The NFL's Greatest Franchise: The Pittsburgh Steelers' Way

Jack BurtonContributor IIOctober 20, 2009

PITTSBURGH - FEBRUARY 03: Dan Rooney owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers waves to fans during a parade to celebrate winning Super Bowl XLIII on February 3, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

It’s no secret that the NFL is designed to give every team a chance at a Super Bowl title.  The current setup doesn’t allow teams to establish dynasties like we’ve seen in years past. 

Good teams come and go and bad teams can quickly become contenders.  But for decades, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been consistently competitive.

In that regard, they're the best NFL team since the 1970 merger.

I dare anybody to argue that the Steelers aren’t the best overall NFL team since the merger. 

Since 1970, the Steelers have the best record in football. The franchise has won the most total games, won the most divisional titles, earned the best winning percentage (that includes every expansion team), earned the most All-Pro nominations and has the most Super Bowl titles (six). 

Enough said.

They’ve even been consistently great in the salary-cap/free agency era.  Since 1992, when Bill Cowher took over, their record including the playoffs is 190-112-1. 

They have won 10 out of 16 division titles.  In those 16 years they have 12 playoff appearances, getting to the Super Bowl three times and bringing home the Lombardi Trophy twice. 

In today’s NFL, every team has a salary cap. It's to keep rich owners from buying all the talent and ruining the sport just so they can win a championship (see Yankees).

The NFL also awards the worst teams with higher draft picks and a slightly easier schedule.  (So, on the flip side of the Steelers’ success, it’s also quite remarkable just how terrible the Browns and Lions have been over the years.)

Sustained success in today’s NFL is very difficult to achieve and it all starts at the top. 

The Steelers’ have great ownership with the Rooney family.  They are a huge part of the team’s success and are the perfect model for how to run a sports franchise.  The Rooneys make fantastic front-office decisions and stick with them.  

This continuity of having just three head coaches in the past 40 years is an example of what makes the Rooneys great.  They understand the process of building a successful franchise.  They have trust in and patience for the people they hire.  This mentality seems to get overlooked by most other football organizations. 

How the team builds itself, almost completely through the draft, is another key to Pittsburgh's success.  They don’t make big free-agent pickups and rarely make trades.  Other teams fall into these traps because of the “win now” mentality.  They fail to see long-term. 

People think that the Steelers are far superior when it comes to drafting players.  While they are better than most, they hit and miss like everyone else.  The Steelers know to select the best available player instead of picking for a specific position.  They draft for the future, not the present. 

It’s not so much the Steelers' drafting ability that sets them apart, but their player development.  Players that come in don’t see live action right away.  They come in and get groomed by the talent ahead of them.  The management takes care of the players and gives them every opportunity to succeed.  

Due to the way they treat their players and build from within, players take pride and have a vested interest in playing for the Steelers.  They buy into the system and want to make the team better. 

They take less money and mentor the guys around them.  Players like Hines Ward make other players better.  Ward wants to make the Steelers better because he has pride in being there.  He helps the development of players like Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace and Limas Sweed, among others. 

Do you think free-agent pickups like Terrell Owens really care to make the Bills’ players better?

If you ever wonder why they Steelers always remain competitive, look to the top.  It all comes from great ownership. 

To other NFL owners out there striving to achieve similar success, follow the Rooney model.  Develop trust and be patient with your decisions. 

Or you can match teams like the Cowboys and try to rack up the most superstars.  You’ll sell a lot of tickets, but you’ll also end up going 11 years without winning in the playoffs. 



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