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100 Things Steelers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Matt Loede
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2013 Matt Loede
All rights reserved.
"The Chief," Art Rooney
Hall of Fame Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw called him "the greatest man who ever walked." He was the face of the Pittsburgh Steelers and still is to this day, two decades after his passing. He was known as "the Chief," and even today it's hard to find any aspect of the Steelers that Art Rooney's fingerprints are not on. Why are the Steelers arguably the most successful franchise in the history of the game? Rooney. It was not only the way the franchise was run, starting at the top, it was his approach to treating people — both on and off the field.
"From day one my father set the tone on how the Steelers operate," Dan Rooney said of his dad. "He has always said that what the people think is important, and that we have to think that way. He very much felt that everyone was his equal. You must treat people with respect."
Respect was something that Rooney and the Steelers didn't have for decades after they were formed in July 1933 as part of the Eastern Division of the 10-team NFL. The franchise started as the Pirates and underwent a few name changes before they finally became the Steelers before the 1940 season. The names changed, but the losing for Rooney continued, that is, until 30 years later, as the team finally turned the corner.
And once it turned that corner, Rooney and his franchise took off like a freight train. There was the move to the new Three Rivers Stadium, the hiring of Chuck Noll as head coach, the drafting of Hall of Fame players like "Mean" Joe Greene, Bradshaw, Mike Webster, Lynn Swann, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, and many more.
It seemed only fitting that it would finally pay off for Rooney and the club. In the 1970s the Steelers won seven AFC Central titles, four conference championships, and four Super Bowls (1974, '75, '78, and '79). It was commonplace in the '70s to see Rooney standing with a cigar, hugging yet another Lombardi Trophy after another Super Bowl victory.
What made Rooney so special, though, wasn't the winning, it was the way he dealt with the club and the people who were involved with it. In today's cutthroat world of business, where only the strong survive, Rooney never treated anyone with anything less than respect — from a despised opponent on the field to an 11-year-old ballboy at practice during training camp.
"He always had good things to say, encouraging words, and a pat on the back," Steelers Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris said of Rooney. "It was really wonderful because leadership is everything. You can tell an organization by how the people conduct themselves at the top."
While Rooney turned over most of the operations of the Steelers to son Dan in the mid-1960s, he still was there on a daily basis, talking to players, people involved with the team, and attended every game, enjoying the fruits of his labor with the winning the team did after years of futility.
When Rooney passed away on August 25, 1988, following a stroke at the age of 87, the NFL world, the Steelers, and the city of Pittsburgh mourned. While the NFL lost one of its great pioneers, and the Steelers lost its founder and driving force, the legacy of Art Rooney will remain as the lifeblood of the Pittsburgh Steelers forever.
Tribute to the Chief
Two years after owner Art Rooney's death, a statue to honor his legacy was erected. The bronze statue, which was built by Raymond Kaskey, is a figure of Rooney sitting down with his trademark cigar in hand. The statue was the idea of John Howel, a Pittsburgh native, who did the fund-raising for the cost. More than 7,000 individuals contributed to the project. The statue was unveiled in October 1990 and remains a favorite fan photo op outside Heinz Field to this day.CHAPTER 2
The Emperor Takes Over the Steelers
When Charles Henry Noll took over the Steelers as their head coach in 1969, owner Art Rooney was hopeful that this new voice for his team could eventually guide it into being a force in the NFL. Never did even he expect that Noll would become the legendary coach to lead the Steelers to four Super Bowl victories. But in the end, that is exactly what Noll did.
He is the only coach in NFL history to lead a team to four Super Bowl titles, as the Steelers won Super Bowls IX, X, XIII, and XIV. He did it by getting the most out of his players by paying attention to detail, as well as picking players who fit the Steelers' system of superior defense and offensive running.
Noll was never a rah-rah type of coach, as was his successor, Bill Cowher, who took over after Noll retired in 1991. But the one thing that most of his players always said about him was that they never wanted to let him down. Players were prepared under Noll, and it showed in the way they systematically dominated teams year in and year out.
From 1972 to 1984 Noll's teams never suffered a losing season. In that stretch, the coach led the Steelers to a run that most NFL franchises have never seen: four Super Bowls, four AFC conference titles, nine AFC Central titles, and a record of 130–58 in the regular season and 15–7 in the postseason. Then, of course, was the fact that under Noll the Steelers had a legendary defense that struck fear in the hearts of opponents.
Noll's coaching credentials began as a player for the Cleveland Browns. After he left the game as a player in 1959, he became an assistant coach for the Los Angeles and San Diego Chargers and then the Baltimore Colts. While with the Colts, Noll took over the defense, and in 1968 he helped them set an NFL record for fewest points allowed in a season, with 144. The following season, he was ready to take over the Steelers.
When Noll came in, the Steelers had had only four winning seasons in 19 years, and had won only 18 games in the previous five. The one thing that Noll did was commit to the draft. He started with the drafting of Joe Greene, and from there he brought in big-name talent to build his dynasty.
After a 1–13 season Noll's first year came Terry Bradshaw, then Franco Harris. The 1974 draft continues to go down as one the greatest in NFL history. Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Jack Lambert, and Mike Webster all joined the team, four Hall of Famers in one draft year, which has never been done before, and almost surely will never happen again.
Noll was the brains behind the teams that won four titles, as he was able to make smart decisions and motivate his players with his wit and game-planning. As a coach, Noll never got the attention and media coverage he deserved. It wasn't until he led an overachieving team in 1989 to the playoffs, going 9–7, and then helped them pull off an upset of coaching rival Jerry Glanville and the Oilers on New Year's Eve in the AFC wild-card game that he garnered any amount of media accolade. It was Noll's last playoff win.
Two years later he left the Steelers. With the same quiet demeanor and charm that he used in coaching the team for 23 seasons, Noll left his post as "the Emperor" and rode off into the sunset with a coaching mark of 209–156–1, including the postseason.
He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993, his first year on the ballot. He still holds the ceremonial title of administration adviser in the Steelers' front office but does not have a role in the team's operations — just the way you would think Noll would want it after a career that put rings on players' fingers and trophies in the front office of the organization.
Another Famous Coach Nearly Takes Over in '69
When Chuck Noll took the Steelers' coaching position in January 1969, he wasn't the only candidate for the job. Truth be told, Noll was the Steelers' second choice. The first was current Penn State and legendary head coach Joe Paterno. At the time the position was offered, Paterno was 42 years old. Word was Paterno considered the job, but once he turned it down, the team moved quickly to hire Noll, who was the Colts' defensive coordinator at the time. The rest, as they say, is history.CHAPTER 3
The Immaculate Reception
Usually it's a coach, owner, season, or player that defines a franchise. While many say that Art Rooney is that to the Steelers, there has never been a play that has defined a team more than that of the Steelers' winning touchdown in their 1972 playoff game. That play of course is otherwise known as the "Immaculate Reception." Every Steelers fan and pretty much any fan of the NFL knows of the play, its controversy, and the impact it had on the team. It's still NFL Films' "greatest single play of all-time."
The play is so famous that the turf from Three Rivers Stadium where running back Franco Harris made the catch and eventual touchdown was cut out from the field and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The play has been revisited and replayed so many times, it is clearly one of the most famous plays in NFL history, and Steelers play-by-play man Jack Fleming's call of the play remains the most famous in Steelers history.
To relive the play still gives goose bumps to Steelers fans everywhere. The club trailed the Oakland Raiders 7–6 with 22 seconds left in the AFC divisional playoff game, December 23, 1972. It had been a hard-fought game, and Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler's late touchdown that gave the Raiders a one-point lead seemed like it was going to be the difference in the game.
The play took place on fourth down, with the Steelers needing 10 yards for a first down standing on their own 40-yard line. So desperate was the situation, owner Art Rooney had already headed downstairs to be with his club following the tough loss. The beloved owner never even saw the play.
Quarterback Terry Bradshaw took the snap and headed back to pass. He was pressured and began to run for his life. Running to his right, trying to avoid the pressure, he fired a pass, looking for running back John "Frenchy" Fuqua at the Raiders' 35-yard line. When the ball arrived, Raiders safety Jack Tatum arrived as well, and the ball hit off his shoulder pad.
The ball, still in the air, traveled back a few yards on the rebound after it hit Tatum. The Raiders, thinking the ball was about to be called incomplete, began to celebrate. They missed Harris, who was trailing the play in case Bradshaw needed another receiving option. Harris, being alert and seeing the ball heading toward the turf, scooped it up and began racing toward the end zone.
He ran past Raiders linebacker Gerald Irons and then laid a stiff arm on Oakland defensive back Jimmy Warren at about the Raiders' 10-yard line. Keeping himself in bounds, Harris went in for the touchdown. The crowd at Three Rivers went into a wild celebration, and fans jumped onto the field to mob Harris and the rest of the team. The extra point was kicked, and the Steelers went on for the 13–7 win to advance to the AFC Championship Game.
The controversy over the call came from the Raiders, who stated that the ball bounced off Fuqua, which, if true, would have meant it was an illegal play and therefore nullified the touchdown. Tatum at first said there was no way that the ball hit him, but then later admitted in his memoirs that he couldn't honestly say if the ball hit him or not.
Fuqua remains silent on what really happened, saying he knows what happened, but will never tell. The back and forth about the play went on for years, though during halftime of the 1998 AFC Championship Game, NBC showed the play from the original broadcast. The footage showed a different angle, where it seemed more than ever the ball hit only one player — Tatum.
The aftermath of the play was legendary. The Steelers lost the next week to the eventual undefeated Super Bowl–champion Miami Dolphins 21–17. But they rebounded after losing to Oakland in the playoffs the following season, winning the Super Bowl after the 1974 season, their first. They went on to win three more after that, while the Raiders won just one Super Bowl in the same time frame.
The Immaculate Reception, a play that means almost as much to the Steelers franchise as anything else, kicked off a dynasty of winning and made stars of eventual Hall of Famers Bradshaw and Harris.CHAPTER 4
While the Steelers of the 1970s were ruled by defense, there is no doubt that their success in winning four Super Bowls and becoming the team of the decade would not have happened without the leadership of quarterback Terry Bradshaw. While Bradshaw's fame and success didn't happen overnight, the 1970 No. 1 overall draft choice matured into a tough-as-nails winner.
Bradshaw also was at his best when it mattered most. He went 4–0 in Super Bowls, and in those four games he threw for 932 yards and nine touchdowns, Super Bowl records when he retired in 1983 due to elbow issues. Overall, in 19 playoff games, Bradshaw threw for 3,833 yards and completed 261 passes.
The Steelers won the right to select Bradshaw in a coin flip with the Chicago Bears. The season before, coach Chuck Noll had addressed the defensive side of the ball in the first round, taking Joe Greene, but he knew deep down that the offense would need to be upgraded to reach the next level. This was not hard to see after the team went 1–13 in Noll's first year.
The relationship between Noll and Bradshaw started out rocky, to say the least. Noll couldn't handle the mistakes that the quarterback made, and he was quick to come down on Bradshaw. The QB in his rookie season threw an unreal 24 interceptions and just six touchdowns as the Steelers went 5–9. In his first four seasons, as players came aboard to help the club, Bradshaw still struggled, throwing 73 interceptions and 41 touchdowns, hardly what the team had in mind for their franchise quarterback.
Then in 1974 Noll had seen enough. He decided to sit his first overall pick and give the starting QB job to then-backup Joe Gilliam. The team was ready to make a run at a title, and Gilliam started the year red hot, leading them to a 4–1–1 mark through six games. Gilliam's bright star faded, though, as he threw for just 78 yards in a 20–16 win over Cleveland. The decision was made to go back to Bradshaw.
It was then that the future Hall of Famer finally started to make his mark. He went 5–2 as a starter, and the team went 10–3–1 for the season. Bradshaw wrapped up the year throwing seven touchdowns and eight picks. In the playoffs, he played well, keeping mistakes down and making sure to lean on the defense and run game to lead the team to their first Super Bowl win, a 16–6 victory over Minnesota on January 12. Finally, at the age of 27 in 1975, Bradshaw had arrived.
He lived up to the billing, throwing for 18 touchdowns and just nine interceptions as the club dominated the NFL, going 12–2 in what was their best regular season ever. They rolled through the playoffs, and in Super Bowl X against the Dallas Cowboys, Bradshaw threw for 209 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
As Bradshaw grew up and got better, so did the Steelers' offense. In Super Bowl XIII, the Steelers won 35–31 over the Cowboys. Bradshaw won the MVP as he threw for 318 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. The following season, against the Los Angeles Rams, he shined and won the Super Bowl MVP again, throwing for 309 yards with two more touchdowns and three interceptions as the Steelers rallied for a 31–19 win. He also shared Sports Illustrated's "Sportsmen of the Year" honors with Pittsburgh Pirates legend Willie Stargell.
Of course, what also made Bradshaw turn into an elite quarterback was the fact he had plenty of weapons around him. Players like Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier, Lynn Swann, and John Stallworth gave the Steelers one heck of an offense for those Super Bowl seasons. They also made the sometimes-not-on-target Bradshaw look very good.
Four years after the two back-to-back Super Bowl seasons, it was over for Bradshaw. The quarterback had off-season elbow surgery following the strike-shortened 1982 season, and it was clear that the reins at the quarterback spot were being turned over to the likes of Cliff Stoudt and Mark Malone. The final season for Bradshaw saw the team go 9–2 without him, but then three straight losses put the season in doubt.
Excerpted from 100 Things Steelers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Matt Loede. Copyright © 2013 Matt Loede. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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