community. The Class of 1990 Hall of Fame inductee collected eight seasons of 1,000-plus rushing yards, and finished his career with over 12,000 rush yards.

Amongst his many career accolades, Harris is a four-time Super Bowl Champion with a Most Valuable Player (IX). Harris was also the player to pull off the most incredible play in NFL history — this, of course, being the Immaculate Reception.

The Pittsburgh icon loved helping his community and specifically children in the area. Harris served as chair for The Pittsburgh Promise, an organization providing scholarships to Pittsburgh Public Schools graduates.

There will never be someone like Franco Harris again. For that, Pittsburgh will forever cherish his talent and dedication to his sport and city.

4. Penguins C Sidney Crosby

Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby greets fans after being named a star following a crucial contest against the Detroit Red Wings.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The kid may have saved hockey in a time of despair not only for Pittsburgh, but the entire league as well.

With Mario Lemieux’s time coming to an end, the Penguins needed a hero. Who better than the legend of Sidney Crosby to fill such big shoes?

Crosby will be the only current Pittsburgh athlete you see on this list and his illustrious career continues to wow fans year in and out. To this point, the kid has three Stanley Cups (2009, 2016, 2017), two Conn Smythe awards (2016, 2017), two Hart Memorial Trophies (2007, 2014) and an Olympic Gold Medal with Canada.

For Crosby though, it has never been about the individual accolades. He has always competed for the betterment of his team and those around him.

Like almost all other men on this list, he’s committed himself to more than just the game. The Sidney Crosby Foundation was created in 2009 as an organization that helps sick and struggling children. With many children and their families unable to pay for care, Crosby’s foundation aims to help financially stabilize those in need.

Whenever Crosby does retire, it will be a sad day not just for Pittsburgh sports fans, but also general sports fans around the world.

3. Steelers LB Joe Greene

Steelers defensive tackle Joe Greene focusing during a contest in the 1973 season.
Tony Tomsic-USA TODAY Sports

The second and final Pittsburgh Steeler on this list is no other than “Mean” Joe Greene.

Mean Joe led the Steel Curtain in their prime and was named as the NFL’s defensive player of the year twice, achieving Pro Bowl status in 10 of his 13 NFL seasons, with four All-Pro selections to go along with his two Defensive Player of the Year awards.

Greene’s impact on the field was most definitely felt by players, but all around as well. Over the course of his career, he only missed nine games, one of which interrupted an incredible 91-game sack streak.

Like Harris, Greene won four Super Bowls with the Steelers, and his presence proved that defense does win championships. With the Steelers struggling to find an identity in their early days, Greene came along and made things mighty easy.

No one will ever have the impact on a franchise that Greene has had on the Steelers.

2. Pirates OF Roberto Clemente

Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente trudges out to first base during a contest from Forbes Field in 1969.
Malcolm Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The only Pirate to be on a list of Pittsburgh athletes is arguably the greatest outfielder of all time — Roberto Clemente. Gone too soon, Clemente had yet to retire from his baseball career before his untimely death at the age of 38. The two-time World Series champion died tragically, heroically, and emotionally as a plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 1972, as he and four others were on a mission to deliver supplies to a struggling Nicaragua as they faced an incredibly powerful earthquake.

The legend accumulated exactly 3,000 hits, 1.416 runs scored, 240 home runs, and had a batting average of .317. Clemente also was a twelve-time Golden Glove winner… twelve years in a row.

His incredible career was immortalized forever when the MLB elected him to the Hall of Fame in 1973.

“Clemente is the icon of Pittsburgh,” said actor David Conrad. “You can talk about all the Steelers you want but down deep Roberto is the grace note of Pittsburgh. He is the most beautiful athlete who has ever played here.”

Clemente’s talent on the field inspired generation after generation to fight for what they want. His legacy off the field will forever be with Pittsburgh, unlike any other.

Things like the Clemente bridge and the Roberto Clemente Museum are just a few things that cement him as a Pittsburgh staple forever.

1. Penguins C Mario Lemieux

Former Pittsburgh Penguins forward Mario Lemieux enters the ice for the jersey retirement ceremony of teammate Jaromir Jagr.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Without Mario Lemieux, hockey in Pittsburgh would be a thing of the past.

Lemieux’s career spanned over 21 seasons with him only playing 17. This is due to the cancer Lemieux discovered in 1993. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and began treatment immediately.

His incredible return to the sport he loved, showed just how special Mario was.

“Soixante Six,” as fans lovingly called him, produced what may just be the greatest NHL resume of all time. In his 915 games played he recorded 690 goals and 1,033 assists for 1,723 career points.

Le Magnifique won six Art Ross Trophies, four Ted Lindsay awards, three Hart Memorial Trophies, and two Conn Smythe’s.

His playing career was highlighted with two Stanley Cup Trophies that came back-to-back in 1991-92.

Lemieux took over as owner of the Penguins in 1999 and returned to play for the team he now owned shortly after.

Super Mario did things the sport has never seen. He is the epitome of what it means to give your all to something. It is not only hockey he gave his all to, but Pittsburgh as well.

In addition to his work on the field, Lemieux founded the Mario Lemieux Foundation in hopes of helping others fight battles with an ally. To this point in the Foundation’s life, Lemieux and his incredible staff have earned $40 million for patient research and care while helping 1.5 million patients and visitors.

Pittsburgh brought Lemieux in as the golden child and whether it be on or off the ice, he has done more than pay it forward. No. 66 will hang high in the rafters forever in the stadium and in the hearts of Pittsburgh sports fans for eternity.