The Good Guys—My Favorite Steelers Running Backs
by Roxanna Firehall
This is the first article in a series featuring my favorite Steelers by position. Each week, I’ll choose one, maybe two position groups. I’ll present my most revered Steelers and why they made my good guy team.
My hope is that you’ll join in the fun with your own choice and/or your critique of mine. The Good Guys is not be an all-star team, but a roster of the players who I have admired and/or enjoyed watching the most. I’ll share some of their accomplishments and their admirable traits. My hope is that we’ll celebrate our cherished players and share memories of Steelers, past and present. There are no rules, as there are many reasons to like (or not like) a player. Just have fun and tell us about your favorite Steelers.
I’m going to build my Good Guys team like a roster. We’ll have coaches and coordinators, maybe even a practice squad at the end. Don’t forget to put in your two cents worth!
Enough prattle. Here we go…
(4) Jerome Bettis
The Bus is a Hall of Famer, elected just this year. Being a great player helps you to make the Good Guy team, but you can’t make it on a great career, not even one which culminates in Canton.
The Bus won my fourth spot for two primary reasons. First was his running style. He ran with power and speed not often seen in a back his size. With his brute strength he could break two, three or four tackles in one carry, yet had that elusive quality that great runners have—he could slip a tackle as well as break one. He was so much fun to watch.
Tackling the Bus was a daunting task for any defender. Much of the fun was watching guys get run over. Remember Uhrlacher?
My second reason for choosing the Bus was for the sheer joy with which he played. I can still see Jerome rumbling down the field, breaking tackles, slipping by a grasping linebacker often forcing three or more defensive players to wrestle him to the ground. He would pop up, shaking his head gleefully side to side. He’d let out a whoop of delight, celebrating the run and probably the contact, too. He was a glorious joyful beast; awesome and nearly unstoppable.
That power. That joy. That smile. How can you not like that?
(3) Baron Batch
I had to include this young man. Compared to many Steelers, he barely had time for a lunch in the NFL. Yet, Baron Batch left an impression on many of us.
Baron was drafted in the 7th round in the 2011 draft. Despite being a late choice, coaches and fans were excited about him. He not only had good speed, he blocked well and could catch passes. As a rookie, he had made the team. Sadly, in the last practice before the 2011 season started, Baron tore his ACL. He would miss the entire season.
Working hard to rehab the knee, Baron made the roster in 2012. He played in twelve games but never fully regained the quickness he displayed before the injury. Consequently, he was cut prior to 2013 season.
Baron Batch was always more than a just football player. He grew up poor, very poor. His father was not around much and his mother strived to provide for her five kids. The family lived on a dirt road, in a trailer house. For warmth, the Batch children slept on the floor in front of a space heater.
Baron’s mother Joyce contracted multiple sclerosis. Gradually she lost the ability to use her hands, and later became unable to walk. As her condition worsened, the Batch children had to learn to cook, clean, iron and take care of their mother. The disease progressed and Baron’s mom went to a nursing home. Joyce died when Baron was sixteen.
Each of the Batch kids went to live with a different family. Despite (and maybe because of) the heartbreak of losing the only stability he had known, Baron continued to excel at football. He fought through a serious injury after his freshman year at Texas Tech, playing four seasons and graduating with a degree in communication studies.
The brief summary above just scratches the surface of what Baron Batch endured. Rebecca wrote an excellent article which details Baron’s struggles and triumphs.
After being cut by the Steelers Baron stayed in Pittsburgh and worked at becoming an artist. He views his injury and the end of his Steeler career, not with bitterness, but with gratitude. As described in Dani Bostic’s profile, the injury gave Baron the opportunity to pursue his dream to be an artist, the dream he always had since childhood. Baron’s wisdom transformed his injury into a magical opportunity.
Why is Baron on my Good Guys team? Courage. Dedication. Faith. Discernment. There are four good reasons. I have a strong notion that if I had the chance to know Baron Batch, I would find a hundred more.
(2) Franco Harris
Even if you were born after he retired, you know the name Franco Harris. Had he done nothing else, he would have achieved fame for his “Immaculate Reception,” the most famous play in the history of the NFL. The controversial touchdown is debated even now, more than 40 years later. Its place in Steeler history is cannot be exaggerated—it was the dawn of the period of Steeler excellence which continues to this day, replacing many years of being a bad football team. Just bad. How bad? The Immaculate Reception was the first playoff touchdown in Steeler history. In 1972. The Steelers were founded in 1933.
Franco was and is so much more. He played 13 years, 12 of them with the Steelers. He made nine Pro Bowls. When he retired he was only 192 yards short of Jim Brown’s rushing total, which at the time was the NFL rushing record. He played in each of the four Super Bowls won by the Steelers in the 1970s.
Despite his placid demeanor, Harris was a fierce competitor. Franco could always be counted on in big games. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame website, he played in 19 playoff games, scoring 17 TDs and gaining 1556 yards. The Steelers were 14-5 in those games. No. 32 was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.
Yet Franco was always more than a great running back. He was a class act both on and off the field. He made his home in Pittsburgh after his retirement. Franco’s involvement in charitable work in Pittsburgh and beyond is legendary. He seems to attend every big Steelers event. His tireless dedication to the Steelers and the Pittsburgh community is emblematic of “the Steeler way.”
(1) Rocky Bleier
In many ways, the Rock is the ultimate Steeler. Drafted in 1968 by the Steelers in the 16th round, Rocky was the 417th player taken. As a rookie, he managed to make the team as a special teams player. After the season, Rocky was drafted into the Army and was sent to Vietnam.
While in serving in the war, Rocky was shot in the leg and wounded by an enemy grenade. As a result, he lost part of his foot. Despite being told by the doctors that he would never play again, Bleier was determined to try. Rocky reported the the Steelers, even though he could not walk without pain. For the next two years, he worked out doggedly trying to recover his mobility and build his strength. In true Steeler fashion, Art Rooney paid Rocky a salary while he was attempting his comeback.
After being cut twice, Bleier made the team in 1971. He worked his way up from being a special teams player to a starter, due primarily to his blocking prowess. Rocky played in all four Super Bowls in the seventies. In his best year as a runner, both he and Franco rushed for over 1,000 yards in 1976.
After retiring in 1980 Rocky made his home in the Pittsburgh area. He has been a tireless champion and advocate for veterans and veterans’ groups. He is active in many other charitable causes both in Pittsburgh and beyond.
As much as any player in Steeler history, Rocky fought seemingly impossible odds to not only make the team, but to start on four Super Bowl winning teams. Despite being smallish for a blocking back and not particularly fast, he was vital to the Steelers’ success in the seventies.
I had the opportunity to meet Rocky at an autograph show in Harrisburg several years ago. The line was long and moved at a snail’s pace. When we got to Rocky, we discovered why the line moved so slowly. Rocky chatted with my wife and I for a good five minutes. He always brings his four Super Bowl rings to his appearances. He encourages fans to look at them and try them on. He cheerfully posed for pictures with us. As we said goodbye, Rocky warmly wished us a Happy Thanksgiving. He takes that kind of time with each fan.
Rocky Bleier is not the best running back to ever play for the Steelers. He is, however, brave, dedicated, determined and most of all, genuinely nice. He is a special human being and an easy choice as my favorite Steeler running back.
I (Rebecca) also wrote an article two years ago about the Steelers who served in the military. It includes a link to a maryrose interview with Bleier that is not to be missed. Check it out here.
These are my four favorite running backs. Who are yours?