The Best Steelers Museum in the World

 

photo Joe Robbins/Getty Images—Some future Hall of Famers at Dick LeBeau’s ceremony

by Roxanna Firehall

My wife and I (you may know her as Little Darlin’) visited the Hall of Fame last week, in between catching the Steelers in St. Louis and last Thursday’s game against the Ravens.

I was excited to make my first trip to the Hall of Fame.  I became a Steelers fan in 1972.  Unknown to me, it would prove the best year ever to join Steelers Nation (even though I’m pretty sure we we not yet a nation).  1972 was  the first time the Steelers made the playoffs in ten years.   Prior to that, the Steelers went fifteen years without making the playoffs.  I can’t even imagine twenty five years and only two playoff appearances.  

Since 1972, the Steelers went four years without a playoff appearance only once (’85 – ’88) and three years once (’98 – ’00).  Those were the only two stretches in the last 43 seasons when the Black and Gold went more than two years without making the playoffs.  

The Steelers made the playoffs 27 times in the past 43 years.  During this stretch, we’ve had three head coaches.  No other team in the NFL has had such stability. 

Since the merger with the AFL in 1970, Pittsburgh leads in games won, playoff appearances and playoff wins.   Eight Super Bowl appearances.  Six Lombardi trophies.  Only the 49ers have had more players go to the Pro Bowl since the merger.

By any measure, the Steelers are the best team in football since 1972.  I’d like to believe I’m personally responsible for this incredible run.  I’m not, but I’d like to believe it.

Why the facts and figures?  Simply, to make this point.

For any football fan, a visit to the HOF is a treat.  Folks can view exhibits celebrating the history of the game; the best teams and coaches, and most importantly, the best players. But, because the Steelers success in the Super Bowl era, our team’s players and history is prominent.  The Hall of Fame is the greatest Steeler museum on earth.

The first section you visit is devoted to the game’s early history.  There are exhibits and multi-media presentations explaining how the league was formed and its development.  Jim Thorpe was selected the NFL’s first president while still a player.  Exhibits featuring Thorpe and other stars of the fledgling league are presented in the early years section.  Bronco Nagurski, Ernie Nevers, Whizzer White (later to become a U.S. Supreme Court justice), Red Grange and other legends can be viewed here.

Obviously, the Steelers are prominently featured in the Super Bowl exhibit.  The are so many great artifacts from the Steelers:  the jerseys of Santonio Holmes and Lynn Swann are there;  so are Jack Lambert and Mike Webster’s battered helmets; the cleats of Lambert, Franco  and Webbie; a replica of Terry Bradshaw’s locker and a life size uniformed Joe Greene.

The current players area has a commemoration of Ben’s two 500 yard games and back to back six touchdown games in 2014.  AB’s feat in 2011, gaining 1000 yards in both returns and receiving is presented, as well.

Other Steeler exhibits of interest include the Immaculate Reception (of course) and the helmet of Bobby Layne.  Incidentally, Layne’s helmet is more beat up than the battle scarred helmets of Lambert and Webster.

The highlight for me is the Hall of Fame busts.  It takes a while to stroll through this area, arranged by induction year.  The first thing to strike me is that Art Rooney was inducted in the second year of the Hall of Fame, 1964.  This was something I did not know.  We know how the Chief is revered in the ‘Burgh.  Yet long before his team was successful, the writers voted him into the Hall of Fame, a tribute to his contributions to the league as a founder and promoter of the league.  

As I move along looking at the busts of the great players of the game, I couldn’t help but be taken back, not only to the great Steeler players and teams, but to the many greats of the game I love.  Jim Brown.  Vince Lombardi.  Joe Namath.  Walter Payton.  Deacon Jones.  Papa Bear Halas.  Legends.  Being 60 years old is okay, especially for this trip down memory lane.  I’ve seen every Super Bowl played.  I’ve watched so many games and seeing the busts of the game’s greats evokes the excitement and glory from days of yore. 

Of course, my recollections of players who did not wear the black and gold are trumped by the ones who did.  Twenty six hall of famers are credited as being affiliated with the Steelers on the HOF website.  Inexplicably, this does not include Dick LeBeau.  Understandably, it also does not include Mike Munchak.  As I looked at the busts of Art and Dan Rooney, Joe Greene, Bradshaw, Franco, Mel Blount, John Stallworth Swannie, Mike Webster, Jack Ham and of course, Chuck Noll, I remembered the great teams of the seventies.  Of course there are newer inductees such as Dermonti Dawson, Rod Woodson and the Bus.

I couldn’t help but look forward to future inductions, Hines Ward, Troy, Benny, and quite likely AB.  

We had plenty of Steelers fans to keep us company as we made our way through the museum.  We visited the day before the Steelers-Ravens game, we weren’t the only ones to combine a trip to Canton along with taking in the game.  We reminisced of past glories and hopes of future Super Bowls.

We missed seeing the Bus’s bust.  We did not know at the time that it was in Pittsburgh, awaiting the honoring of the Bus at halftime of the Steelers-Ravens game.  One curiosity—the Bettis exhibit had his Notre Dame jersey and one of his Pro Bowl jerseys, but no Steelers jersey.  Curious.

One final note—toward the end of our visit, we met one of the guides, Gus Mackey.  Gus was recently retired and filled his days working at the Hall.  Gus is quite an engaging guy.  He advised us that he is the cousin of John Mackey, HOF tight end who played for the Colts.  We chatted for a while.  He obviously enjoys his “job.”  He told us how he gets to meet all the players.  He recently escorted Peyton Manning through the Hall, just him and Peyton.  Too cool.

If you get the chance, take the time to go to Canton to see the Hall. Steelers fans will not be disappointed.

5 comments

  • On Being 60 years old is okay”. In terms of being a Steelers fan it may be better than that.

    There is something to be said about the humbling effects of failure and suffering. It is an understandable desire to shelter those we love, especially our children life’s difficulties. Then we have to deal with how the resulting sense of entitlement can sometimes amplify the inevitable setbacks, as well as dull their appreciation of the good things.

    Steelers fans of a certain age can remember when a .500 record was a cause for celebration when now it presages a descent into panic. This is not to say that we should pine for the good old days, but there has to be a middle ground between that and not being able to more fully enjoy having a team having as many as four players on the offense who are the arguably the best in the game at their positions, solid talent virtually everywhere else, good coaching and management. Even though Pittsburgh has never had such riches there is this underlying anxiety; a sense that ultimate success cannot bring joy, but only a temporary sense of relief at best.

    Those who have experienced the lean times seem better equipped to appreciate the value of the journey. I only hope that younger fans who have only known the times of relative fat can learn from the experiences of others rather than to have to subjected to down times themselves in order to ‘get it’.

    Thanks for the sharing of your adventure and observations.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Another Amen here. Although I was not a Steelers fan back in the dark days, I remember the relative drought in the mid-eighties. Four years of no playoffs is nothing compared to what most other franchises endure.

      I’m one who enjoys the ride every year. Making the playoffs is damn hard work and takes dedication, good players, good coaching and good luck, among other things. Those who believe that 8-8 is unacceptable and heads must roll don’t get it. The Steelers have retooled on the fly without a losing season, an amazing accomplishement. I believe we are in a position to contend through the duration of Ben’s viability as a top ten QB. We are blessed.

      Liked by 2 people

  • I went to college in walking distance of the HoF, and worked for a guy who ran the HoF banquets for the players. He always took a shift as bartender and had awesome stories about how great most of them are, and about what a huge jerk Al Davis is (a lot of those). Just bussing tables was a great experience.

    You hear so much about the bad stuff that it is kind of remarkable to find out what great guys most of the best of them are.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Al Davis—no surprises there… I’ve found in terms of musicians that most of the best musicians I know are also great people, at least if you don’t meet them too soon in their careers. I think it takes a certain amount of humility (which is often learned in the face of self-induced adversity) for most people to truly rise to greatness.

      Like

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