The Pittsburgh Steelers were among the basement-dwellers of the NFL throughout the vast majority of the history of the franchise during which Art Rooney ran the show on his own. That’s no insult. It’s a mere recorded fact of history. From 1933 through 1971, they had only appeared in one postseason game, losing 21-0 to the Philadelphia Eagles in the Divisional Round in 1947 after an 8-4 season.
That 8-4 record was the best that they ever did during the 12-game schedule era. They never went winless, but they did go 1-9-1 in 1941.
This is all to set the stage for the 1972 season when the team, now loaded with players like Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris and Joe Greene, made it to the playoffs for just the second time in the franchise’s history. They nearly went one-and-done again, if not for the Immaculate Reception.
Which Rooney never even saw, as Bradshaw reminded during his appearance on The Jim Rome Podcast that aired yesterday. He offered this recollection after explaining why Super Bowl IX meant so much to him. “During the Immaculate Reception, remember, he left the stadium. He didn’t see it. He went down to the locker room to congratulate us on a great season. He didn’t even see it”.
This anecdote, something the players were aware of two years later when they would win the Super Bowl for the first time, was significant, because it was an example of who Rooney was and why the players wanted to play and win for him. Their 11-3 record that year was the best ever in their history up to that point, and their first winning record since 1963, yet they were to be ousted straight from the playoffs in a poor showing against the Raiders if not for some divine intervention from the football gods.
And so Bradshaw explained to Rome why it was so important, and so special even later in life, to get that first ring, and the first trophy, even though it was a feat that he would repeat three more times, also becoming the first quarterback ever to win three and four Super Bowls.
I was close to Mr. Rooney, and I remember that, after we had won [Super Bowl IX], I peeked around the corner, and the TV crew was presenting him the trophy. There’s two or three people. That was it. Presenting the trophy, and we were watching it, and I thought to myself, ‘this is just the greatest moment ever’. Number one, I’m the quarterback of a team that won the Super Bowl. No one can take that from me. Number two, more importantly than me, was that Mr. Rooney, after all of these years of futility, had been able to hold up the Lombardi Trophy as the world champion. So that was a very proud moment. When people ask me today, what’s the most special of all those Super Bowls, and the one that you really enjoyed the most, I always say Super Bowl IX, because it was the first one and we gave him the trophy for the first time.
I’m sure the fans who were around long enough prior to that day also understood just how much it meant not just to the franchise, but to Rooney. Literally four decades after his initial investment, his dream, his ultimate goals finally came to fruition. That one was for The Chief.