Six Super Bowl rings. One of the top dynasties the league has seen. Always competitive shortly after Chuck Noll walked into the door. A team that has been modeled after. That's the Pittsburgh Steelers in a nutshell.© 2010 Steelers Universe
It wasn't always that way.
It's easy for fans to forget the franchise wasn't born in 1970. Chuck Noll wasn't the first coach. Joe Greene wasn't the first draft pick. The Steel Curtain didn't just appear. This is a franchise that was born much longer ago. July 8th, 1933.
The Pittsburgh Pirates first draft pick, the team was not called the Steelers until 1940, was William Shakespeare. His football career was about as storied as the writers. Jap Douds was the first coach.
The years before Noll were a struggle. That's putting it mildly. They didn't record a winning season in the 30's, and finished at .500 only once. Five head coaches were used in the first seven years alone. The Steelers have had three since 1969. War only added on to the issues. Twice the team was forced to mearge with other teams in order to field enough players. The Eagles and Steelers became the Steagles, putting up a respectable 5-4-1 record. The Cardinals and Steelers became the Card-Pitts, unofficially nicknamed the "carpets". An appropriate nickname considering the team went 0-10. The pattern stayed similar until 1969. Losing became the culture, the coaching carousal continued, and the team was slow to evolve as the game did.
That's why this era has been blocked from the minds of so many fans. It's merely a 36 year footnote. These were trying times, but the dark cloud that hung over the city masked the few rays of light that shined through.
Byron "Whizzer" White was the league's first "big pay" player, earning a salary of around $15,000. He only played one season for the Steelers, but his impact was known. He would later go on to become a Supreme Court Justice. "Bullet" Bill Dudley was an all-purpose player. In 1942, he led the league in rushing yards and return yardage. In 1946, he led the league in interceptions with a whopping ten. He only played three seasons for the team, and left for war from 1944-45, but was another glimmer of hope to the fans. John Henry Johnson was the team's first 1,000 yard runner, making three Pro Bowls in his time with the Black and Gold.
Even past his prime, Bobby Layne was the first true QB Pittsburgh had. He led the team to winning records in three of his five seasons, something no one could say up until that point. Dan Rooney called him one of the most competitive yet easy-going players he had been around. Bradshaw and Ben may be the top two quarterbacks in history, but Layne makes a strong case for third place.
Val Jansante and Elbie Nickel was the first dual recieving threat. Nickel is still widely considered to be the best tight end in team history though may eventually be surpassed by Heath Miller. Buddy Dial was the first 1,000 yard receiver and a big play threat. Before Lynn Swann, there was Lynn Chandnois. He was an all-purpose player; rushing, receiving, and returning. He led the league in all purpose yards in 1953. His 35.2 kick return average in 1952 still ranks in the top five all-time. Roy Jefferson was an extremely talented receiver though his off the field issues sent him off to play in Baltimore.
On the defensive side of the ball, Ernie Stautner is still the only player in team history to have his number, 70, officially retired. Gene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb was a three time Pro Bowler in his career, making one in his two years as a Steeler. The famous picture of Y.A. Tittle, bloodied and kneeling in the end zone, was the result of a hit from end John Baker.
Jack Butler and Paul Marta were two playmakers in the secondary. Butler was a three time All-Pro and finished his career with an impressive 52 interceptions. Martha had 15 interceptions in his time with the Steelers.
Bert Bell, commissioner of the NFL until his death, was a coach and friend of the Rooney's. Walt Kiesling was a player and coach for the team. He is enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
The first 45 years of the franchises existence won't be the first thing to come to mind. It's easy to focus on the good times in terms of wins and losses. But these players should get just as much credit. They were the ones who had to endure the extremely difficult times, some never being able to sit on the winning side of the fence as those in the 70s were able to do. What they did for this franchise, to help keep it afloat during its darkest days, should be applauded.