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The Pennsylvania Polka – When Art Rooney sold the Steelers

Steel City Blitz

The Pennsylvania Polka – When Art Rooney sold the Steelers

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.


The Pennsylvania Polka

Disclaimer:  I won’t blame you if this is confusing.

In December of 1940, Art Rooney sold the team for $150,000 to Alex Thompson, a wealthy “playboy” from New York, who intended to move the franchise to Boston.  The complicated transaction was born out of what was happening with the mounting financial problems of the Philadelphia Eagles and their owner, Bert Bell.  Philadelphia also was awarded an expansion team in 1933, though their circumstances were different than that of Pittsburgh.  A group led by Bert Bell assumed the assets of the defunct Frankford Yellow Jackets, who ceased operations and filed for bankruptcy in 1931.  They paid a $3,500 fee and assumed an additional $11,000 debt owed to three other NFL teams.  Bell’s partners backed out after three years and the Eagles were put up for sale at public auction, to which Bell bought the team as solo owner for $4,500.  But the financial pressures continued to mount on Bell, so enters in Art Rooney to the equation.

Rooney and Bell were close friends, so they formulated a plan that would see the two join together as one franchise that represented all of Pennsylvania, which would be known as the “Keystoners.” The league approved the sale, but a group of owners led by George Preston Marshall blocked the relocation of the Pittsburgh franchise to Boston.  Marshall had no intention of letting Rooney and Bell “control” the state of Pennsylvania, nor did he want a team back in the same city he originally founded (Boston Braves in 1932) before relocating to Washington in 1937.



With none of the parties involved happy, Bell and Rooney began a series of events that became known as the “Pennsylvania Polka.”  Right before the start of the 1941 season, Rooney had acquired half ownership of the Eagles, then Rooney and Bell exchanged rosters and territorial rights with Thompson.  Thompson, who was going to rechristen the Steelers as “Iron Men”, took over the former Steelers team and based operations out of Philadelphia.  Rooney and Bell became co-owners in Pittsburgh, with Rooney as GM and Bell as Head Coach.

Thankfully, the name “Iron Men” was dropped immediately and reverted back to “Steelers” and Bell sold back his ownership rights to Rooney when he become NFL Commissioner in 1946.

And that is how the Steelers almost left Pittsburgh.



  1. How The Pittsburgh Steelers Came to Be – Art Rooney
  2. How a day at Saratoga saved the Pittsburgh Steelers
  3. When Art Rooney played a prank on George Halas
  4. Byron “Whizzer” White and “Bullet” Bill Dudley:  The Steelers first Franchise Players
  5. The Pennsylvania Polka – When Art Rooney sold the Steelers
  6. NEXT: When Art Rooney was offered the chance to buy the New York Yankees
  7. What might have been – Jock Sutherland
  8. Same Old Steelers – “Rogel up the Middle”
  9. Why the Steelers cut Johnny Unitas
  10. How Buddy Parker vs. Dan Rooney set up the Steelers Dynasty


Thoughts or comments?  Leave one below!


PMP; CSM; CSPO and host of the PMI-TB Agile Podcast. A lifelong Steelers fan, I had the chance of a lifetime when I was able to celebrate Super Bowl XLIII with the team. I love talking everything Steelers from the old days to the new and look forward to working with the team to grow this platform to be the premier Steelers site.

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