Steel City Pirates

Steel City Pirates

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The Pittsburgh Pirates met the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field on a Sunday afternoon in 1939. To the contemporary sports fan the thought of this game conjures images of a warm, sunny afternoon, watching two historical National League teams battling in one of baseball's most nostalgic ballparks. The Dodgers were led by Clarence "Ace" Parker, a two-sport athlete. But, this game in which the Dodgers defeated the downtrodden Pirates, 17-13, was not a baseball game. Rather, it was a National Football League matchup played in the mud and cold.

The city of Pittsburgh in 1933 was awarded one of three NFL expansion football teams (the others included the Philadelphia Eagles and Cincinnati Reds). The Pittsburgh franchise took on the same nickname as the city's baseball team. At that time, it was common for football teams to take on the identical nickname as their baseball counterparts in an effort to capitalize on the popularity of "America's pastime." Throughout the next seven seasons the Pirates struggled to avoid being the perennial doormat of the NFL. The club never registered a winning season during that span. After finishing the 1939 season with a disappointing 1-9-1 record, it was time to make a change.

In 1940, team founder and owner Art Rooney had the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette conduct a contest asking fans to come up with an original name for the team. The winner(s) would receive season tickets for the upcoming season. A few people came up with the name "Steelers," which celebrated the rich tradition of the steel industry in the area. Rooney was anxious to usher in a new era of football and to give the struggling Pirates a new identity. Initially the name change did little for the team's success. The Steelers saw sporadic results for many years to come and just one playoff appearance until the 1970s.

One of winners of the naming contest was Harry Milton. He was quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1975 reminiscing, "It's like naming a baby. I've watched the Steelers grow up. I remember the low times and now there are good times."

Rooney's vision for a new identity finally come to fruition as the team took on the toughness, grit, determination, and no nonsense view of life that once originated in the steel mill. Led by the "Steel Curtain" defense, the Steelers captured four Super Bowl titles in a six-year span in the 1970s and have been among the NFL's elite teams ever since.

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