Steelers Represented Well in The Athletic’s NFL Top 100. Troy Aikman? He Got Screwed

With the Steelers bye week upon us let’s delve into something that there simply wasn’t time for during the off season, namely The Athletic’s NFL Top 100.

The Athletic kicked off their series on July 8th with Derrick Brooks at 100 and closed it on September 8th with, you guessed it, Tom Brady at number 1.

  • Overall, the series was an interesting and ambitious effort.

And like most Steelers fans my focus was to see how well (or poorly) the Black and Gold fared. Fortunately, the Steelers did well, landing 8 players on the list:

98. Dermontti Dawson
71. Mel Blount
69. Terry Bradshaw
57. Mike Webster
52. Jack Ham
37. Jack Lambert
26. Rod Woodson
14. Joe Greene

(Technically you could argue the Steelers have 9, as Bobby Layne made the list at 89 and Layne played 5 seasons in Pittsburgh.)

Sure, one can quibble (as many did) over Troy Polamalu not making it while Ed Reed did. One could also protest Franco Harris’ absence. (Few did, even though Franco still owns several Super Bowl records and of course authored the Immaculate Reception, greatest play in the history of the sport.)

  • On the flip side, naysayers could (and did) object to Bradshaw’s inclusion.

But no matter how you cut it, the Athletic’s writers clearly give the Steelers the respect they’ve earned.

The same cannot be said, however, for Troy Aikman.

Levon Kirkland, Troy Aikman, Kevin Greene, Steelers vs Cowboys, Super Bowl XXX, Super Bowl 30,

Levon Kirkland after sacking Troy Aikman in Super Bowl XXX. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

A Steelers Fan Takes up for Troy Aikman? Yes.

Troy Aikman remains only one of four quarterbacks to win 3 Super Bowls having pulled off that feat in 4 years failed to make The Athletic’s NFL Top 100 list.

This is insane.

It might seem odd for a Steelers fan to take up for Troy Aikman, let alone one who insisted that the ’89 Steelers would should regret not having a shot a drafting Aikman because “we’ve got Bubby Brister.”

  • Six year later, Aikman would show that same 23 year old just how naïve his 16 year old self had been.

Against the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX, Troy Aikman played better than any other Dallas Cowboy on the field. As the legendary Will McDonough argued, he should have been the game MVP. True, Aikman’s Super Bowl XXX stats might not knock you on your ass.

Emmit Smith, Levon Kirkland, Greg Lloyd, Carnell Lake, Steelers vs Cowboys, Super Bowl XXX, Super Bowl 30

Levon Kirkland and Greg Lloyd tackle Emmitt Smith in Super Bowl XXX. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

But he played a mistake free game, and he did it against the Blitzburgh defense. Sure, that Steelers secondary was stuck together with spit, duct tape and bubble gum, but that same defense made Emmitt Smith look like a mere mortal (OK, like a mere mortal except for when he was in the Red Zone – but there’s a reason why they called it the “Emmitt Zone” back then.)

  • Troy Aikman didn’t do it just once against the Steelers, but he did it two other times in the Super Bowl.

“Ah, but performance in Super Bowls only goes so far….” Frankly, I’m not sure of that. A quarterback’s success or failure to get it done on the game’s biggest stage is one of the most critical metrics of his mettle. Terry Bradshaw would have zero justification for a place on this list had he not played so well in his Super Bowls.

  • But a “Stats not Super Bowls” argument falls flat when applied to Aikman.

Dan Marino’s (No. 18) career passer rating was 86.4. Brett Favre’s (No. 22) was 86. By comparison, Troy Aikman’s was 81.6. So maybe The Athletic used a passer rating of 85 as some sort of cut off? Nope. John Elway (No. 15) was 79.9. Roger Staubach (No. 78) had a career passer rating of 83.4.

It says here that all of the other quarterbacks discussed here as well as others not mentioned deserve a spot on The Athletic’s NFL Top 100. But if they do then Troy Aikman certainly does as well.

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2 thoughts on “Steelers Represented Well in The Athletic’s NFL Top 100. Troy Aikman? He Got Screwed

  1. Lifelong Cowboys fan here. I have no problem with Aikman being left out of the top 100 players in NFL history. His career was pretty short. His numbers were far from outstanding. He played 165 games and threw 165 touchdown passes – not exactly lighting it up. Yes, Dallas scored a lot more rushing touchdowns during that time, but you would expect Aikman to have generated a much better TD/INT ratio than 165/141 given that defenses were focusing on Emmitt Smith. Aikman was the Cowboy QB in three Super Bowl victories – but all three Dallas teams featured the NFL’s leading rusher that season and an absolutely stellar defense. Troy won the Super Bowl MVP against Buffalo – but that Dallas defense forced NINE turnovers in that game. NINE TURNOVERS!!! Bubbly Brister could have quarterbacked the Cowboys to victory on that day. Outside of the four year stretch where Aikman benefited from Emmitt in his prime and a ravenous defense, what else did he accomplish. The answer is very little.

    • Thomas, thanks for sharing.

      You say Aikman benefitted from strong running backs and stellar defenses. Very true.

      Who didn’t? (Ok, maybe not Brady.)

      Seriously. Roger Staubach had Tony Dorsett and the Doomsday defense. John Elway didn’t win his Super Bowls until he had Terrell Davis. While neither Roger Craig nor Tom Rathman together were in the same class as a Dorsett, and Emmitt or a Davis they were a good rushing duoe and Montana did have Jerry Rice — and those 49er defenses of the 80’s were pretty damn good.

      Peyton Manning had a strong Colts defense plus Edgerrin James in his Super Bowl in Indy. In his Super Bowl with Denver he was a glorified game manager so much to the point that on 3rd and 9 late in the 4th quarter, his coach ran the ball rather than trust his arm. (Von Miller had a strip sack 1 or 2 plays later.)

      To that end, if I had to start a playoff game and my life depended on it, and I could have either man in their prime, I’d start Aikman over Manning.

      Thanks again for contributing. Clearly we’ll need to agree to disagree on this one.

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