Pittsburgh Steelers: How They Went from Pirates to Steelers

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Pittsburgh Steelers: How They Went from Pirates to Steelers
Harry How/Getty Images
Steelers head coach Bill Cowher after Super Bowl XL

The Pittsburgh Steelers have established themselves as one of the NFL’s most dominant clubs season after season. They are commonly referred to as “The Team of the 1970s” largely in part of their four Super Bowl victories during this period and famous “Steel Curtain” defense.

Pittsburgh has once again become one of the elite teams each of the experts discuss when predicting the following year’s playoff teams. Since 2005, the club has played in three Super Bowls (winning twice), played in the AFC Championship game three times and won their division three of the past four seasons.

The Steelers are the undisputed leader in Super Bowl titles with six and are currently fourth in total NFL Championships behind the Packers (13), Bears (nine) and Giants (eight).

The Steelers were founded in 1933 by Art Rooney. As a teenager and collegian, Rooney played football, baseball and was named to the Olympics as a boxer. He would establish a semi-pro football team called the Hope-Harvey Majestics which competed in the Western Pennsylvania Senior Independent Football Conference. His team would win two titles in the early 1930s.

The Majestics played their games at Exposition Park in Pittsburgh, a baseball park located on the north side of the Allegheny River across from the downtown area. The roster was comprised mainly of former local college players and factory workers.

The entire state of Pennsylvania was a hotbed for football, especially the college game. With the pro version, however, there was a major roadblock. The state had “blue laws” designed to enforce religious practices on Sundays. The Sabbath was set aside as a day of rest and had restrictions on just about everything from shopping to restaurants to athletic events. Conversely, the game of pro football played its games on Sundays.   

In the spring of 1933, some of the blue laws were about to be repealed. Rooney, who was well-known at horse races and as a boxing promoter, submitted an application to the NFL for a franchise. In May, he was granted a team for the $2,500 franchise fee and thus the Pittsburgh Professional Football Club, Inc. was born. Because the blue laws would not be voted on until November, the first four home games were played on Wednesday nights.

For the next 40 years, Pittsburgh was a perennial loser and usually made the cellar its habitat. The club had a winning record only eight times and never came close to a championship. Their player signings and draft selections were horrid—and so were their coaching choices. They were dreadful in every way possible.

Once, in 1938, head coach Johnny Blood missed the team train home after a road game. On his return trip he stopped off in Chicago to see his former team, the Packers, play against the Bears. At the game, a sportswriter asked Blood why he wasn’t with his team, to which Blood replied that they weren’t playing on that weekend. Blood had no sooner uttered those words when league scores were announced over the stadium loudspeaker, one being: Philadelphia 14, Pittsburgh 7.

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