Category Archives: Steelers History

The Catfish Conundrum: Just How Far Should Fan Loyalty Go?

B40ACB34-C913-4C4B-AA48-C76D3C1136E2-535-000001515E5420ACI really ought to be breathlessly writing about OTAs and how JuJu S-S is playing in the slot (big surprise) and how Senquez Golson is playing in the slot on the other side of the ball (also not much of a surprise, unless you consider it to be a surprise he’s on the field at all.) Or any of a number of things which probably don’t mean very much at this point, because it’s football in shorts.

And while football in shorts is better than no football, there’s still a lot of sorting out to happen before we even find out who takes the field at St. Vincent’s. So instead I’m going to write about something else. Read more

Knowing What We Don’t Know, Part 4: More on Mike Tomlin and Coaching in the NFL


Fred Vuich/AP Photo

By Ivan Cole

On Christmas Day 2016, the Baltimore Ravens were eliminated from both the possibility of earning the AFC North championship and a spot in the playoffs when Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown combined for a game winning touchdown with nine seconds left to play.

In the days following the game, some Ravens fans directed their ire at head coach John Harbaugh and his staff, asserting that the group should be terminated, for, among other crimes, poor clock management. Sound familiar?

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Knowing What We Don’t Know, Part Three: Mike Tomlin and NFL Head Coaching

coach T and DR

Peter Diana photo, Pittsburgh Post Gazette

By Ivan Cole

Part 1 of the series can be found here; Part 2 here.

The revolutionary hiring of Mike Tomlin

One need not be a moral troglodyte or harbor malicious intent to experience a moment of pause when considering whether to make a groundbreaking hire. While it is too often true that the assertion of nonacceptance by others serves as an alibi for one’s own bigotry or lack of moral courage, that does not mean that opposition and resistance is nonexistent.

This brings us back to incrementalism and nonlinearity.

Good intentions badly handled can do more harm than good. This is why Jackie Robinson was so heavily vetted before he was selected to break the color line in major league baseball. Read more

Knowing What We Don’t Know, Part Two: The Rooneys and Race Relations in the NFL


Bill Nunn, Jackie Robinson, and others: Teenie Harris photograph, via Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh website

By Ivan Cole

I want to thank Hombre for being a source of inspiration for Part One of this series. His first question in the latest 5 Smoldering Questions provides the launch point for Parts Two and Three:

Which of these key Dan Rooney decisions do you think was most consequential to the Steelers present day AND future legacy?

  • a) Listening to Bill Nunn’s complaints about how the franchise dealt with African American reporters and then convincing him to join the Steelers scouting department.
  • b) Hiring Chuck Noll.
  • c) Firing his brother Art Rooney Jr.
  • d) Choosing Bill Cowher over Tom Donahoe and replacing the latter with Kevin 
  • e) Hiring Mike Tomlin (or acquiescing to Art II decision to hire Tomlin)
  • f) Accepting the ambassadorship to Ireland and giving up control of the team.

I cheated and chose both a) and b) as most important, making the argument that to do justice to either demanded that their linkage be acknowledged. I feel that the Rooney (Dan and Art Sr.)/Noll/Nunn collaboration was in the same neighborhood of significance as Branch Rickey/Jackie Robinson, Paul Brown/Bill Willis, Marion Motley, and a handful of other collaborators whose actions resulted in significant transformation, not only in the supposedly trivial domain of sport, but also with significant spillover into the larger society. Read more

First Take on the End of the 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers Season



by Ivan Cole

“I am on record as stating that the standard for success for this particular collection of talent is to make it to the Conference Championship Game. Don’t get me wrong, I will be as disappointed as anyone if the team falls short after traveling so far. Nor am I attempting to inoculate the reader against failure as well. However, I would suggest that we be mindful that given the relative lack of experience in these matters, a winning performance would be a step beyond teams from the 70s and the last decade who needed multiple tries before claiming the ultimate prize.”

This is what I wrote in my last posting, and I am not backing off any of it. The reader may be wondering how I can be such a bleeding-heart optimist considering the events of the last few days. It’s a fair question, so this will be a multiple part post mortem. In the following segments (we have plenty of time on our hands now) I will give my take on where the team is in the larger journey.

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Training Camp for Fans Part Eight: What is the Steeler Way?


Dan Rooney, Bill Nunn, Art Rooney II, Aubrey Bruce  (Photo Thomas Sabol, The New Pittsburgh Courier)

by Ivan Cole

Pittsburgh was the Silicon Valley of the Industrial Age.

That was the assessment of Howard Fineman, Global Editorial Director of the AOL Huffington Post Media Group, and former Senior Editor of Newsweek. I have never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Fineman, but we have at least three things in common: We both had newspaper routes selling the now defunct Pittsburgh Press, attended and graduated from the same high school, and wrote articles for the inaugural edition of another defunct publication the Steelers Annual.

Fineman made the Silicon Valley reference in his Steelers Annual piece. Over the years I have found myself constantly comparing this to another statement that disguises extraordinary complexity behind a façade of deceptive simplicity. Speaking thirty years ago at the National Press Club in Washington DC, writer James Baldwin was asked what needed to be done to effectively address race relations. His response: America needed to grow up.

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Setting the Bar Higher: Goals for the Steelers’ Offense

AP photo/Nick Wass

A few weeks back I wrote about the stated goal of the offense to score at least 30 points per game in light of what they actually did last season. Had Ben stayed healthy it isn’t crazy to think they could have done it, although the stinker of a game quarterbacked by Roethlisberger in Baltimore does give one a slight pause. But the offense has just upped the ante, and now they wish to not only score 30 points per game but average 5.0 yards per carry.

I’m pretty sure most of Steeler Nation would sign up for that. Is it realistic? Mark Kaboly of the Tribune-Review wrote yesterday:

A year ago without running back Le’Veon Bell for 10 games (injury and suspension), center Maurkice Pouncey for the season and tackle Kelvin Beachum for a significant portion of the year, the Steelers rushed for 4.4 yards per carry, which was eighth best in the league.

Good points. But Kaboly also noted that in recent years only the 2014 Seahawks and the 2013 Eagles have done it. (No one managed it last season.)

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Just another plumbing job in 1975

by Homer J. 

Ralph Berlin began his career with the Steelers one year before Chuck Noll was hired. 

When Bill Austin and his staff were let go in 1968 – the last time a Steeler Head Coach was fired – Noll and his newly-hired assistant coaches met with the Steelers’ trainer and commenced a barrage of questions. “What about this guy? What about that?” Berlin, tiring of the interrogation, finally just threw his hands in the air and said, “Hey, don’t ask me. I’m just the plumber.” 

From that moment on, Steelers trainer Ralph Berlin was known affectionately as The Plumber. 

It was Art Rooney Jr who first met Berlin on a scouting trip. Berlin was working as trainer at the University of Kentucky and, in those days, when scouting was more casual, Art Jr had a long conversation with Berlin about prospects at Kentucky and elsewhere. They struck up a friendship. 

When the Steelers had an opening for a trainer several years later, Art Jr got him an interview with Dan Rooney, who did the hiring. Berlin, a former Marine with a wicked sense of humor, was a good fit, but not until Arthur J. Rooney, Sr. laid down the law to him. Read more

Training Camp for Fans, Part 7: Fandom At The End of an Era?

AP photo

by Ivan Cole

The Second Dynastic Period may be called, if you prefer, the Era of Ben Roethlisberger. It began in 2004 and is ongoing. This period includes the final three years of Bill Cowher’s leadership and the entirety of Mike Tomlin’s command. There have been no losing seasons, and three Super Bowl appearances have culminated with two championships.

While the common belief has been that unless the team manages at least one or more additional championships this period falls short of the first dynasty, I believe the opposite may well be true. What colors our perceptions is the difference in the myth making and fan expectations about what the 70s were about, and what the 21st Century rendition of the Black and Gold has produced.

Training Camp for Fans Part 6: The Emergence of Steeler Nation

1934 Pittsburgh [Football] Pirates Team Photo

by Ivan Cole

As noted in his previous post, this series is a continuation of Ivan’s “Training Camp for Fans” series which ran last August. Those links can be accessed below. Back to Ivan…

  1. B. C. (Before Chuck)

You could also, if you choose, refer to this period as B.M.J. (Before Mean Joe) or B.D.R. (Before Dan Rooney). This represents a clear demarcation between the approximate first half of the Steelers’ franchise existence, which was characterized by a losing culture, and the soaring success of the more recent past.

Those like myself who claim this period as our initiation into the Nation share the characteristic of being well grounded—in part, because if you have any memory at all of this period, you are pretty old (hate admitting that). But also because you had to withstand the trials of being immersed within a losing culture. Because of that, and the fact that the NFL and sports generally did not have the reach or popularity that they enjoy today, a fan in this era (no term as fanciful as “Steeler Nation” existed at that time)  was almost certainly indigenous.

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