There are few franchises in professional sports who are as storied as the Pittsburgh Steelers. Not only are they one of the most successful NFL teams of all time, but they also have a rich and varied history which has made them the darlings of the national media. An aspect of the Steelers franchise which I think is really cool is the plethora of interesting stories which concern the franchise.
As such, this article will name the 15 Crazy Stories In the History of the Pittsburgh Steelers. These true stories provide a brief history of a Steelers franchise which has been around (in some form) since the 1940s. Within this article, you will find stories from the club's inception up until the modern day. Not only this, but these tales include those players, coaches, and owners who have made the Steelers so great. These stories are similar not only in their subject matter, however, as each and every tale on this list is based on a central aspect of the Steelers brand. This collection as a whole is representative of the unique history of not only the Steelers, but the city of Pittsburgh as a whole. All of the stories listed here are from the first hand knowledge of the author or are taken from the historical section of steelers.com.
15 Jerome Bettis "Hea-Tails" Call
One of the more comical stories in the recent history of the Pittsburgh Steelers is the infamous "hea-tails" call made by former Steelers running back and NFL Hall of Famer, Jerome Bettis. During a game on Thanksgiving Day (so there was a lot of media attention) against the Detroit Lions, Bettis made a "unique" coin flip call going into Overtime. Bettis kind of mumbled during the call, and then the referee said "the Steelers called heads; it's tails". Bettis tried to say that he had called tails, and him and the Steelers tried to get the referee to give them the ball to start Overtime. The officials declined, and the Steelers would eventually lose the game on a Detroit field goal. On video review, when asked to make the call Bettis clearly says "hea-tails."
14 Three Coaches in 48 Years
The best stories about the Pittsburgh Steelers are those which continue into the present day. A perfect example of this is the amazing streak the team is currently enjoying of only employing three separate head coaches in the last 48 years. When compared to franchises like the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills, this streak is impressive not only for its longevity, but also for what these coaches were able to accomplish during their time with the black and gold. Chuck Noll won four Super Bowls as the coach of the team and is in the NFL Hall of Fame. Bill Cowher not only won a Super Bowl but was also helped the Steelers to become a perennial playoff team. Current head coach, Mike Tomlin, has continued these winning ways and has even won his own Lombardi trophy with the team. Tomlin's job seems safe for now, so it will be interesting to see how long this streak can last.
13 The Sad Story of Mike Webster
Of all the entries on this list, this one is easily the saddest. Mike Webster was a longtime member of the Steelers and is largely considered to be one of the greatest centers in NFL history. Despite his national acclaim, Webster was financially destitute in only a few short years after leaving football. Rather than rely on several of his friends who had offered him a place to stay, Webster elected to live out of his old truck, and sometimes stayed with his adult son. Webster would end up dying at an extremely young age, and scans after his death revealed that he was suffering from intense CTE. Webster's story is one of the main reasons why we have seen such a change in concussion protocol in recent years.
12 Seven Hall of Famers Retire In 4 Seasons
The Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s provide a good case study of how NFL dynasties end. While the Patriots have been able to maintain their success for far longer than anyone predicted, many fans are hoping for the kind of abrupt downfall that the Steelers experienced following the 1981 season. In the four short years after this season, no less than seven future Hall of Famers retired from the Steelers. Immediately after 1981 season Joe Green and L.C. Greenwood retired, followed by Lynn Swann and Jack Ham after 1982, Terry Bradshaw and Mel Blount after 1983, and Jack Lambert and Franco Harris after 1984. The loss of so much immense talent in such a short period of time caused the Steelers franchise to be devastated for much of the 1980s.
11 Steelers Get "Caught Wearing Shoulder Pads"
This is somewhat of an unknown story, but one which I thought was comical with the recent hubbub over "DeflateGate" and other NFL actions. In 1978, the Steelers were forced to forfeit an NFL Draft pick because they were caught allowing their players to wear shoulder pads during minicamp. This was a violation of a league rule which prohibited teams from having their players were shoulder pads prior to a predetermined point in the preseason. This was supposed meant to prevent players from getting injured (using the reasoning that players without pads won't hit each other as hard as if they did have pads) before the season even started. This entry should remind us that the NFL's strict (and sometimes cumbersome) adherence to the rule book isn't anything new.
10 Terry Bradshaw Gets Benched
Though Ben Roethlisberger has certainly muddied the water, for more than 20 years after he retired Terry Bradshaw was far and away considered the greatest quarterback in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Due to his legendary status, many people would be surprised to learn that he was actually benched by the Steelers early in his career. This occurred because of a series of horrible offensive games for the team at the start of the 1976 season. A lot of the teams' failings were blamed on their young quarterback, and head coach Chuck Noll made the decision to bench Bradshaw in favor for Joe Gilliam. Gilliam was not a noticeable improvement over Bradshaw, however, and Terry was able to regain his starting position in only a few games.
9 Western Pennsylvania Quarterbacks
The following entry is one of the greatest stories not just for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but in the history of the entire. As of 2017, there are six quarterbacks from Western Pennsylvania in the NFL Hall of Fame. These quarterbacks – Len Dawson, Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, and Jim Kelly – are six of the most acclaimed football players of all time. Another thing which you may have noticed is that none of these players are known for playing with the Steelers. Most of these men were never sought after by the Steelers (Pittsburgh even passed on the chance to draft Dan Marino), however, both Dawson and Unitas were actually cut by the team. The fact that none of these men ever played a meaningful role for the black and gold will forever be a black eye for the franchise.
8 Same Old Steelers
One of the reasons why the Steelers enormous success is such a great story is the fact of how terrible the franchise was in its first three decades. In the period from 1940-1970 the team had only a handful of winning seasons, and the initial history of the franchise is marred in questionable decisions. One aspect of these embarrassing years of the franchise is an amusing epithet about the team's original owner, Art Rooney. During WWII, the lack of available players (due to the draft) caused the Steelers to combine rosters with their cross-state rivals, the Eagles. This combination roster (appropriately named the "Steagles") only existed for one short season, but that didn't stop old Art from receiving the media's ire for their lack of play. When asked what he thought about the teams losing season, Rooney replied "they look like the Steelers to me-in green jerseys."
7 When The Rooneys Sold The Steelers
I don’t know if any franchise in the history of the NFL has become more synonymous than its ownership than has the Pittsburgh Steelers. If you asked any Pittsburgher, they would proudly tell you that the Steelers franchise has been handed down from father to son since Art Rooney Sr. bought the club in the 1940’s. While this is a great family story, it is not 100% accurate. The truth is that Art Rooney sold the team to Alexis Thompson for a brief period in the 1940s. Rooney was fed up with the team's failings, and sought use the money gained from its sale to purchase a stake in the Philadelphia Eagles (who were owned by one of his good friends). When Thompson hinted that he might move the Steelers to another city, however, Rooney quickly repurchased the franchise, thus ensuring his hometown city kept their NFL team.
6 How The Steelers Got Their Name
A cool thing about the Steelers is the various stories which have emerged about the team's creation. How the Steelers got their name is a perfect example of this phenomenon. Most people know that the Steelers were actually named the Pirates at their inception (in order to mimic the city's uber-popular baseball team), however, they received their current name as a result of a contest which was held by the local newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Random citizens were allowed to submit name proposals, and a board of reviewers was created to choose from these submissions. The board quickly fell in love with the name the Steelers, a play of the city's major population of steel workers. The Steelers have kept their name ever since.
5 First Ever Points On A Safety
Due largely to the success of the Steeler's "Steel Curtain" defense in the 1970s, the Steelers franchise will forever be viewed as a team which is driven by its defense (when Bill Cowher's "Blitzburgh" defenses started dominating teams in the 1990s, it only heightened this perception). Due to this, it is an interesting anecdote that the first points the team ever scored in an official game was on a safety. For those of you who aren't clear on the rules of football, a safety occurs when the opposing offense is tackled in their own end zone and the defending team is awarded 2 points. Not only was this how the Steelers scored their first regular season points, but their first points in the Super Bowl also came from a defensive safety.
4 How The Steelers Got Their Colors
If you are a sports fan (and if you're not, what are you doing on this site), you have probably noticed that all three major Pittsburgh sports teams share a basic color scheme. You may be asking yourself, therefore, how black, white and gold came to symbolize Pittsburgh sports. The short answer is that these are the three colors which are featured in the Pittsburgh city flag. The first Pittsburgh sports teams to come into existence, the Pittsburgh Pirates, decided to copy the color pattern of its city's flag to build local support for the club. When the Steelers and Penguins were created years later, they decided to copy this practice. Since all three of these clubs have managed to stay in Pittsburgh, these colors have become synonymous with the "City of Champions."
3 Greenlee Field: Home Of The Pittsburgh Steelers?
The history of the Steelers in regards to their playing field is itself interesting, however, the best of these stories is probably the Steelers early flirtation with Greenlee Field. When the club was first formed by Art Rooney in the 1940s, he had quite a bit of trouble finding an arena for the Steelers (then named the Pirates) to play. When major affiliations like the baseball Pirates and Pittsburgh Panthers turned down the Steelers requests, Art Rooney seriously considered playing at Greenlee Field, the home of the Pittsburgh Negro League baseball team. Given how African-American sport leagues were viewed in this period, this story illustrates how Rooney and his team were viewed by the city. six Super Bowl championships have remedied this relationship.
2 Roethlisberger Convinces Bettis To Return
One of the greatest feel good stories in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers is the retirement of Jerome Bettis following the Steelers' win in Super Bowl XL. One factor which makes this such a great story (aside from the obvious that Bettis was able to cap the season in his hometown of Detroit, MI) is the fact that Jerome was considering not even playing in that 2006 season. Following the Steelers embarrassing defeat to the Patriots in the previous year's AFC Title game, Bettis was seriously considering retiring from the NFL. (then) rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was able to convince "The Bus" to stay on for one more year, however, and less than a year later the two experienced a picture-perfect moment hosting the Lombardi Trophy together at Forbes Field.
1 Who Paid For The Steelers?
The history of great stories about the Pittsburgh Steelers begins with the teams very inception. Though accounts now vary, for a long time it was widely believed that Art Rooney had gained the funds by which he bought the Steelers franchise by betting at the horse track. Given Rooney's penchant for horse races this story is hardly unfathomable, however, the NFL's currently strict stance on gambling has recently put this story under the microscope. While this story was never verified by Rooney himself, the fact that it was never questioned until it caused an unfavorable shadow to fall on the NFL leads me to believe that this story is factual. If it is true, it is pretty amazing that the creation of one of the NFL's most accomplished franchises was the result of a little bit of racetrack luck.