The Pittsburgh Steelers were responsible for one of the most remarkable runs of success that the sport has ever seen, throughout the 1970s. Hard times followed, but with a recent Super Bowl triumph added to the list, it’s clear that they still have some of the old magic in them to throw up a few surprises.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were founded on July 8th, 1933, making them the fifth oldest franchise in the NFL. They were originally known as the Pittsburgh Pirates, a name which they kept until 1940 when they first became the Steelers.
Founded by Arthur Joseph ‘Art’ Rooney, they originally plied their trade in the Eastern Division, with their home games taking place at Forbes Field. However, their early years were far from successful, managing to accumulate only 22 wins from their first seven seasons.
In 1938 Rooney was responsible for bringing in the most expensive player in the NFL when he signed Byron ‘Whizzer’ White for $15,800. It turned out to be money well spent, as he would in time become one of the best players that the NFL had ever seen.
In 1942 the team reached a milestone by posting their first ever winning record with a 7-4 finish. This was achieved under head coach, Walt Kiesling, and was helped in no small part by the heroics of rookie, Bill Dudley, who would go on to become a club legend.
In 1943 the country went to war, and the Steelers were forced to merge with the Philadelphia Eagles to make up for the lack of talent, a move which saw them become the Phil-Pitt Steagles for a brief period.
The following year, another merger was made with the Chicago Cardinals. This time they became the woeful Card-Pitt, whose terrible performances have long been cast aside in the collective memory of Steelers’ fans.
Back to business
After the war had come to an end, the team became the Steelers once again, and Bill Dudley returned from duty in 1946 to secure the MVP (Most Valuable Player) award with more legendary performances.
In 1947 they came close to getting their first real taste of success, posting an 8-4 record to come joint first in the division. However, in their first ever playoff game they lost 21-0 to the Philadelphia Eagles.
No great success came to the club in the early 1950s, as a succession of coaches failed to find the winning formula.
However, in 1957 their luck changed with the arrival of Buddy Parker, whose coaching skills saw the club score five winning seasons, placing him third in the all-time list of Steelers’ coaches.
A legend arrives
But it was the arrival of Chuck Noll on January 27th, 1969 that saw a real change in fortunes for the club. At 37 years of age, and with 16 years of experience, he was, quite simply, the most successful coach that the Steelers have ever had.
After slumping to a 1-13 record in 1969, he began to build up the team from scratch, which saw the arrival of Joe Greene, a future member of the Hall of Fame, alongside quarterback, Terry Bradshaw, and cornerback, Mel Blount.
Out of his first 20 picks, three of them became future members of the Hall of Fame, and they would become the foundation for one of the best groups of players that has ever graced the game.
The winning decade kicks off
In 1970, the club moved from Pitt Stadium to Three Rivers Stadium, in the same year that they began to play in the newly-formed AFC Central division.
Two years later, in 1972, they managed to post a winning record of 11-3 to claim their first division title. It was a great achievement, and it saw them through to a playoff game against the Oakland Raiders.
They eventually beat their opponents 13-7 to go through to face the Miami Dolphins, but their dreams of reaching the Super Bowl were put on hold as the Dolphins sent them crashing out.
1974 was the year that everything changed. It began when Noll brought in four future members of the Hall of Fame in a single year, with the arrivals of Mike Webster, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and Jack Lambert. This was the only time such a feat has been managed, and it was partly responsible for the most incredible run of success that the club has ever seen.
That year they stormed the AFC Central division, and then swiftly knocked out the Buffalo Bills and the Oakland Raiders on their way to Super Bowl IX, the first time they had reached such heights.
The Minnesota Vikings were all that stood between them and the ultimate prize, but they need not have worried, as they beat them convincingly 16-6 to take the title for the first time.
Super Bowl X
In 1975 they posted a record of 12-2, which included winning 11 games in a row, to take the division once again.
The Baltimore Colts and Oakland Raiders were cast aside in their drive to Super Bowl X, where this time they were up against the Dallas Cowboys.
It was hard to believe that they had got back to this position so soon, and when they beat the Cowboys 21-17 in a hard-fought match, they became only the third team in history to win the Super Bowl two years in a row.
Super Bowl XIII
Although two division titles followed, it was not until 1978 that they managed to capitalise on their success by reaching the Super Bowl once again, this time at the expense of the Denver Broncos and the Houston Oilers in the playoffs.
Old enemies, the Dallas Cowboys, were also back in with a chance, and were desperate to avenge their 1975 loss. However, the Steelers were just too strong for them, winning the match 35-31 to become the first team in history to win three Super Bowls.
The team of the decade
Incredibly, 1979 saw them through to the Super Bowl once again, having won the division for the sixth year in a row with a 12-4 record, and following postseason victories against the Miami Dolphins and the Houston Oilers.
The Los Angeles Rams stood in their way to becoming the first team to win four Super Bowls, and the first ever to win consecutive Super Bowls twice.
When they managed this feat with a 31-19 victory, they were appropriately given the title of ‘Team of the Decade’.
The calm after the storm
After such phenomenal success, it was unsurprising that it should be followed by a dip in form, which covered most of the following decade.
It wasn’t until 1982 that they managed to reach the playoffs once again with a 6-3 season, which also marked the club’s 50th anniversary. However, they were beaten by the San Diego Chargers in the playoffs, 31-28.
In 1983 and 1984, they managed to win their division once again, but went out before they could get back to the Super Bowl.
Finally, in 1985, they posted their first losing record after 13 consecutive non-losing seasons with a 7-9 finish, signalling the end of their stretch of good form.
In 1989, things started badly with two heavy losses, and hopes were not high for the season ahead. However, by the end of the season they had fought back to a 9-7 record, which granted them a wildcard berth.
Although not particularly hopeful, they managed to beat the Houston Oilers 26-23 in overtime, to take them within a whisker of greatness once again. However, after leading for the entire match against the Denver Broncos in the AFC Divisional Playoff, they lost 24-23 in the last few minutes, ending any hopes of a revival
Hard act to follow
On December 26th, 1991 Chuck Noll announced his retirement, ending 23 years in charge. With 209 wins to his name, he remains the fifth most successful coach on the NFL list over the years, and was duly elected to the Hall of Fame in 1993.
Bill Cowher was his replacement in 1992, and at 34 years old was the youngest head coach at the time. He immediately made an impression by going on to win the division for the first time since 1984 with an 11-5 record. This also made them the first AFC team since the merger, to get their 10th division title, which made up for the fact that they went out to the Buffalo Bills in the playoffs.
From 1994 to 1997, they won the division again every year, which included a trip to Super Bowl XXX in 1995. However, on this occasion the Dallas Cowboys finally got their revenge to deny the Steelers their fifth title.
In 2001 the club moved to Heinz Field, having spent 31 years at Three Rivers Stadium. They immediately got an impressive 13-3 record, but went out in the AFC Championship game to the New England Patriots.
There were also changes afoot in the division, which was renamed the AFC North, in a reshuffle that saw the number of teams in the league increase to 32.
Back to the top
It was not until 2005 that they managed to reach the peak of the game once again. Getting through to the playoffs as the sixth seed, expectations were low. However, they managed to surprise the baseball world by winning three games in a row to reach Super Bowl XL.
They were up against the Seattle Seahawks, and having got this far they were not going to go without a fight. In the end, their heroics paid off as they won 21-10 to secure their fifth Super Bowl triumph, with Hines Ward being named as MVP.
It was a victory that saw their hopes rekindled for the new century, where there are high expectations that they will build upon their success to set new standards and break yet more records over the coming years.
Super Bowl Champions
- 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 2005
- 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1995, 2005
- 1972, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1983, 1984, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2001
- 2002, 2004, 2005
Hall of Fame Members
- Arthur J. Rooney, Sr.
- Johnny ‘Blood’ McNally
- Bobby Layne
- Bill Dudley
- Daniel M. Rooney
- Ernie Stautner
- Burt Bell
- Walt Kiesling
- Joe Greene
- John Henry Johnson
- Terry Bradshaw
- Chuck Noll
- Jack Ham
- Franco Harris
- Mike Webster
- Jack Lambert
- Mel Blount
- Lynn Swan
- John Stallworth