The Birth Of The Nation – The Origins Of Pittsburgh Steelers Nation

1 of 2

These days you can’t swing a Terrible Towel without hitting a Proud Citizen of Steeler Nation. Members of the One and Only Nation are numerous and vociferous, covering this great land from Miami, FL to Barrow, AK; from San Deigo, CA to Augusta, ME, and all points in between, including our beloved little ‘Burgh on the Three Rivers.

On this, the day we celebrate the birth of our political nation, let us look back at the infancy of our athletic Nation with all the pride that our Black and Gold blood-pumping, red-white-and-blue hearts can conjure.

Art Rooney

We begin, as always, in the beginning. Arthur Joseph “Art,” “The Chief” Rooney, Sr. was born in 1901 in Pittsburgh to Dan and Maggie Rooney. The family settled in a building a block from Exposition Park, where the Pirates had played baseball until 1909.

Art was the eldest of nine children and was an excellent athlete in his own right. He played football and baseball, and was an accomplished boxer. He was given the chance to play football for the legendary Knute Rockne at the University of Notre Dame, but chose instead to attend the Indiana State Normal School, Georgetown, and Duquesne. However, he never achieved a degree.

Rooney was known to be a gambler and legend has it that he won the Steelers in a horse race bet. This is merely a myth, although certainly, it is an entertaining myth; especially in light of the recent issues pertaining to several of the Rooney family’s continued involvement in racing and their ownership of the Steelers.

Taking the Field

The Pittsburgh Pirates (named after the baseball team which Art had loved as a child) took the field for the first time in 1933. Considering the country’s economic woes at the time, it was a minor miracle the team remained operational throughout their formative years. To be sure, on several occasions, The Chief’s winnings at the track were the only thing that kept the team solvent.

Their first game was against the New York Giants. The Pirates would lose that game 23-2. In a very strange twist of fate, the first points scored by the Pirates were on a safety. Forty-two years later, the Steelers’ first ever points in the Super Bowl would also be scored on a safety.

Their first decade of existence was the exact opposite of the last forty years. Where the Steelers have been the model of consistency and success in the Super Bowl era, the Pirates of the 1930s could barely buy a win. Where the Steelers have had three head coaches in the last 40+ years, seven different men coached the team in their first 10 years. This included the miserable 1941 season when three different men coached the Pirates at one point or another.

New Name, Same Team

In 1940, The Chief decided a change was in order. He held a contest to rename the Pirates. From several other notable submissions, the Steelers was the name selected. (Consider for a minute that we all could have been proud members of Buckaroos nation, or could have been fans of the Pittsburgh Puddlers. Praise all that is good and right in the world that some of these other names didn’t win.)

Even with a new name, however, wins were still hard to come by. The decade did produce the first winning season, 1942. They continued their winning ways when the combined with the Philadelphia franchise to create the Steagles. (See what they did there?)

However, a partnership in 1943 with the Chicago Cardinals proved to be disastrous. Not only did the Card-Pitt team fail to win a single game, it spawned one of the most unfortunate, but very apropos, nicknames in sports history. The merged team from Chicago and Pittsburgh would come to be called the Carpets (Card-Pitt), as in something to be walked on.

Even during all this epic and remarkable losing (which would last until Chuck Noll was hired as the Steelers’ head coach), the Steelers were developing a reputation for hard-hitting defense, a legacy that continues to this day. While most teams knew they would probably beat the Steelers on the scoreboard, they also knew they would pay a heavy physical price for the win.

Along with their reputation, the Steelers were building a fan base in Pittsburgh, fans who were loyal to the Steelers and knew football.