Suffice to say, the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers hardly represent a deep football rivalry. The teams have never met in a playoff game and have only faced one another eight times since 1970 when the Steelers were placed in the AFC as part of the AFL-NFL merger.
|Card-Pitt Team Photo
Perhaps it’s that unfamiliarity that offers the most intrigue surrounding Super Bowl XLIII. Certainly the teams are learning more about each other with every passing hour of game preparation leading up to kickoff on Sunday.
Sixty-five seasons ago, the Cardinals, then located in Chicago, and Steelers were intimately familiar with one another in what is an unusual side note in the league’s history. At the time, the NFL was faced with depleted rosters caused by a great number of players serving in the military during World War II.
With the sparse talent pool and strained wartime economy, the NFL looked to do its best at stabilizing the member clubs and fielding competitive teams. One season earlier, the Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles merged as Phil-Pitt or the “Steagles” as they had become nicknamed. That club posted a respectable 5-4-1 record.
So, as the NFL embarked on the ’44 season, thoughts of other team combinations were floated. The Steelers, owned by Hall of Fame legend Art Rooney found a willing taker in the Cardinals, Charlie Bidwill, also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After all, the Cardinals had nowhere to go than up after suffering through a winless season in 1943. The Card-Pitt coaching reins were shared by Chicago’s Phil Handler and the Steelers’ Walt Kiesling.
“The war has been a great equalizer among pro teams and any two teams that merge, no matter what their standing the preceding year, have a tremendous advantage,“ predicted Hall of Fame lineman Turk Edwards, who at the time served as the line coach for the defending Eastern Division champion Washington Redskins.
Edwards’ prognostication could not have been more off base as the combined Card-Pitt club came stumbling out of the gate with two shutout losses in the preseason. More futility followed and by the third week of the ’44 regular season, the picture became quite clear that the squad was in for a long season. Soon the club had its named twisted from Card-Pitt to “Carpets” since their opponents made a habit of walking all over them.
”We combined the two worst teams in sports history,” once shared the legendary Rooney. “Charlie and I would sit together. When something went wrong, and it usually did, he’d yell at me, ‘that’s one of your players.’ I’d yell the same thing when one of the Cardinals players messed up.”
An error-filled season with few highlights yielded a miserable 0-10 record. The year ended in a manner that seemed indicative of the team’s struggles that season. The club was set to face the Chicago Bears in the season finale at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. The turf was in miserable shape after it was trounced during a Thanksgiving Day college game.
Running back Johnny Grigas, who was in the hunt for the rushing title heading into the final week, arrived at the stadium early in the morning to survey the field. He made his way back to the locker room and jotted a quick note to the ownership that stated, “This is the end.” By the time his teammates arrived at the stadium for the game, Grigas was nowhere to be found. He caught a train out of town.
Without its main offensive threat out of the lineup, Card-Pitt hung tough for the first half against the Bears and narrowed the margin to seven points when with a touchdown scored with five seconds remaining in the half. That did not last long, though, as the Bears routed Card-Pitt, 49-7.
And with that demoralizing defeat that included 28 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, the story of Card-Pitt came to a close.
More from Profootballhof.com
Back to news
HOF Bios: Rooney | Bidwill | Kiesling | Edwards
Team Histories: Cardinals | Steelers
Honor Roll of NFL players who served in World War II