Pittsburgh Steelers: The 8 Biggest Misconceptions in Steelers History
The Pittsburgh Steelers, just like any other franchise, have some serious misconceptions connected with their history, players and the way they do business on and off the field. While these provide interesting legends or side stories, they often can take the luster away from the excellence the franchise has experienced over it's long existence.
Uncovering the truth is not always easy, but with some research, I've come up with a list of the eight biggest or worst misconceptions about the team throughout it's long history and I've tried to debunk the myths and provide some background.
Here's a look at those eight big misconceptions and the facts that prove them wrong.
Art Rooney Did NOT Win the Team at a Horse Race
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For years, there was a popular story out there that Art Rooney, a notorious horse player and gambler won the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise as part of a horse race bet. While vague on the details, the story went that he'd somehow come away with the semi-pro franchise in a bet and then entered them into the fledgling National Football League.
Part of this story is true. Rooney was a notorious horse player and gambler. But he didn't win a team at the races.
Rooney had long wanted to buy the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the team was not for sale and MLB commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis didn't want any gamblers in his league. Rooney was a great organizer and, along with his brothers, had founded a semi-pro football team in Pittsburgh. The "Hope Harveys" or "Majestic Radios" were run by Rooney and his brothers.
With the NFL eager to tie it's business with professional football's Pittsburgh birth roots, Rooney was able to enter the Steelers (then the Pittsburgh Pirates) into the NFL in 1933. There are various versions of how he came up with the money, none of which have anything to do with horses.
In 1936, Rooney used a big payday at the racetrack to help fund operations and hire coach Joe Bach. That might be the source of the long-held myth about the team's origins.
The Steelers HAD Found Success Before 1972
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Today, the Pittsburgh Pirates are painted as the ultimate losers. They've had 19 consecutive losing seasons (although 2011 has been much more promising) and have been given a reputation for having owners who make money off of losing teams and care nothing for anything more.
If you listen to a lot of people, the Pittsburgh Steelers in the days before Chuck Noll, Franco Harris, the "Immaculate Reception" and Super Bowl glory were much the same. Art Rooney was once reviled as a money-grubbing owner who only cared about what profit he could gain from the team. While this is not true, it was the prevailing story for years. Also, many people who are used to believing that NFL history started with Super Bowl I don't realize that the team had some success before 1972's breakthrough.
The Steelers actually had two playoff appearances before beating Oakland in 1972. In 1947 and again in 1962, the Steelers made trips to the playoffs only to be frustrated each time. The theory that they had never won before Noll's arrival can be further discounted if you look at season-by-season results.
The franchise's first winning season came in 1942. They also posted winning marks in 1943, 1947, 1949, 1958, 1959, 1962 and 1963. While those seven victorious campaigns dwarf the team's success after 1972, it still shows that the Steelers weren't always the bumbling losers that they've been portrayed as today.
Also, if there's any need for proof of Rooney's aims, he did attempt to better the team through the draft with notables like Byron "Whizzer" White and Bill Dudley.
The Steelers of the 1970s Weren't the Pioneers of Steroid Use in the NFL
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A lot has been written about how the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s were the group that pioneered steroid usage in the NFL. There's good reason for suspicion too. Jim Haslett, who came onto the NFL scene in the 1980s and has since carved out a decent career as an NFL coach, accused the Steelers of starting the trend during their Super Bowl heyday of the 1970s. He said the team was "so much stronger" and that they were bigger and stronger because they used steroids before anyone else.
Steve Courson, one of the members of the team's final Super Bowl of the decade, blamed his heart condition on steroid use. Courson, however, stated that Jack Ham and Jack Lambert, two of the team's stars, refused to use the stuff. Dan Rooney also came out against Haslett's attack by talking about Chuck Noll warned against using steroids as a way to get stronger.
Steroids are the murky swamp of professional sports. Once you go in, you can't usually get out. It's also impossible to see exactly what lies inside. Therefore, no one will probably every know the truth about steroids, but some simple facts cast serious doubts on Jim Haslett.
First, Haslett didn't start playing until 1979 and didn't play for the Steelers at any point of his career. Who is he to know the locker room culture of another team from before he was anything but a small college standout?
Second, some other researchers have turned up that the San Diego Chargers of 1963 and coach Sid Gillman pioneered things by passing out a pill known as Dianabol. 1963 is a long time before the Steelers were on anyone's NFL map as a force to be reckoned with.
Finally, only Steve Courson has come forward as an acknowledged user from the 1970s teams. It's likely that he wasn't alone on the team or in the NFL at that time.
Thanks for the bad rap Jim Haslett, but next time, please do some homework before you go making public accusations about something.
The 1980s Were NOT a Lost Decade
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After the wonderful successes of the 1970s teams, the dynasty simply had to come to an end. Some poor drafting (Mark Malone and Walter Abercrombie were not going to replace Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris) and the retirements of the entire core of the team's success plunged the Steelers into a decade of forlorn existence until Bill Cowher rescued the team after Chuck Noll retired in 1991.
Most fans think of the 1980s as the break between the great teams of the 1970s and the more recent successes of the 1990s and beyond. They don't remember any successes the team had or any great players who emerged during that time.
Sure Malone and Abercrombie were poor replacements for past stars and the 1980s teams didn't enjoy the same success as their predecessors. But that doesn't mean that the Steelers teams from that decade weren't any good. They certainly were better than those teams of the 1930s to 1960s.
In fact, the Steelers of the 1980s posted seven winning seasons and made four playoff appearances. They even played in the AFC Championship Game in 1984. They were far from losers.
In addition, some great careers get glossed over. Louis Lipps was a phenomenal talent at receiver and a more than adequate replacement for the 1970s stars, but his contributions are often lost in the shuffle.
The Steelers Do NOT Usually Retire Numbers
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Most of the uninitiated fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers think that the team has long since retired the numbers 12, 32, 52, 58, 59, and 75 (among others) because they belonged to the greatest of the franchise's greats.
Indeed, no one has worn any of those numbers in a regular season game since they were last worn by those great players. No quarterback has dared to don Terry Bradshaw's 12. No runner has even stared longingly at Franco Harris' 32.
But those numbers aren't retired. In fact, if asked to name the only number the team has officially retired and the player whom it belonged to, most NFL fans would struggle to come up with it after exhausted the players from the 1970s.
Only one number is officially retired by the team. Ernie Stautner's number 70 was retired in 1964 after a stellar playing career that included nine Pro Bowl selections.
For every other player, the numbers are simply not worn. Some of the greats (John Stallworth and Lynn Swann) have seen their numbers worn regularly since. For the rest, it's understood by anybody joining the team that those numbers are just off limits.
It's likely that the trend will continue. Perhaps the day will come when Hines Ward's 86 and Ben Roethlisberger's 7 will join the long list of numbers no Steeler will wear again. It seems as though Jerome Bettis' vaunted 36 jersey may have joined the ranks.
Steelers' Defensive Linemen ARE Different
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The belief in the NFL is that defensive linemen, especially the ends, are pass rushers who are expected to get to the quarterback regularly and make sacks and tackles for a loss. Guys like Julius Peppers, Haloti Ngata and others have made the position a more glamorous role than it had been previously.
In Pittsburgh, not since the days of Joe Greene has the team had a linemen make consistent highlight reel plays. They've become workhorses. Because of that, the misconception has been that the team does not have high-caliber linemen anymore.
While Casey Hampton routinely is in the Pro Bowl conversation, guys like Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel have had whole careers go largely unnoticed.
Smith and Keisel are so valuable to the team's success on defense that, when Smith has gone down, the team has struggled to find replacements at times. Before Ziggy Hood emerged on the scene last year and played every bit as well (and as unnoticed) as Smith, there was genuine concern in the Steel City that the defense's near flawless performance would suffer.
Defensive linemen in Pittsburgh aren't called upon to make glorious tackles and sacks. If they do, that's fine. It's just not expected. Instead, they are supposed to occupy the attention of blockers and make it possible for the linebackers to make the great plays.
Guys like Aaron Smith are more important to the careers of James Harrison and his colleagues than anyone outside of Pittsburgh could probably imagine.
Quarterbacks in Pittsburgh Are NOT Game Managers
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The long-held belief until Ben Roethlisberger and the team's offense started to change the culture in town was that the Steelers won with great running backs and quarterbacks who didn't screw up when asked to throw.
That's partly true. Rarely were certain quarterbacks called upon to win games for the Steelers. The problem comes in when some of the team's success is attributed to running backs and little credit is given to the passers who've donned the Black and Gold.
Ben Roethlisberger is the guy winning the games these days. Rashard Mendenhall, the team's current feature back, is excellent, but the team has won a lot of games in recent years in which they rushed for barely 100 yards as a team. When the game is on the line, they aren't handing the ball off. Ben Roethlisberger is throwing lasers.
Looking back through history, some of the team's greatest successes and failures have been based on the performance of the quarterbacks. Neil O'Donnell almost single-handedly lost Super Bowl XXX. Ben Roethlisberger made the key offensive plays to win Super Bowl XLIII. Terry Bradshaw won two Super Bowl MVP awards.
While running has always been the team's calling card, the quarterbacks who've been under center rarely have gotten the right amount of credit.
Hines Ward IS a Hall of Fame Receiver
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He's almost always been known as the "best blocking receiver in the NFL." Rarely does Hines Ward get credit for the way he catches difficult passes and fearlessly runs any route necessary for him to get open. Because his long-time reputation as a great blocker has overshadowed his pass-catching, and because he's often been overshadowed by the team's other starting receiver in terms of hype, Ward's Hall of Fame credentials are in doubt.
Ward has a Super Bowl MVP award and has most of the team's receiving records. Trust me, he didn't get that MVP for delivering good blocks. Ward is a gamer and is one of the better clutch players in the league today.
He's the Pittsburgh version of Wes Welker, a player who can make the tough catches and who can be an all around thorn in the sides of opponents. Ward is also currently 21st on the all-time yardage list (and fifth among active players). He will almost definitely move into the top 20 and possibly could crack the top 15 with another good season or two.
It's also worth noting that, on that all-time list, virtually every ahead of him is either already in the Hall of Fame or will likely be inducted at some point in the next decade or two.
Ward may not be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he certainly deserves to have his smiling face enshrined in Canton someday not long after he hangs up the cleats.
Two Fun "Misconceptions"
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The misconception after the last slide was that this article was over. Well, in addition to those eight big misconceptions, I wanted to include two fun ones for the fans.
The Terrible Towel is Just a Yellow Dishrag Craze Gone Awry
Myron Cope encouraged fans to bring yellow dish towels to the stadium before a 1975 playoff game, which began the tradition of the Terrible Towel, a fad now copied by virtually every sports team in America.
The belief by opposing fans and players is that the towel is nothing more than a craze that's lasted in a town that's long been sweet on it's football team.
But mysterious misfortune seems to follow anyone who defaces the sacred object of Steelers fans everywhere.
Carson Palmer's knee injury in 2005, the sudden fade of the Tennessee Titans in 2008, the end of the New York Jets Super Bowl hopes in 2010 and the disappearance of previously promising runner LenDale White all have come in the wake of someone, somewhere doing harm to a Terrible Towel.
Coincidence? You decide.
The Steelers Aren't America's Team
It became fashionable at some point to call the Dallas Cowboys "America's Team." I don't even want to do the research on why this awful and inexplicable fad began, but I'll debunk it without finding out where it came from.
The Steelers are America's team. Why? Think about it.
Who travels better than any other professional sports franchise? No other team enjoys the "road field advantage" of Pittsburgh, where Terrible Towels crop up in force in every stadium, every season.
What team, with the possible exception of the New York Yankees, has a more recognizable logo?
The Steelers helped revive a city in the 1970s, when Pittsburgh was falling to pieces in the wake of steel mills shutting down.
Today, there are Steelers bars in almost every NFL town and in hundreds of other places around the nation and even around the world.
Word is, there's a Steelers bar in Italy somewhere. Word also is that there isn't a Cowboys bar in Europe.
America's Team? That title belongs to the team with the most Super Bowl trophies and the most fans all over the country. That title clearly belongs in Pittsburgh.
(To be perfectly honest, no single team should ever be America's Team. That title is just a little too lofty for any team to live up to for a long period of time.)