Honor the Heroes of the Game, Preserve Its History, Promote Its Values & Celebrate Excellence Everywhere
“Once I proved to myself, I was learning, I knew I would make it. I’ve always believed in myself and I’ve always worked hard enough to be successful at whatever I take on.”
(South Carolina State)...5'11'', 190...Signed as free agent and earned starting role at end of rookie season … Recorded interception in his first career start … Hard-hitting tackler and integral member of Steelers’ vaunted defense … Played in six AFC championship games and four Super Bowls … Recorded five or more picks in season six straight years, 1979-1984 … Led or shared team lead in interceptions five times (1980, 1982-84, 1986) … Career stats: 51 interceptions for 490 yards … Recovered two fumbles for TD … Selected First-Team All-Pro three times (1979, 1980, 1982) … Second-Team All-Pro three times … All-AFC twice … Voted to five consecutive Pro Bowls … Named to Super Bowl Silver Anniversary Team … Born August 26, 1952 in Whitmire, South Carolina.
Donnie Shell, a two-time team MVP and All-Mid-Eastern Conference player at South Carolina State, signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1974.
A fierce hitter, Shell intercepted at least one pass in each of his 14 seasons with the Steelers. His 51 interceptions made him the first strong safety in the history of the National Football League to surpass the 50-interception mark.
One of seven brothers in a family of 10, Shell methodically progressed through the ranks from a special teams player and a part-time defensive back as a rookie, to a starting strong safety, earning that spot in 1977 when he replaced former Pro Bowler Glen Edwards.
Following the 1978 season he was named to the first of his five consecutive Pro Bowl teams. He was also named first- or second-team All-Pro five times, 1978 through 1982.
In 1980 Shell led all Steelers defenders with a career-high seven interceptions and was named the team’s MVP. In a 1981 game against archrival Cleveland Browns, the ball-hawking Shell became the first Steeler since 1973 to have three interceptions in a single game.
Shell, in 1984, duplicated his team- and career-best seven-interception effort. Counting 1982, 1983 and 1986 when he was team co-leader in interceptions, he led or shared the lead in interceptions five out of seven years. Adding to the significance of his accomplishments, his five interceptions in 1982 came during a strike-shortened, nine-game season.
In addition to having a nose for the ball, Shell was also a devastating tackler. He led the team in tackles in both 1982 and 1984, and was the leading tackler in the Steelers secondary for six consecutive years (1981-1986).
His 51 career interceptions rank him third in Steelers history, behind Hall of Famer Mel Blount (57) and Jack Butler (52), and his 19 opponent fumble recoveries are just behind Hall of Famer Jack Ham (21) as a second-best performance by a Steeler. A durable player, Shell is tied for second most seasons played behind only Hall of Fame center Mike Webster.
Additional Career Statistics: Receiving: 2-39; Punt Returns, 1-6; Fumble Recoveries for TD: 2
1974 AFC – Pittsburgh Steelers 24, Oakland Raiders 13
Shell did not start but played. He had three tackles and one pass defensed.
1975 AFC – Pittsburgh Steelers 16, Oakland Raiders 10
Shell did not start but played.
1976 AFC – Oakland Raiders 24, Pittsburgh Steelers 7
Shell did not start but played. He had one tackle.
1978 AFC – Pittsburgh Steelers 34, Houston Oilers 5
Shell started at strong safety. He had six tackles and one interception for 5 yards.
1979 AFC – Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Houston Oilers 13
Shell started at strong safety. He had one tackle, two assists, one pass defensed, and one fumble recovery.
1984 AFC – Miami Dolphins 45, Pittsburgh Steelers 28
Shell started at strong safety. He had three tackles, one assist, one pass defensed, and intercepted one pass for 18 yards.
Super Bowl IX – Pittsburgh Steelers 16, Minnesota Vikings 6
Shell did not start but played. He recorded one tackle.
Super Bowl X – Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Dallas Cowboys 17
Shell did not start but played. He recorded one tackle.
Super Bowl XIII – Pittsburgh Steelers 35, Dallas Cowboys 31
Shell started at strong safety. He recorded five tackles, three assists, and one pass defensed.
Super Bowl XIV – Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Los Angeles Rams 19
All-Pro: 1979 (AP, NEA) · 1980 (AP, PFWA, NEA, SN) · 1982 (AP, PFWA)
All-Pro Second Team: 1978 (NEA) · 1981 (AP) · 1982 (NEA)
All-AFC: 1979 (SN) · 1980 (UPI, PW)
All-AFC Second Team: 1978 (UPI) · 1981 (UPI)
(5) – 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983
Steelers’ records held by Shell at the time of his retirement following the 1987 season
· [Tied for 1st] Most Seasons – 14
· [2nd] Most Games Played – 201
· [Tied for 2nd] Most Interceptions, Game – 3 (vs. Cleveland Browns, Nov. 22, 1981)
· [3rd] Most Interceptions, Career – 51
AFC Statistical Championships
Interception Leader: 1982*
Team Statistical Championships
Interception Leader: 1980, 1982*, 1983*, 1984, 1986*
Awards and Honors
· Super Bowl Silver Anniversary Team
Year-by-Year Team Records
1974 Pittsburgh Steelers........... 10-3-1 (1st)
1975 Pittsburgh Steelers........... 12-2-0 (1st)
1976 Pittsburgh Steelers........... 10-4-0 (1st)
1977 Pittsburgh Steelers............ 9-5-0 (1st)
1978 Pittsburgh Steelers........... 14-2-0 (1st)
1979 Pittsburgh Steelers........... 12-4-0 (1st)
1980 Pittsburgh Steelers............... 9-7-0 (3rd)
1981 Pittsburgh Steelers............... 8-8-0 (2nd)
1982 Pittsburgh Steelers............ 6-3-0 (4th*)
1983 Pittsburgh Steelers........... 10-6-0 (1st)
1984 Pittsburgh Steelers............ 9-7-0 (1st)
1985 Pittsburgh Steelers............... 7-9-0 (3rd)
1986 Pittsburgh Steelers............. 6-10-0 (3rd)
1987 Pittsburgh Steelers............... 8-7-0 (3rd)
* AFC regular season finish in strike-shortened season.
(Division Finish in Parentheses)
Full Name: Donnie Shell
Birthdate: August 26, 1952
Birthplace: Whitmire, South Carolina
High School: Whitmire (SC)
Pro Career: 14 seasons, 201 games
Drafted: Signed as a free agent by Pittsburgh in 1974.
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, presenting Donnie Shell for enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, April Shell. (Applause.)
DONNIE SHELL: Thank you. First I would like to thank my Lord and savior Jesus Christ for this award. I would like to acknowledge my parents, Aurelia and Leon Shell, my wife's parents, Norris and Francia Richardson. Played a critical part in our lives and children's lives, and now our grandchildren.
I appreciate my wife Paulette of 45 years putting up with me, and my children April, Dawn, Donnie, and Octavius, who are here tonight. The love of my life, my grandchildren, Xena, Xoe and Elle. Very special. All of my family, the Shell family, like to acknowledge them. Kitzcy and Hollis Johnson and Coach Lefty Johnson, my high school coach. Coach and my parents, I know you're very proud. And Coach, we made it. (Applause.)
All my friends in Whitmire, South Carolina and South Carolina State University acting president Alex Conyers who's celebrating 125 years of existence. I would encourage all parents to send their kids to South Carolina State University, because someday they may be a general in the army, a Supreme Court Justice, a United States congress representative, or maybe, just maybe, in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (Applause.)
I like to thank David Baker and the 'Blue Ribbon Committee and his staff, all my former teammates, president of the Steeler organization, Arthur Rooney, II. Appreciate you.
And last but not least, Steeler Nation. (Applause.)
All right, thank you very much. I appreciate it.
It's been a long journey but a good one. I arrived in Pittsburgh in 1974 as an undrafted free agent and now I'm in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Only God can do that. When I first arrived in training camp, a reporter mentioned to me, I want to interview you after you have lunch. I said, sure.
He begins the interview with this statement: Don't you know you're a long shot to make the Steelers team because you're undrafted and a free agent and you're not going to get many reps or many chances in practice to show what you can do on the field?
Obviously he's not familiar with Coach Willie Jeffries from South Carolina State University and the South Carolina State Bulldog tenacity.
However, factually he was correct. When the facts get in the way of your goal you must go against the grain of what is true to achieve your goal.
So I looked him square in the eye and I said, Mister, I'm from South Carolina State University. Coach Willie Jeffries say I can do whatever I want to do when I get to training camp and I'll have a good chance to make this team.
The thing I like about Coach Chuck Noll is he did not care about where you came from or what college you went to, but are you self-motivated.
Praise God for coaches who are not only coaches in HBCUs, but mentors and fathers to their players. Praise God for (indiscernible.) (Applause) who advocated for HBCU players across the NFL, and had the foreseeability to switch me from linebacker to strong safety.
Please do not let obstacles, trials, or unforeseen circumstances deter you from accomplishing your dreams and goals you set for yourselves. At the end of training camp I was one of 13 rookies to make that team.
I just like to leave you a few encouraging words of Scripture. 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 says, we have this treasure in earthen vessels in jars of clay, that the excellency of the power be of God and not of ourselves. Sometimes we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed. We're perplexed, but not in despair. We're persecuted, but not forsaken. We are struck down, but not destroyed.
I thank God we always have a "but not" with God.
Romans 5:3-5, And not only that, but we glory in tribulations knowing that tribulations produce perseverance, and perseverance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope because the love of God been shared in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
We must be steadfast, unmovable, always divine in the work of the Lord knowing the labor in the Lord is not in vain.
In closing, we in the United States must become servant leaders, and a great example of that is still today and all my 14 years, the Steelers Organization of being a servant leader. (Applause.)
A servant leader is one who is motivated by love and humility, but demonstrated by example. That's what we need to do. May God bless you and may God continue to bless the United States of America. Thank you.