No franchise in pro football history has experienced the success that the Pittsburgh Steelers have over the last forty years. But the Steelers, proud owners of six Super Bowl trophies, faced a long and, at times, difficult journey to get to the pinnacle.
Much of the Steelers’ story is the story of the Rooney family. Art Rooney was the beloved founder of the team and caretaker of its development. His son Dan and grandson Art Rooney II have carried out his vision and legacy in the ensuing decades. From its origins as the Pittsburgh Pirates football team in 1933, through the challenging war years and postwar doldrums, to the establishment of a modern-day juggernaut, the club has had a steady, guiding hand at the helm.
Although the wait for triumph was long, the reward was great when the Steelers emerged as the dominant team in football in the 1970s and early 1980s. After forty years of on-field struggles, the franchise won its first title after the 1974 season, and proceeded to win four Super Bowls in the span of six years, establishing themselves as one of the greatest teams of all time.
Taking the bold step to hire the young Chuck Noll as head coach in 1969 and giving him a free hand to acquire talent, the Rooneys built a special dynasty. The Steelers were anchored by the famed “Steel Curtain” defense, featuring such stars as “Mean Joe” Greene, L. C. Greenwood, Jack Ham, and Jack Lambert. Densely populated with all-pros and future Hall of Famers, the offense shined under quarterback Terry Bradshaw, running back Franco Harris, and the receiving tandem of Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. The aerial acrobatics of Swann and Stallworth and Harris’ “Immaculate Reception” are forever etched in the minds of football fans everywhere.
The four Super Bowl titles equaled the most won by any other franchise, but the team was not done. More than a quarter century later, now under the determined leadership of coach Bill Cowher, the Steelers electrified their fans by winning, at long last, “one for the thumb”—a fifth Super Bowl ring.
In replacing the esteemed Cowher, the Rooney clan again eschewed “big name” candidates and instead made a non-traditional hire. In 2007, the Steelers went for potential over experience and gave the 35-year-old Mike Tomlin his first head-coaching job. Once again, the Rooney family and its team were well rewarded.
With another group of star players, from Troy Polamalu and James Harrison to Hines Ward and Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh again claimed its place atop the pro football universe with an amazing sixth Super Bowl championship following the 2008 season. Yet another trip to the NFL championship game in Super Bowl XLV proved that the Steelers aren’t going anywhere and are a team built for long-term success.
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