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.