The Best Steelers Museum in the World
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.