History (PDF File)
History of the Pittsburgh Steelers
The fifth-oldest franchise in the NFL, the Steelers were founded on July 8, 1933 by Arthur Joseph Rooney. Originally named the Pittsburgh Pirates, they were a member of the Eastern Division of the 10-team NFL. The other four current NFL teams in existence at that time were the Chicago (Arizona) Cardinals, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and New York Giants.
One of the great pioneers of the sports world, Art Rooney passed away on August 25, 1988 following a stroke at the age of 87. "The Chief," as he was affectionately known, is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and is remembered as one of Pittsburgh’s great people.
Born on January 27, 1901 in Coultersville, Pa., Art Rooney was the oldest of Daniel and Margaret Rooney’s nine children. He grew up in Old Allegheny, now known as Pittsburgh’s North Side, and until his death he still lived on the North Side just a short distance from Three Rivers Stadium.
Rooney attended St. Peter’s Parochial School and Duquesne University Prep School. He studied collegiately at Indiana (Pa.) Normal, which is now Indiana University of Pennsylvania, as well as at Georgetown and Duquesne.
An exceptional all-around athlete, Rooney held middleweight and welterweight titles from the AAU Boxing Championships and was named to the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team in 1920, although he did not participate in the Olympic Games. He played minor league baseball from 1920-25 before a promising career was cut short by an arm injury. Rooney continued playing football for several semi-pro teams in the Pittsburgh area. He was married on June 11, 1931 to Kathleen McNulty, and the couple had five sons - Daniel, Art Jr., Tim, John and Pat. In 1964, Rooney was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his contributions to the growth of the NFL and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
1930s: After founding the Pirates in 1933, Rooney watched his club struggle through its first seven seasons with just 22 wins and five different head coaches. While home games were played at Forbes Field, Rooney often took his team to such cities as Johnstown, Latrobe, Youngstown, New Orleans, and Louisville in the 1930s due to competition with baseball and college football.
In 1938 Rooney signed Colorado All-America Byron "Whizzer" White to a $15,800 contract, making White the first "big money" player in the NFL. White led the league in rushing that year and is one of the NFL’s most illustrious alumni. He served 31 years as a Justice of the United States Supreme Court before retiring in 1993.
1940s: In 1940 Rooney changed the team name to the Pittsburgh Steelers, representing the heritage of Pittsburgh. The first winning record in the organization’s history came in 1942 when head coach Walt Kiesling led the Steelers to a 7-4 finish with the league-leading rushing of rookie Bill Dudley. But the next year Dudley joined the Armed Forces along with many other NFL players as the nation went to war. With rosters depleted, Rooney merged the Steelers with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1943 (Phil-Pitt "Steagles") and with the Chicago Cardinals (Card-Pitt) in 1944.
Rooney hired legendary Pitt coach Jock Sutherland in 1946, and Dudley returned from the war to earn NFL MVP honors, leading the league in rushing, interceptions, and punt returns. Today, Dudley is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Sutherland led the 1947 Steelers to an 8-4 record for a share of the Eastern division title, but they lost their first-ever postseason game, 21-0 to Philadelphia. Sutherland died suddenly the following spring while on a scouting trip.
1950s: Succeeding Sutherland, John Michelosen was head coach for the 1948-51 seasons, compiling a 20-26-2 record. In 1952 Joe Bach returned for his second stint with the Steelers, having coached the team previously in 1935-36. The Steelers became the last team to abandon the single wing for the T-formation in 1952.
Bach resigned for health reasons following the 1954 season and was replaced by assistant coach Walt Kiesling, who had been the Steelers’ head coach twice previously. Kiesling’s three stints covered the 1939-40, 1941-44, and 1954-56 campaigns.
1960s: Buddy Parker was named head coach in 1957 and over the next eight years he led the Steelers to five non-losing seasons. Hall of Fame quarterback Bobby Layne quarterbacked the team through three of those campaigns, leading the Steelers to a 9-5 mark and a playoff game vs. Detroit in 1962, which the Steelers lost 17-10. Parker completed his tenure with a 51-48-6 record and ranks third among all-time Steelers coaches for career wins.
Brief stints by Mike Nixon in 1965 and Bill Austin from 1966-68 preceded the hiring of the 37-year-old Chuck Noll on January 27, 1969. Noll began to rebuild the Steelers through the draft, starting with the defense when he selected defensive tackle Joe Greene with his first choice in 1969. Today Greene is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
1970s: A 1-13 record in 1969 gave the Steelers the first overall choice in the 1970 draft, with which Noll addressed the offense by selecting quarterback Terry Bradshaw, another Hall of Famer, after the Steelers won the first selection by winning a coin toss with the Chicago Bears. Cornerback Mel Blount was added in the third round that year, followed by linebacker Jack Ham in 1971 and running back Franco Harris in 1972. In all, Noll drafted six players who are now enshrined in the Hall of Fame including three in his first 20 picks and four of his first 38.
Two significant changes took place in 1970, when the Steelers moved from the NFL Century Division to the AFC Central with the merger of the American Football League and the NFL. The Steelers also moved into a new home as Three Rivers Stadium opened. Previously, the Steelers had played home games at Forbes Field from 1933-57 and at both Forbes Field and Pitt Stadium from 1958-63. From 1964-69 the Steelers played at Pitt Stadium until Three Rivers opened in 1970.
Gradual improvement in the early 1970s resulted in the team’s first division title in 1972 with an 11-3 record. In the first playoff game at Three Rivers the Steelers defeated the Oakland Raiders 13-7 with Franco Harris’ "Immaculate Reception" in the final minute. Despite a 21-17 loss the following week to the undefeated Miami Dolphins, the Steelers had reached a new plateau.
It took 40 years for the Steelers to finally win their first division title, but over the next decade they achieved a level of success unprecedented in professional football.
In 1973 the Steelers won a wild card playoff berth with a 10-4 record. Oakland avenged their loss from the previous year, however, with a 33-14 defeat of the Steelers in the playoffs.
The Steelers won their first of six consecutive AFC Central titles in 1974 and marched past Buffalo (32-14) and Oakland (24-13) en route to their first Super Bowl appearance in Super Bowl IX. The fierce Pittsburgh defense led the way to a 16-6 victory vs. the Minnesota Vikings, and Art Rooney was presented the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the first time.
In 1975 the Steelers won 11 straight games to finish 12-2 and claim their second consecutive division crown. After defeating Baltimore (28-10) and Oakland (16-10) in the playoffs the Steelers became the third team in NFL history, joining Green Bay and Miami, to win back-to-back Super Bowls with a 21-17 win versus the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl X.
The 1976 Steelers struggled to a 1-4 start before reeling off nine straight victories including five shutouts to win the division with a 10-4 mark. They defeated Baltimore 40-14 in the playoffs, but lost to Oakland, 24-7, after both starting running backs, Harris and Rocky Bleier, were injured. The following year the Steelers dropped a 34-21 decision to Denver in the first round of the playoffs after posting a 9-5 regular-season record.
In 1978 the Steelers made history after a league-best 14-2 regular season and playoff wins versus Denver (33-10) and Houston (34-5). Their 35-31 Super Bowl XIII win versus Dallas made the Steelers the first team to win three Super Bowls.
Yet another standard was set the following year when the 1979 Steelers defeated the Los Angeles Rams, 31-19, in Super Bowl XIV to make them the first team in history to win four Super Bowls and the only team to win back-to-back Super Bowls twice. The Super Bowl victory followed a 12-4 regular season and playoff wins versus Miami (34-14) and Houston (27-13). With six consecutive AFC Central crowns, eight straight years of playoff appearances and four Super Bowl championships, the Steelers were tagged the "Team of the Decade" for the 1970s.
1980s: As the 1980s opened the Steelers stumbled, failing to make the playoffs in 1980 and 1981 with records of 9-7 and 8-8.
In 1982 the Steelers celebrated the team’s 50th anniversary by qualifying for the playoffs with a 6-3 finish in a strike-interrupted season. During the season an anniversary banquet was held to commemorate the team’s first 50 seasons and to honor the Steelers’ all-time team as selected by fan voting. Thousands of fans were attracted to Pittsburgh for a week of activities and exhibits before the anniversary season was ended by San Diego’s 31-28 win in the playoffs. This would be the last playoff game at Three Rivers until the 1992 season, a span of 10 years.
The 1983 Steelers won their eighth division title with a 10-6 record, but fell in the postseason, 38-10 to the Los Angeles Raiders. The following year the Steelers won their ninth division crown and the team advanced to the AFC Championship game with a 24-17 playoff win at Denver. A 45-28 loss to Miami in the AFC Championship game prevented the Steelers from a fifth Super Bowl appearance.
The Steelers’ streak of 13 consecutive non-losing seasons came to an end in 1985 with a 7-9 finish, followed by 6-10 in 1986. Playoff hopes remained alive in 1987 until the Steelers lost their last two games to finish 8-7 during the strike-shortened season.
In 1988 the team suffered through its worst campaign in 19 years with a 5-11 record. The next season got off to a similar start with losses of 51-0 and 41-10 in the first two games as the offense failed to score in the first month of the season. But the young team fought back to finish 9-7 and earn a wild card playoff berth on the season’s final weekend. An exciting 26-23 overtime playoff win in Houston was followed by a heartbreaking 24-23 divisional playoff loss at Denver in which the Steelers led until the final minutes.
1990s: A 9-7 finish in 1990 left the Steelers in a three-way tie for the AFC Central lead, but they were eliminated from playoff contention by a 2-4 division record. The 1991 team finished second in the division despite a 7-9 record, winning the last two games under Noll at home against the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.
On December 26, 1991 Noll announced his retirement from football after 39 consecutive seasons, the last 23 as the Steelers’ head coach which made him one of only four men to coach the same team for 23 consecutive years. He left as the fifth-winningest coach in NFL history with an overall record of 209-156-1, and as the only coach to win four Super Bowls. Noll was rewarded in 1993 with his election to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
A new era began in 1992 with the retirement of Noll and the arrival of 34-year-old Bill Cowher, the National Football League’s youngest head coach at the time he assumed control. In the first season of the new era, the Steelers won the AFC Central division crown for the first time since 1984 with an 11-5 record. While the team enjoyed new-found success, Cowher was recognized by the Associated Press as the NFL’s Coach of the Year and six Steelers played in the Pro Bowl, the most in more than a decade.
Under Cowher the Steelers became the first AFC team since the 1970 merger to claim its 10th division title. Their 11-5 record equaled the best in the conference and gave the Steelers the home field throughout the playoffs, but in the first postseason game at Three Rivers in exactly 10 years the Steelers were defeated by eventual AFC champion Buffalo, 24-3.
In 1993, the Steelers earned a wild card playoff berth, marking their first consecutive playoff appearances since the 1983-84 seasons. A 9-7 record was good for second place in the division, but the season ended in a 27-24 overtime loss in Kansas City in the AFC wild-card game.
The 1994 Steelers won seven of their final eight regular-season games for their strongest finish since 1978. They captured their second division title in three years with the AFC’s best record of 12-4. After a 29-9 victory over the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the playoffs, Pittsburgh hosted their first AFC Championship game since 1984. The game went down to the wire and the Steelers lost to the San Diego Chargers, 17-13.
At 38, Bill Cowher became the youngest head coach to lead his team to a Super Bowl. Along the way, Cowher’s team captured their third AFC Central division title in four years, made their fourth straight playoff appearance, and won the Steelers’ first AFC title since 1979. After a first-round bye, they defeated the Buffalo Bills (40-21) and the Indianapolis Colts (20-16), before losing to the Dallas Cowboys 27-17 in Super Bowl XXX in Tempe, Arizona.
In 1996, injuries forced Cowher to use 40 different starters during the course of the season. But the Steelers’ "never-say-die" attitude led to a 10-6 finish and their fifth consecutive trip to the playoffs. Cowher earned his 50th regular-season win Nov. 3, 1996 in his 73rd game to become the eighth fastest to reach 50 wins. He ended the season with 57 career victories ranking him as the second winningest coach in team history, behind his predecessor Noll.
The Steelers captured their fourth consecutive AFC Central title in 1997, while posting an 11-5 record. They were one play away from earning their sixth Super Bowl appearance and lost to Denver, 24-21, in the AFC Championship game.
In 1998, the Steelers finished a disappointing 7-9, losing their last five regular-season games and missing the playoffs for the first time under Bill Cowher. It marked the first time that Cowher had been associated with a team with a losing record during his 14-year coaching career.
By the mid-1960s, Steelers founder Art Rooney had begun to turn over much of the operation of the Steelers to his oldest son, Daniel M. Rooney. After having worked in every area of the organization since 1955, Dan Rooney was named president of the Steelers in 1975. Now in his 44th year in the organization, he is one of the most active NFL owners and one of Pittsburgh’s most involved executives in civic affairs.
Among his community activities, Dan Rooney is a board member for The United Way of America, The American Ireland Fund, The American Diabetes Association, Presbyterian University Hospital, The Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation and Duquesne University.
Dan Rooney has been a member of several NFL committees over the past 30 years. He has served on the board of directors for the NFL Trust Fund, NFL Films and the Scheduling Committee. He was appointed chairman of the Expansion Committee in 1973, which considered new franchise locations and directed the addition of Seattle and Tampa Bay as expansion teams in 1976.
In 1976 Rooney was also named chairman of the Negotiating Committee, and in 1982 he contributed to the negotiations for the Collective Bargaining Agreement for the NFL and the Players’ Association. He again played a key role in the labor agreement reached between NFL owners and players in 1993. Rooney is currently a member of the eight-person Management Council Executive Committee, the Hall of Fame Committee, and the NFL Properties Executive Committee. In February 1999, he was named the recipient of the Philadelphia Maxwell Football Club’s Francis J. "Reds" Bagnell Award for outstanding contributions to the game of football.
Daniel M. Rooney was born on Pittsburgh’s North Side on July 20, 1932. He is a 1950 graduate of North Catholic High School, where he played quarterback on the varsity football team. He went on to graduate from Duquesne University in 1955 with a bachelor of arts degree in accounting. Rooney and his wife Patricia live on the North Side.