“Big Money” is his nickname, seemingly since the day he stepped onto the Heinz Field grass. He was considered the best Tight End in the Nation in 2005, when the Pittsburgh Steelers used their 30th overall pick to snag the University of Virginia Cavalier to fill a void left by the free agent departure of long-time starter Mark Bruener. Bruener was a very popular Steeler, using his gritty playing style to wow the fans of Steeler Nation during his nine-year career in the black and gold. After an injury-riddled 2003 season, Bruener signed with the Houston Texans, leaving journeyman Jeremy Tuman as the starter for the 2004 season. Tuman made some big plays for the Steelers during the 2003-2004 run, but ultimately it was deemed that the Steelers needed a long-term solution at the position. Enter Miller, the 2004 John Mackey Award winner as the best collegiate tight end in the country.
Heath Miller has been the starting tight end for the Steelers during their last three Super Bowl appearances, including wins in Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII. His 5 receptions for 57 yards were key to the Steelers win over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII, and he was rewarded with a new six-year extension in July 2009, which keeps him in Pittsburgh through at least the 2014 season. Miller is making $35.3 million during this contract, and slowly working his way up the all-time charts in every offensive category at his position. He is a very popular player, with his jersey dotting the stands at Heinz Field as often as the ones of Ben Roethlisberger or Hines Ward. As the Steelers begin to turn over their veteran roster that has brought such a high level of success to the franchise, Miller remains one of the veteran leaders and dependable players on the team.
So where does “Big Money” fit in on the list of top All-time Steelers tight ends? Let’s take a look at the best five players the Steelers have had at that position and determine his place in the annuals of the Pittsburgh Steelers illustrious history.
5. Mark Bruener, 1995-2003
Mark Bruener was a very popular player in Pittsburgh, with the chants of “BRUUUUU” echoing throughout Three Rivers Stadium and Heinz Field whenever he made a big play. His toughness was never questioned, and he provided very solid blocking and receiving for the Steelers during his nine- year run. Bruener was on his way to being an all-time great for the team when injuries began to sap his ability in 2003. He finished his career with the Houston Texans, playing very well for some bad teams in the early years of that franchise. Overall, Bruener played in 125 games for the Steelers, starting 108. He caught 137 passes for 1,197 yards and 16 touchdowns, and played on two Steelers playoff teams. He was also the starting tight end as a rookie on the 1995 Super Bowl XXX team that lost to Dallas. Bruener was a first-round pick out of Washington and currently works as a scout for the Steelers.
4. Randy Grossman, 1974-1981
Randy Grossman was a key member of the Steelers Dynasty teams of the 1970s. Although he was rarely considered a starter, instead playing behind both TE Bennie Cunningham and TE Larry Brown, Grossman managed to make his mark with the Steelers throughout his eight years in Pittsburgh. He started 43 games for those Steelers teams, and played in 118 games. His best season with the team was 1978, when he started 10 games for the Super Bowl Champions and caught 37 passes for 448 yards, including one TD. An undrafted free agent out of Temple, Grossman earned his way onto those talented Steelers teams by working hard, despite being undersized at just 6-foot 1 and 218 lbs. He made his mark in Super Bowl X, catching a critical touchdown pass from QB Terry Bradshaw. While his statistics do not leap out at you when looking at them, all it takes is watching some video of those Steelers teams to see what Grossman meant to the organization. He spent his entire eight year career with the Steelers, and remains one of the most popular players from that generation to the fans who watched his play. Grossman played in an era that saw the Steelers run the ball close to 75% of the their offensive snaps, and he was usually on the field with wide receiver such as Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. It would be easy to overlook Grossman based on stats alone, but when you dig deeper – it is obvious why he is on this list.
3. Bennie Cunningham 1976-1985
The Steelers of the 1970’s had three prominent Tight Ends, two of which are on this list. The early starter at the position was Larry Brown, who was eventually moved to a position on the defensive line. He was replaced by Randy Grossman, who then gave way to rookie Bennie Cunningham. Cunningham was the Steelers 1st round pick (28th overall) in 1976 out of Clemson University. He became a life-time Steeler, sending all 10 of his NFL seasons with the team. Once again, he was a player overshadowed by so many other future Hall of Fame players on the offensive juggernaut of the 1970’s Steelers. Cunningham would start 80 games for the Steelers, including 14 games during the Super Bowl years of 1978 and 1979. Ultimately, he played in 118 games for the Steelers and caught 202 passes for 2,879 yards and 20 touchdowns, now third on the all-time Steelers list for tight ends behind Eric Green (36 TDs) and Heath Miller (31 TDs). Cunningham was a very athletic and intimidating player at 6-foot 5 and 254 lbs, and went on to catch two passes for 21 yards in Super Bow XIV. Hewas one of the players who bridged the gap between those 1970’s Dynasty teams and the reality of the early to mid 1980’s.
2. Eric Green 1990-1994
Eric Green was almost beyond human. His athletic ability and size made him the Steelers most feared weapon for a five year span between 1990-1994. While his ego would end up getting the best of him, and lead him out of town, Green had a major impact on Pittsburgh in his short Steelers career. He started 53 games, catching 198 passes for 2,681 yards and an astonishing 24 touchdowns in just five seasons. Had Green stayed in Pittsburgh instead of moving onto Miami in 995, he could have been one of the great Steelers of all time. Instead, he falls short of the top spot to our chief subject…..
1. Heath Miller 2005-Current
“Big Money” has earned his nickname as he has broken every record held by a Steelers Tight End. He has started 108 games, never playing in less than 14 games in any of his seven seasons. His dependability has been exceptional, and once again – despite being in an offense that has rarely utilized the Tight End as a primary weapon – he has capitalized on his opportunities to the tune of 337 receptions (1st All Time), 3,864 receiving yards (1st All Time), and 31 Touchdowns (1st All Time). He has a lifetime yards-per-catch of 11.5, and has a chance to enter the All Time ranks of NFL tight ends before he ends his career. Heath Miller has been everything the Steelers expected and more since being drafted 30th overall in 2005. Miller has been a massive red zone target for QB Ben Roethlisberger throughout his career, and will continue to be one as he reaches his 30’s. He is a veteran leader on this team and a player that is looked up to by the younger guys, a trait that has not eluded head coach Mike Tomlin, who often calls Miller the best tight end in football.
So there you have it Steeler Nation, when you sit down to watch your Steelers this season, pay close attention to #83. There is a good chance that you are watching the best tight end to ever suit up in the black and gold.
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