Buy a gift and bake a cake. The Pittsburgh Steelers turn 86 years old today. On July 8th, 1933, for the-then large sum of $2500, Art Rooney Sr. founded the franchise.
It’s easy to think of buying a pro football franchise as a no-brainer decision. Forbes values the team at $2.6 billion dollars. I’m no Wall Street broker but safe to say that’s a good return on investment. But at the time, it was a risky bet. The US slipped into the Great Depression and pro football wasn’t anything remotely like it was today. Baseball was America’s pastime and even when it came to football, the college game was king. The NFL was just 12 years old, teams barely turned a profit (it’s rumored the Steelers took 25 years to get out of the red), and fans saw the game as a curiosity, not a mainstay.
It was even harder to get fans to show up in those early years. The Steelers, named the Pirates until 1940 (teams commonly borrowed the baseball team’s name to drum up interest), were bad. No getting around that, they were terrible. From ’33 to 1941, the team went 25-71-6. Their second winning season came during World War II when they combined with the Philadelphia Eagles to form the Steagles, finishing the year 5-4-1.
Until Chuck Noll was hired, the Steelers were known as lovable losers. Recycling head coaches, whiffing on draft picks, and overall making terrible decisions that would make even the biggest Mike Tomlin critic think he’s Bill Walsh.
But it’s a part of their history and one that I – and so many of you – love. One that’s easily forgotten, glossed over by many who tell the franchise’s story, as if Noll was the first coach and Joe Greene was the first draft pick. Not by a longshot.
The first coach from that ’33 season was Jap Douds. Angelo Brovelli was their first “big thing,” a highly touted prospect. But end Paul Moss was arguably the team’s first star. There’s an amazing history that’s rarely unearthed. But over the past few years, we’ve tried hard to comb through newspaper clippings and books to bring those moments to light.
To celebrate turning 86, here are some of those stories.
Here are part one and part two of me recapping the team’s inaugural, 1933 season. A game-by-game breakdown of each matchup, even if most of them ended in losses for the good guys. Here’s a full 1934 recap. too. Ditto with a run down of the ’35 season.
Mose Kelsch is one of my favorite Steelers’ ever. He’s widely regarded as the first kicking specialist in the NFL, one of the oldest to ever play in black and gold, and one of the few who never went to college. Fun fact. The media guide lists his college as “Christian.” That’s his first name. Here’s the story on a life well-lived but tragically cut short.
Like I mentioned earlier, Paul Moss was the first elite athlete to become a Steeler. Honestly, he’s one of the top athletes of his era and holds the honor of recording the first offensive touchdown in team history. And retelling the life of Angelo Brovelli, dubbed the Steelers’ star from St. Mary’s, though the results ultimately didn’t live up to that billing.
Walt Kiesling was one of the teams on again, off again coaches throughout the early years. While Bert Bell served in basically every role you can conjure up. Our David Orochena has both of those stories in the links provided. Here’s another from him on Johnny “Blood” McNally, one of the most colorful characters of those early days, including a note on the origin of that nickname.