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Steelers History: Franchise has been called eight different team names

The club has been the “Steelers” three different times

Super Bowl XLIII Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers is the undisputed “Team of the 1970s with four Super Bowl victories. Another facet of the franchise is they have had 16 head coaches since they entered the NFL in 1933, but since 1969 the club has employed just three men to lead them: Chuck Noll (1969-1991), Bill Cowher (1992-2006), and Mike Tomlin (2007-present).

This fact alone has brought stability into the front end of the team all these years.

But did you know this storied franchise has had eight team names? Intertwined with these eight names, they have been named the “Steelers” three different times.


Pittsburgh became an NFL club in 1933, the same year as the Philadelphia Eagles. These two teams had a common denominator besides both being in the State of Pennsylvania.

The state had Blue Laws. And the majority of those laws disallowed any form of work on Sundays. And playing sports while getting paid was considered work. These laws were designed to enforce religious practices on Sundays. The Sabbath was set aside as a day of rest and had restrictions on just about everything. Professional baseball was the king of sports in those days, and Pittsburgh had the Pirates. But unlike pro football, baseball games could be played all week long.

In the fall of 1933, some of the Blue Laws were about to be repealed. The new legislation was about to change specifically to help baseball be able to play on Sundays. So, both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia entered the NFL but had to play their home games on Wednesdays until the Blue Laws were changed in November.

For a $2,500 entry fee, the Pittsburgh Professional Football Club, Inc. was born. Their owner was Art Rooney who had owned a semi-pro football team called the “Hope-Harvey Majestics” for many years prior which competed in the Western Pennsylvania Senior Independent Football Conference. Most folks called them “the Rooneymen.”

Throwback of the early Pirates uniform with the city crest on the front and black helmets, which were leather at the time

Rooney called his new NFL club the “Pittsburgh Pirates.” This was common in those days in order to entice baseball fans to come out and support another Pirates squad that just happened to play football.

Boston Braves, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Brooklyn Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, New York Giants, and Philadelphia Phillies were all baseball clubs that would have a pro football counterpart at some point. So for Rooney to call his new team the Pirates was not an unusual occurrence in those days.

The colors chosen for the Pirates were black and gold, which is derived from the city’s crest. The first uniforms were even ornamented with the city’s crest on the chest of each jersey.

The first team name: Pirates.


After nine years and finishing either in last place or close to it, Rooney wanted a new start. He sponsored a “name the team contest” in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Many different entries were submitted, but Rooney chose the moniker “Steelers” out of the entries submitted to honor the local steel industry. The winner drawn was Margaret O’Donnell.

The second team name, and the first time called Steelers.

After going 2-7-2 in 1940, Rooney had lost over $100,000 during his tenure with the team. On December 9, 1940, Rooney sold the Steelers to Boston millionaire Alexis Thompson for $160,000. Thompson’s plan was to move the franchise to Boston after one final year in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Rooney bought half-stock in the Eagles which was owned by his good friend Bert Bell.

Thompson vowed to make Pittsburgh into a winner and paid handsomely for new head coach Greasy Neale. In the January 17, 1941 issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, it was reported that the club would receive its third team name.

The article stated, “The local eleven will henceforth be known as the “Pittsburgh Iron Men.” Thompson renamed the team while in attendance at the owner’s meeting in Chicago.

The third team name: Iron Men.

After the sale of Pittsburgh to Thompson went through, it was a certainty that the Iron Men would move to Boston after the 1941 season. Rooney felt bad for his hometown, which beginning the following year would be without pro football.

Rooney and Bell came up with a novel solution. As co-owners of the Philadelphia Eagles, they could play half their home games in Philly while the other half in Pittsburgh. The state of Pennsylvania is called “The Keystone State” so the pair would rename the Eagles the “Pennsylvania Keystoners” to represent the entire state.

The fourth team name: Keystoners.

This was before the 1941 NFL season even began. In the meanwhile, there was new a development brewing.

Thompson lived just outside New York City and had his business office in the city. As he was now the owner of Pittsburgh, this meant a lot of train rides all across the State of Pennsylvania to deal with his new team. He was new to professional sports. What he preferred to do was transfer operations closer to home and work. He realized that taking over either the New York Football Giants or the Philadelphia Eagles would have been much more convenient to his lifestyle.

His thinking was that it was just as easy for a novice like him to make a start in one city as it would be in another.

In the meanwhile, Rooney was traveling by train all across the state from his home in Pittsburgh to Philadelphia to do business. Thompson and Rooney began to talk.

On Thursday, April 3, 1941, it was announced that the Eagles would move to Pittsburgh and that the Iron Men would relocate to Philadelphia. Thompson’s team was now in Philly closer to home and work, and Rooney was back in Pittsburgh.

With the exception of uniforms, team names, and colors, everything was swapped including players, equipment, front office, and coaches without any exchange of money. Rooney dropped the Iron Men name back to the Steelers.

The fifth team name, and the second time called Steelers.

Well, technically, because the franchise swap became a reality before an actual season had transpired, Rooney and Bell’s team was never officially the Keystoners which was always in the planning stages. Therefore, let’s revise this.

The fourth team name, and the second time called Steelers.

Yes, more changes

World War II decimated the rosters of professional sports. Men were leaving their junior and senior years of college and going overseas to fight. Many sporting athletes did the same.

By May of 1942, 112 of the NFL’s 346 players were involved in the war effort. In 1943, Chicago Bears head coach George Halas signed anybody who could run around the track two times.

NFL rosters were cut from 33 players to 25 because of a lack of talent. The Cleveland Rams closed down completely for the 1943 season.

As 1943 began to unfold, the Eagles had only 16 players left from the previous season while the Steelers had six. Rooney and Bell then merged with Thompson’s Eagles to form “Phil-Pitt” with the common nickname “Steagles” - a play on the Eagles and Steelers monikers by fans. They played four home games in Philadelphia and two in Pittsburgh and finished 5-4-1.

The fifth team name: Steagles.

After a single season, Philadelphia got some of their players back from the war effort and was able to fill a complete roster as did the Rams. Rooney and Pittsburgh weren’t so fortunate. Several players were aging or war draft rejects.

Rooney attempted to merge his players with the Brooklyn Tigers who were also short, but in the end, the Chicago Cardinals were able to merge with Pittsburgh to fill their roster. The two teams officially formed “Card-Pitt.”

The season before the Cardinals had gone 0-10-0 and scored just 95 points while giving up 238. The players they lost to the armed forces were their better athletes. This was a roster full of hard-pressed football players. For the 1944 preseason, Card-Pitt did not score a single point. In their first three regular season games, opponents scored 30, 34, and 34 points on their defense en route to an 0-3-0 start. The media began calling them “the Carpitts.”

Since World War II, only six pro football teams have gone winless/untied in a season. The Carpitts finished 0-10-0 and gave up a league-high 328 points.

The sixth team name: Carpitts.

The new normal

As the 1945 season was drawing near, both Pittsburgh and Chicago remained short on players but decided to forgo another disastrous season melding together. Both squads were able to form rosters at some point. Rooney then reinstated the Steelers moniker.

The seventh team name, and the third time called Steelers.

Reverting back to their familiar epithet certainly did not guarantee success right away. To be factual, it was basically back to being the same old doormat Steelers the league had known. Draft picks continued to be terrible selections and were often chosen based on hearsay.

Over the team’s history, they drafted QB Johnny Unitas and cut him. They had the fifth selection in the 1957 NFL draft and passed on FB Jim Brown who was taken with the very next pick by the Cleveland Browns.

Throughout those years, the franchise passed on Sonny Jurgensen, Don Maynard, Erich Barnes, Jerry Kramer, Fran Tarkenton, Deacon Jones, Lance Alworth, John Hadl, Darryl Lamonica, Buck Buchanan, Paul Warfield, Mel Renfro, and Bullet Bob Hayes.

The turning moment in Steelers lore occurred when Chuck Noll was hired as head coach for the 1969 season. The club began to draft correctly with selections such as Mean Joe Greene (1969), Terry Bradshaw and Mel Blount (1970), Jack Ham the following year, Franco Harris (1972), and for 1974 John Stallworth, Mike Webster, Lynn Swann and Jack Lambert.

And the franchise with all those team names finally found success.