There’s some very unfortunate news to pass along concerning the Pittsburgh Steelers on this Wednesday as the team has announced that former running back Sidney Thornton has passed away at the age of 68.
In college at Northwestern State University in Louisiana, Thornton tied school marks for most points in a game with 24 and also set a season record for most rushing touchdowns with 12 in 1976. He was honored by his teammates as MVP following both his junior and senior seasons. In 1976 Thornton was chosen as the MVP in the Blue-Gray game. He was an independent All- American, All-Louisiana choice, and a four-year starter at NSU. He was named to the N-Club Hall of Fame at Northwestern State University in 1986.
After his college career, Thornton was selected by the Steelers in the second round (48th overall) of the 1977 NFL Draft. He played six seasons in the NFL and all with the Steelers. He won two Super Bowl titles with the team during that span. For his NFL career in regular season play, Thornton rushed for 1,512 yards and 18 touchdowns on 356 total carries. He also caught 46 passes for another 515 yards and six touchdowns. In NFL playoff game action, Thornton rushed 22 times for 81 yards and a touchdown in addition to catching four passes for 56 yards.
Thornton’s career-long run in the NFL was 75 yards and it came against the Baltimore Colts during the 1979 season. That run was the longest play from scrimmage that the Steelers’ offense had that season. On that long run against the Colts, the play, Ride 38, included a great block out in space and on the edge by Steelers center Mike Webster. After exploding through the open lane created by Webster, Thornton turned on the jets and it looked like he would score an 86-yard touchdown. However, Colts’ rookie cornerback Larry Braziel had other ideas as he finally caught up with Thornton from behind and got the running back down on the ground at the Colts’ 11-yard line.
“I just ran out of gas,” said Thornton after the game about that long run, according to the Pittsburgh Press. “I tried to run like a scatback, but I should’ve been a thinker and changed direction near the end. I didn’t look back, though, I just looked ahead at the goal-line marker.”
After his NFL career ended, Thornton returned to pro football in 1984, playing one season with the Oklahoma Outlaws. He rushed for 288 yards and four touchdowns on 101 carries that season in addition to catching 25 passes for 175 yards and a score.