Each week in the 2021 Off-Season, Steel City Underground will look back on some great careers to see which Steelers wore the best jersey numbers. Stay tuned to see which fan favorites or forgotten sizes are featured in this weekly series!
This week, Ben Beberman and Christina Rivers checked out the Pittsburgh Steelers shirt number list, and two players in black and gold jumped off the personalities’ side.
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A player on his second team would help get his only ring. He is Najeh Davenport.
From 2006 to 2008, Davenport played a backup role for the Steeler’s running game. In his three years with Pittsburgh, Davenport played 32 games. He hurried 169 times for 725 meters. While his tenure was short, his 2007 season was his best, despite his limited role.
Davenport had most of his success with the Green Bay Packers before joining the Steelers. Najeh was born in Raleigh, North Carolina and played for the Miami University of Florida. It was designed by the Packers in the 4th round of the 2002 draft.
While he didn’t play a huge role in his time here, he had a decent career in the NFL. He played a total of 73 games and finished with 1,819 yards and 13 points. Not groundbreaking numbers, but he certainly had more success than many running backs who were part of the NFL.
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One player not really “known” for wearing # 44 was full-back Frank Pollard, who still ranks sixth all-time in Steelers history for racing yards (3,989). Pollard was in the 1980 NFL Draft for Pittsburgh an election in the 11th round (Baylor Bears) that the young rusher did not expect. Pollard had received interest from the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys only prior to the draft, and Dallas chose James Jones despite promising to choose Pollard. “I had no idea the Steelers were in the picture,” Pollard told Pittsburgh Sports Daily in 2015. “But I’m glad it was you!”
It wasn’t easy for Pollard. After Rocky Bleier’s resignation, Pollard fought with Franco Harris, Greg Hawthorne and Sidney Thornton for a place on the squad. After Pollard formed the squad in 1980, he made the cut again in 1981 and started ten games with Harris in the Steelers’ offensive backfield, where he carried the ball 123 times for 570 yards while helping to block for Harris.
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Due to a contractual dispute between the Steelers and Harris that resulted in Harris leaving the team, Pollard took the starting fullback job, with his Baylor alum Walter Abercrombie being selected in the 1982 NFL Draft. Chuck Noll had an offense with the full-back that gave Pollard a great chance to step out of the shadows of well-known Steelers-Rushers. Pollard then changed his jersey number to “30” and is often recognized for this number from his original “44”.
His most famous game was against the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium during the Steelers playoffs. Pollard carried the ball for 99 yards and two touchdowns; He scored the game-winning touchdown as the game came to an end in the final minutes, giving Pittsburgh a 24-17 win. He would continue that memorable game with a stellar season next year, carrying the ball for 991 yards.
Pollard became for many a symbol of how the Steelers found a gem in the draft that wasn’t necessarily on the radar – and that was still viewed as a Pittsburgh bargain in 1980.
Christina’s editorial note: While Davenport certainly has name and player identification, his legal issues related to domestic violence, child endangerment, and unlawful indictments of restraint made me hesitate to refer to him as the “best” Steelers player wearing # 44. Davenport was acquitted of the charges; His wife refused to testify against him after his wife was suffocated while holding her son in 2007 after trying to drive away while unbuckling the toddler from a car seat. Davenport, nicknamed the “Dump Truck” and “Dookie”, was arrested in college for breaking into and pooping a woman’s dormitory.
Davenport’s most recent lawsuit filed against the NFL with retired colleague Kevin Henry related to memory loss, neurocognitive decline, depression, and more as a result of head injuries during their career – and subsequent claims for racial inequality against players of skin color for compensation from CTE and CTE-related disorders – brings his name to the public too.
Neither of the two topics affects his stats as a player, but in my opinion puts an asterisk after his name as “the best”.
By Ben Beberman
One who likes to read the lines written and what is between them. A daily dose of pizza and soccer ball is all I need to be happy. Only referees who don’t know their own rules don’t like them. Bleeds black and gold until you can’t anymore.
By Christina “Tina” Rivers
A writer of words. Rust ninjitsu. Critical thinker who eats artificial turf pellets and highlights rolls to eat, then turns old childhood love letters to Terry Bradshaw into a desert. #OldSchool #SteelCurtain