Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the Pittsburgh Steelers have arguably been the NFL’s most successful team. They’ve won six Super Bowls, the most by any team and seven AFC Championship Games, the most by any team in their conference.
From 1970 onwards they have the best win-loss record in the NFL, the most divisional titles, the best winning percentage, and the most All-Pro nominations.
The list of Steelers that have been inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is very impressive. Steelers greats in the hall include Mel Blount, Terry Bradshaw, “Mean” Joe Greene, Franco Harris, Jack Lambert, Chuck Noll, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, Mike Webster and Ron Woodson.
The Steelers are the NFL’s fifth oldest franchise. They came into existence in 1933 as the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, in the franchise’s first 40 years they reached the playoffs just once and they lost.
The Steelers first playoff victory occurred in 1972 and it was quite dramatic. The winning play is now known as the “Immaculate Reception” and it’s one of the most memorable moments in NFL history.
With 22 seconds left in the game, and trailing 7-6 to the Oakland Raiders, Steelers running back Franco Harris nabbed a deflection just before it hit the ground and ran into the end zone for the game winning touchdown.
The Raiders claimed the ball deflected off fullback John “Frenchy” Fuqua (according to the rules of the day that would have negated Harris’ reception) but the Steelers believed the ball hit Raiders safety Jack Tatum (which would have made the play legal).
Regardless of whom the ball struck, the call went the Steelers way and they won the playoff game, 13-7.
Raiders coach John Madden claims stadium security couldn’t promise to protect the referees from the crowd if the touchdown was disallowed. So in order to prevent a riot and save their hide, the zebras ruled it a touchdown. That story has never been verified.
While the “Immaculate Reception” was exciting, and now part of NFL lore, it would be another two years before the Steelers would reach the Super Bowl.
At the end of the 1974 season, the Steelers defeated the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IX, 16-6. The next year the Steelers rallied from a halftime deficit to defeat the Dallas Cowboys, 21-17.
That game was the start of a unique rivalry between teams from opposite conferences and the first of three Super Bowl meetings between the two NFL powerhouses.
The Steelers returned to the Super Bowl at the end of the 1978 and 1979 seasons. In Super Bowl XIII, the Cowboys were once again the Steelers opponent and once again they came up four points short. Steelers captured the victory, 35-31.
The following year, Bradshaw, Harris, Swan, Green, and Lambert solidified the Steelers’ dynasty with a 31-19 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. With the win the Steelers became the first NFL franchise to win four Super Bowls.
Most of the Steelers legends retired in the early 1980’s while hall of fame coach Chuck Noll stayed with the club through the 1991 season.
Pittsburgh native Bill Cowher took over for Noll in 1992 and took the team to the playoffs in each of his first six seasons. Before Cowher resigned in 2007, the Steelers reached the postseason in 10 of his 15 seasons.
Cowher’s first Super Bowl appearance came at the end of 1995 season and it once again pitted the Steel Curtain against America’s Team. However, Steelers quarterback Neil O’Donnel threw three unbelievable interceptions in a stunning 27-17 loss.
In fact O’Donnel’s play was so mind-boggling bad, some experts wondered if he was actually trying to “throw” Super Bowl XXX in favor of the Cowboys. That of course is nothing but speculation.
Ten years later, Super Bowl XL, the Steelers captured the team’s fifth world championship thanks in large part to the NFL referees. The game was wrought with bad calls that all favored the Steelers and all went against their opponent the Seattle Seahawks. Many list the score of that Super Bowl as Seattle 10, Referees 21.
In 2008, the Steelers, with new head coach Mike Tomlin, defeated the Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in the very exciting Super Bowl XLIII. The game was memorable for two big plays: Steelers linebacker James Harrison’s 100 yard interception return to end the first half and Ben Roethlisberger’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds left in the game.
With the victory, the Steelers became the first and only NFL team to win six Super Bowls and the second franchise to have its first three coaches (Noll, Cowher, and Tomlin) win Super Bowls. The first team to do that was the Cowboys (Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer).
The Steelers play in the AFC North Division, which they’ve won 19 times, with their rivals the Cincinnati Bengals, the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens.
In the 1970’s, due to multiple playoffs meetings, the team had a heated rivalry with the Oakland Raiders. In the first decade of the 21st century, the Steelers have had a similar type of rivalry with the New England Patriots.
While they don’t always play one another in the regular season, the Steelers and Cowboys still remain a fierce inter-conference rivalry due to their standing as the two most popular franchises in the NFL.
Steelers Nation flocks to Heinz Field to see their team win and to wave their “Terrible Towels.” The Steelers are also known as the “Steel Curtain” and “Blitzburgh,” a nickname given to the team due to their tendency to blitz the quarterback.
The team was founded by Art Rooney and the franchise has remained in his family ever since. Currently, Dan Rooney (his son) serves as chairman and Art Rooney II (his grandson) is the team’s president.