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Happy birthday, Pittsburgh Steelers

art_rooney_alt AP

In mostly every corner of the country, the date July 8 has little significance.  In Pittsburgh, it should rival the National Holiday that falls four days earlier.

As pointed out by the folks at BehindTheSteelCurtain.com, the Steelers were founded on July 8, 1933.  That makes them 79 years old, as of today.

Actually, they were the Pirates at first.  The teams didn’t become the Steelers until 1940, the name coming as a result of a contest administered with the help of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  And the Steelers didn’t become the Steelers until 32 years laters, when rookie tailback Franco Harris caught on the run a ball that had bounced off the shoulder pads of Raiders safety Jack Tatum, lifting the Steelers to the first postseason win in franchise history.

It also was only the second postseason game in franchise history.

Two years later, the Steelers embarked on a run of four Super Bowl wins in six seasons, creating a standard that has caused many to forget the nearly 40 years of futility that preceded the play that represents the moment the fortunes of a franchise turned, dramatically.

But an ever luckier event allowed Art Rooney and the Steelers to be in position for what came to be known as the Immaculate Reception.

Though it’s widely believed that Rooney purchased the Steelers after winning big at the horse track, he paid the $2,500 franchise fee several years before a legendary run at the races.  In About Three Bricks Shy of a Load, the Roy Blount Jr. book chronicling the team’s 1973 season, Blount explained that “the Chief” once parlayed $300 into much more than a quarter-million.

The specific figure still isn’t known.

“The Chief does not like to talk about the killing,” Blount wrote.  “I asked him about it in the car and he wouldn’t say anything at all.”

Blount’s research suggested that, prior to that notorious weekend in New York, Rooney “owed bookies money . . . and the Steeler franchise was in bad shape.”  According to Blount, Rooney previously wasn’t rich.  After “the killing,” he was.

“Every time I talked to a new informed source, the figure got more confidential and higher,” Blount wrote.  “All I am at liberty to say is that it may have been a good deal more than $380,000 — 1936 dollars — and it may have been a lot more.”

According to Blount, Rooney’s bets were based on information from Giants owner Tim Mara, “which was, as they say, good.”  Rooney hit on as many as 11 straight winners, and he had to hire an armored car to bring the money back to Pittsburgh.  Even then, “a good piece of it was somehow lost along the way.”

Thus, while Rooney already owned the “Pirates” when he swashbuckled his way through Saratoga, the Pirates may have never become the Steelers, and the Steelers may have never become the Steelers, without Rooney’s historic run of good fortune.

So if you’re a Steelers fan, today may be the perfect day to take $300 to local equine racing facility and, you know, see what happens.

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14 Responses to “Happy birthday, Pittsburgh Steelers”
  1. profootballwalk says: Jul 8, 2012 12:49 PM

    So it all started with Rooney-cheat. Players could get suspended a year for gambling, but owners could own horses, gamble big at the track, etc. There’s always two sets of rules – one for them, and one for us.

  2. 49erstim says: Jul 8, 2012 12:50 PM

    The Steelers will start their own league based on fabulousness….blah blah blah…you will be jealous…blah blah blah…. Lol…we all hate that guy!

    Happy Birthday to a storied franchise. Congrats Steelers and fans!

  3. huskersrock1 says: Jul 8, 2012 12:51 PM

    Sounds to me like he got a tip on races fixed by the mob. I wouldn’t want to talk about it either.

  4. chazzmon says: Jul 8, 2012 2:21 PM

    Cool story, love hearing how these guys got started, it’s never what you’d think.

  5. dryzzt23 says: Jul 8, 2012 2:26 PM

    Owners are fully vetted by the league before they become owners.
    Players are not vetted enough, all b/c players cry “I don’t want my privacy violated”. How many times does a player do drugs or something illegal, deny it for years, then admits he was wrong. If he was honest he might have been cut or his salary reduced but of course players are protected by the union so they are untouchable.
    No one protects the owners so they must look out for themselves. Yes if an owner gambles, I have no problem w/that b/c he isn’t on the field and cannot affect the outcome.
    Players can affect the outcome so if they gamble or do something illegal and get suspended, it affects the games. Players are more to blame than anyone else.
    Go owners!
    Go Steelers!

  6. dryzzt23 says: Jul 8, 2012 2:30 PM

    Are there no protections for employees? Yes their are state and federal protections.

    In the NFL, the owners take all of the risk and partial profit (which they now must spend to defend themselves vs player lawsuits). Players have no financial risk whatsoever and make 100% profit.

    If I were Rooney, and a Steeler player files a lawsuit against my team, that player would be cut immediately.

  7. steelersownyou says: Jul 8, 2012 2:43 PM

    Its awesome to own the nfl…the standard of whick all other teams and their fans are jealous of! God its great to be king!

  8. catquick says: Jul 8, 2012 2:48 PM

    Unless they were runaway favorites(they weren’t, they were ALL longshots) that’s virtually impossible. The cash that got “lost along the way” was most likely the payoff money for whoever put him up to making the bets, as he was the guy who got exposed, not them. If he really lost a “significant” amount from an armored car along the way, he would have screamed bloody murder, and the new bureau started in Washington, the FBI with J. Edgar, would have certainly looked in on it, as it crossed state lines from NY to PA. Silence on the subject seems the most prudent road for Mr. Rooney. It all worked out for the best though, so, so what?

  9. satanphoenix says: Jul 8, 2012 4:20 PM

    Jack Tatum denied until his dying day the ball ever touching him. The best you can get out of Frenchy Fuqua is some version of “I lnow but I’ll never tell”. Hopefully Frenchy Fuqua will fess up before he passes.

  10. rc33 says: Jul 8, 2012 6:51 PM

    I’m a Pats fan and basically hate the Steelers but there’s no organization I respect more. The Rooneys, tremendous fans, great game day atmosphere and an awesome tradition.
    Happy Birthday indeed.
    Hope you’re a .500 team next year (not counting on it).

  11. antibenapalooza says: Jul 8, 2012 9:24 PM

    I still don’t understand why the Rooneys keep Rottenberger around. What a Pig!

  12. inthezone4 says: Jul 9, 2012 10:22 AM

    steelersownyou says good to be king , but you don’t play for the steelers and they are not the champs at this moment . Steelers and you own no one!

  13. minnysoda says: Jul 9, 2012 2:25 PM

    Steelers what a bunch of rookies 79 years ?
    Hell the Packers were around before the NFL and they were called the Packers 13 championships baby. Waiting for the bull crap argument that was before the modern era. Well the Steelers never did win any before then So I guess it was a little harder than people argue.
    P.S. What ever happened to the Steagles?

  14. jobotjones says: Jul 9, 2012 2:34 PM

    I love when people like this author think they are automatically entitled to information.

    Yea sure it is a little shady, everybody that had alot of money in the 1930s was…because almost everyone in America was broke.

    He went to the track and left with a small fortune…end of story as far as I am concerned.

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