While most people tend to overlook the Pittsburgh Steelers in the era prior to the 1970s dynasty, this Steelers History Series will look back on some of the history of the franchise, ripe with some nuggets you may not know and hope you will enjoy.
It would not be exactly news to refer to the early days of the franchise and how they were synonymous with failure. They were founded by “The Chief” Art Rooney in 1933 as under the moniker of the Pittsburgh Pirates when the state of Pennsylvania “blue laws” were repealed and thus allowing for games to be played on Sundays. The NFL had wanted to place a team in Pittsburgh, given its established history and huge following of the then perennial championship contending Pittsburgh Panthers collegiate team.
Art Rooney was not accustomed to losing
The failures of his football team were in direct contrast to what Art Rooney was used to as he was a success in every other endeavor he tried. Rooney was a natural athlete with an unmatched desire to compete and drive to win — and won often Rooney did. He was so good at boxing that he was invited to the 1920 Olympics and truly excelled at baseball that he was signed by the Boston Red Sox for $250/month. He was beyond just “good” at baseball and absolutely loved the game. He also discovered he made more money barnstorming as a semi-pro baseball player and manager throughout the Midwest for 15 years, playing with and holding his own against many MLB legends including Honus Wagner.
Not even touching his handicapping skills at the horse track, his talents were not restricted to just the playing field. As a teenager he started a regional semi-pro football team known as the the Hope-Harveys, which became the best team in the region. His reputation attained such a level such that a state senator designated him as chairman of Pittsburgh’s 22nd Ward, resulting in Rooney attaining influence in politics – before he even turned 21.
The Birth of the “Pittsburgh Pirates” Football Team
NFL owners knew that Rooney was the ideal choice to pitch the idea expansion. They recognized he was best sports promoter in Western Pennsylvania and as he understood the game, could cultivate a fanbase. When NFL commissioner Joe Carr met with Rooney to negotiate terms for buying a franchise, Rooney was savvy enough to know he had the upper hand. Carr told him that he could have the team for $2,500, Rooney paused and repeated the amount with the right tone and facial expression, prompting Carr to panic a prepare to lower the bid. Rooney just laughed and said that $2,500 was fine.
Rooney’s success in life was largely based about people first, not money. His abilities and intelligence combined with his genuine desire to help other was the basis for his many financial successes, aided by a legendary 2-day streak at Saratoga in 1937.
It was also may have been a large part of the reason the Steelers were perennial losers for 40 years. Art Rooney loved baseball first and foremost. When it came to football, he was a bigger fan of the collegiate level and he never believed professional football would surpass either. This is not to say he did not try to field a competitive team, as he truly tried to do so. But it would be his son Dan Rooney, who ultimately inherited his father’s nature and molded it into the NFL’s greatest franchise.
So why did Rooney do it?
Simple: Because he knew the city of Pittsburgh wanted an NFL franchise and he so loved Pittsburgh, it was important to him to see to it the city had one.
- How The Pittsburgh Steelers Came to Be – Art Rooney
- NEXT: How a day at Saratoga saved the Pittsburgh Steelers
- When Art Rooney played a prank on George Halas
- Byron “Whizzer” White and “Bullet” Bill Dudley: The Steelers first Franchise Players
- The Pennsylvania Polka – When Art Rooney sold the Steelers
- When Art Rooney was offered the chance to buy the New York Yankees
- What might have been – Jock Sutherland
- Same Old Steelers – “Rogel up the Middle”
- Why the Steelers cut Johnny Unitas
- How Buddy Parker vs. Dan Rooney set up the Steelers Dynasty
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