The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the oldest teams in the NFL: In 1933 the Steelers were founded as the Pittsburgh Pirates and the name changed in 1940. But they were also one of the most unsuccessful teams in the NFL for a long time: The first 40 years of their existence, the Steelers reached the playoffs only once. However, in recent years the win one title after the other.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were founded by Arthur J. Rooney. Although he never was the only owner of the Steelers – the minority shares changed hands several times – the patriarch directed the team until his death in 1988. During the first 40 years he needed much persistence because the Steelers didn’t stand a chance. Most seasons resulted in more losses than wins. To avoid the low spectator interest and competition from baseball or college football games, Rooney initially also moved games to other cities from time to time, such as Johnstown and Latrobe in Pennsylvania. He even moved games to Louisville and New Orleans.
1938 Rooney contracted college star Byron “Whizzer” White for a lot of money and in 1942 Bill Dudley, an outstanding running back, joined the team of Head Coach Walt Kiesling. The Steelers slowly improved – Because of the absence of many players during World War 2, they joined forces with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1943 and with the Chicago Cardinals in 1944. In 1947 the Steelers reached the playoffs for the first time, they weren’t that successful in the following seasons. But between 1957 and 1963, the Steelers led by quarterback Bobby Layne and running back John Henry Johnson did a great job. However, the playoffs continued to be unknown territory for the Steelers.
In the late 1960s two things changed the Pittsburgh Steelers for the better: Art Rooney agreed to change the Conference and to play in the AFC during the merger of the NFL and AFL. And he contracted Chuck Noll as the new head coach who took over the responsibility in the “Steel City” “behind the steel curtain” in 1969.
The new coach proved to be a grand master of the Drafts: Between 1970 and 1974 alone, he got nine players – four of them in the Draft 1974 alone – who were later inducted into the Hall of Fame: Quarterback Terry Bradshaw, running back Franco Harris, wide receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, center Mike Webster, defensive end Joe Greene, linebackers Jack Ham and Jack Lambert and cornerback Mel Blount. No other coach was ever able to put together such an excellent team through the draft.
Led by their young stars the previously losing team dominated the NFL almost at will in the 1970s: Between 1972 and 1979, the Pittsburgh Steelers won eight consecutive division titles and four AFC championships. And as the only team in NFL history so far, they managed to win four Super Bowl titles in six years.
The last 30 years the Steelers story reads like the antithesis of the first 40 years of the team’s history: They had a looser image but now they were one of the most successful franchises in the league and it’s fun to watch Pittsburgh Steelers games live. They never reached the playoffs but now they were a regular playoff contender. This also didn’t change when Rooney’s son Dan took over the team permanently after the death of his father in 1988. And Bill Cowher who followed Noll as the new head coach in 1992, also led the team to the playoffs regularly and was able to win two Super Bowls: As the Steelers were defeated in the Super Bowl XXX in 1995, they won against the Seattle Seahawks ten years later in Super Bowl XL, led by young quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. And just three years later, now under Cowhers replacement Mike Tomlin, the Pittsburgh Steelers won another – their sixth – Super Bowl title.