For 15 Days we will be counting down the Top 15 Greatest Steelers of the Bill Cowher Era. The list will have both offensive and defensive players, and in doing the list no kickers or punters were selected. Below is our number choice of the day building towards the number one Steeler of the Cowher Era.
WR Yancey Thigpen 1992-1997:
Hailing from Tarboro, North Carolina, Yancey Thigpen was the best Steelers wide receiver of the Bill Cowher era before Hines Ward came along. He was a 4th round draft pick in the 1991 draft by the San Diego Chargers, and joined the Steelers in 1992, playing five seasons in Pittsburgh before cashing in on free agency and signing with the Tennessee Titans, where he played the final three seasons of his career.
Thigpen didn’t get much playing time the first three years of his career, but did have a knack for finding the end zone, as in 1993 he caught 9 passes, but three of which went for touchdowns. It was 1994 when the team finally gave Thigpen a shot, and he took advantage of it, getting better as the season went along. It was that season when quarterback Neil O’Donnell really got on the same page with Yancey, finding him 36 times that year for 546 yards and four touchdowns. His most memorable catch that season came in a critical week 16 game vs Cleveland, where on the teams first drive he made a leaping catch in double coverage that put him in the end zone for the teams first score of the game that sparked them to a 17-7 win. That win gave the Steelers the AFC’s best record as well as home field in the playoffs. Three weeks later Thigpen caught one pass, a TD, vs the Browns in the teams 29-9 trouncing of Cleveland in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Three Rivers. In the teams 17-13 AFC Title loss the next week at home vs the Chargers, Thigpen caught 3 passes for 35 yards.
1995 was the true breakout season for Thigpen, as he was 9th in the league in receiving yards with 1307, and he scored five times in catching 85 passes. The Steelers shifted to being a passing team that season, and Thigpen was the top target in the offense. In the teams three playoff games that season, which included the 27-17 loss to Dallas in Super Bowl XXX, Thigpen caught 12 passes for 162 yards and a score, which came in the Super Bowl in front of Deion Sanders. Clearly he was becoming one of the top targets in the league that season.
The following season was a disaster for Yancey, as a hamstring injury ruined his season. Playing in just six games, he was never able to get on track, and caught just 12 passes for 244 yards and two scores. But Thigpen didn’t allow that 96 season to derail him, as the following year he once again was one of the best wide outs in football, developing a dangerous two-some with Plaxico Burress. The 1-2 punch was awesome for the Steelers and QB Kordell Stewart, as the team went 11-5, and Thigpen hauled in 79 catches for 1398 yards and 7 scores. He averaged 17.7 yards per catch that season. In the two postseason games that year, he caught 9 passes for 146 yards and no scores as the Steelers failed to make the Super Bowl, falling to Denver in the AFC Title game.
On Valentine’s Day 1998, Thigpen left the Steelers, signing a whopper of a deal to play in Tennessee and become the lead wide out for Steve McNair and the Titans. While the idea seemed good, the numbers he had in Pittsburgh never followed him, as in three seasons combined with the Titans he caught 91 passes (30.3 per season average) for a total of 1430 yards and 9 touchdowns. Injuries hampered his three years in Tennessee, as he played in 28 games in three years with the Titans. He retired following the 2000 season.
Thigpen was not a wide out who would take the game over, like a Randy Moss, but his ability to make clutch plays and his ability to outrace defenders makes him one of the better Steelers wide outs in the past 15 seasons.
Tomorrow: Number 12
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