Earlier this week, we wrote the 1964-1971 Pittsburgh Steelers were named the 21st best/worst “anti-dynasty” in league history as one of the ugliest stretches of failure football’s ever seen. And we noted one era was probably going to top it. That’s exactly what happened with Football Outsiders naming the 1933-1943 Pirates/Steelers the seventh-worst “dynasty” ever.
Over the team’s first nine seasons, they went just 25-71-6, a .275 winning percentage. In explaining this miserable pile of failure, author Bryan Knowles noted the team’s poor recruiting strategy hindered the team from fielding a competitive roster.
“The draft wasn’t put into place until 1936, so for the first few years, the Pirates had to try to compete against those three clubs for college players. They didn’t have the reputation or cash to do it, but their actual efforts were rather lackluster as well. They didn’t try to recruit players until after the college season was over, by which time the big clubs had already gotten commitments from pretty much every prospect worth mentioning; by the time the Pirates came a-calling, the cupboards were bare. Also, they didn’t have the money to send someone to watch anything but local games, so they relied on preseason guides (Art Rooney would have loved Football Outsiders Almanac 1934) and on just calling college coaches to ask if anyone was graduating.”
The inaugural team, the 1933 Pirates (they were renamed the Steelers in 1940), went 3-6-2. Not a terrible record for a brand new team. They played .500 ball for the first half of the season before fading down the stretch. But the team never figured things out, only finishing .500 once over its first nine years.
The team had turmoil everywhere. Financially, on the field, and even with coaches. Over those nine years, the team had seven head coaches, including three in 1941 (Walt Kiesling, Bert Bell, and Buff Donelli). It wasn’t until 1942 that the Steelers would have its first winning season and end its miserable streak. Of course, the team wouldn’t win a playoff game until 1972, so their fortune was still another 30 years from turning around.
Despite how bad those teams were, they still are far from the top spot on FO’s list. That dubious honor was awarded to the 1999-2019 Cleveland Browns, the Steelers’ whipping child for so many years. Over that span, Pittsburgh went 35-7 against Cleveland. Those Browns’ teams are officially the worst of all-time. A great series and tremendous amount of work and research by the FO crew.
If you want to read more about the 1933-1934 Steelers, check out these articles.