Copyright Pittsburgh Steelers“He’s the nicest kid I’ve ever known in professional football,” Art Rooney said of White. “He’s a great players and a fine fellow personally,” coach Blood added. “He loves football. I wouldn’t say he has no regard for money. At the same time however, he seems to be able to take it or leave it.”

Assistant coach Walt Kiesling had the team practicing twice daily at Greenlee Field. Joe Maras and Lou Tsoutsouvas have been alternating at center in place of the injured Mike Basrak.

Red Rorison became another addition in the ever changing profile of the Pirates. At, 6’4” Rorison was just 21 years old, but weighed 252 pounds. Three other newcomers were Jess Tatum, 205 pound end, Vince Farrar, 190 pound guard and Bob Douglas who played for the Pittsburgh Americans last year.

Oct 19 it was reported Ed Karp had broken a hip.

Oct 20 Whizzer’s 216 rushing yards were the most in the league, ahead of Washington’s Sammy Baugh.

October 21. The Pittsburgh Press reported that the Pirates only had 22 fit players to take to Green Bay and that included the two coaches who would fill in at quarterback and guard respectively when required. Eight of the twenty two had never played for Pittsburgh in a scheduled league game.

The newcomers were ends George Platukis, Duquesne and Jess Tatum, North Carolina State; tackle John Nosich, Duquesne; guard Vince Farrar, North Carolina State; centers Joe Maras, Duquesne and Lou Tsoutsouvas, Standford; quarterback Bud Villanova and fullback Bob Douglas, Kansas State.

Platukis, Nosich, Maras and Lee played for the Pirates in the exhibition season before being farmed out.

Game 7 at (4-2) Green Bay Packers October 23

The Packers, playing their final home game of the season before 12,142 fans, battered the Pirates. Former Packer, coach Blood, played a full sixty minutes in an attempt to spur his Pittsburgh team into a victory, but the Pirates never got inside Green Bay’s 20-yard line.

The Packers took the lead in the first quarter with a touchdown run from Cecil Isbell of 37 yards.

Pittsburgh missed three scoring opportunities in the first half with two interceptions given up by White and a fumble preventing their progress. White gave up another interception in the third quarter that increased the Packers lead before they completed the scoring in the fourth quarter.

The Packers gained 150 yards in the air and supported by the dominate running of Isbell, beat the Pirates 20-0.

With no major injuries from the Green Bay game, the Pirates prepared themselves for the continuing timetable of exhibition games they played in addition to the league games.

On October 31, the Pirates beat the McKeesport Olympics 21-6 before a 5,000 crowd.  Whizzer ran in the second touchdown after his pass to Platukis placed the ball on their opponents’ 11.

With the champions Washington as their next opponents, it was reported their star passer, Sammy Baugh, had been playing most of the season with a sore shoulder and was also said owner George Marshall has denied Baugh the rest that he required.

With pro football increasing in popularity, the Redskins had set an attendance record for a pro team. Without their star player, it’s unlikely they would have achieved that.

With their next game against the Redskins, the Pirates had prepared themselves for a team that racked up an average 301 yards of offense and 17 points every game. In 1938, those were big figures.

In a rare comparison of teams before a matchup in 1938:

Washington led on rushing 1000 to 857 yards.
Washington led on receiving 1107 to 693 yards.
Washington led on pass completions 75 to 55.
Washington led on interceptions 13 to 6.
Washington led on total yards allowed 1405 to 1672.
Pirates led on punt returns 433 to 261 yards.
Pirates led on fumbles recovered 8 to 2.

Game 8 versus (4-1-2) Washington Redskins November 6

“The Slinger vs the Whizzer” was the slogan in the build up for the game.

Defenses dominated the game and it wasn’t until the final quarter when Washington took a seven point lead and it was fitting that it came from a 39-yard touchdown pass from Sammy Baugh.

The Pirates’ attempted comeback, led by White, stalled on their opponents’ 8 yard line when possession turned over on downs with the Redskins taking the win, 7-0.

Washington’s coach, Ray Flaherty, declared that White could be the greatest football star if he continued with his pro career.

On November 11th, the Pirates played the Los Angeles Bulldogs in Colorado Springs to dedicate the city’s new Will Rodgers Memorial Stadium. The Bulldogs were a professional team playing in the second American Football League.

In 1937 the Bulldogs became the first professional football team to go unbeaten in a season, winning their 8 league games plus their 10 exhibition games.

It was a homecoming game for Byron White that he probably would like to forget. Although the Pittsburgh Press described him as a materially improved defensive player, a better tackler and blocker than he had been in college, the Bulldogs’ Gordon Gore stole the show.

Played in front of 15,000 spectators, the Bulldogs ran out 17-6 winners.

In their second exhibition game against the Bulldogs two days later, played in front of 18,000 in Gilmore Stadium, Los Angeles, White was the star. He scored a touchdown in the second quarter and his interception in the third quarter set up the Pirates’ second touchdown in a game they tied 14-14.

Rain caused the postponement of the games against the Eagles.

Game 9 at (4-6) Philadelphia Eagles November 20

A poor opening kickoff from Pittsburgh led to an early Philadelphia 7-point lead before an outstanding 70-yard touchdown run from Whizzer tied the game. The Pirates held Philadelphia until the final quarter when a late touchdown gave the Eagles a 14-7 victory leaving the Pirates rooted bottom of the Eastern Division.

November 22nd, Art Rooney announced he would be retaining Johnny Blood as the Pirates coach. He stated that he didn’t hold Blood responsible for the poor showing of the team, but blamed unfortunate circumstance which could not be avoided.

Game 10 at (5-2-2) Washington Redskins November 27

Washington took the lead in the first minute with a 21-yard field goal. The Pirates did their best to make a game of it until Washington’s star, Sammy Baugh, made his appearance late in the third quarter. He immediately made an impact, throwing touchdown passes of 40 and 45 yards to give Washington a 15-0 win in front of 25,000.

Game 11 vs (3-7) Cleveland Rams in New Orleans December 4

The Pirates played their re-arranged game against Cleveland while the Western and Eastern division titles were being decided in New York and Detroit. The original game, due to be played in Pittsburgh, was postponed because of the Pirates’ injury crisis.

Just 8,000 football fans turned out in New Orleans to see Whizzer’s last league game, but they saw his brilliance. His 46-yard run led to the Pirates’ score and saw him take the league’s rushing title. He followed that run with a pass to Wilbur Sortet that put the Pirates points on the board, but Cleveland’s two touchdowns saw them win 13-7.

White finished the season with 567 yards on 152 carries and completed 29 of his 73 passes. The Pittsburgh Press observed that his record was all the more remarkable considering he played with a team which lacked spirit and was at times torn apart with dissension.

December 6 the United Press All-Pro Team was announced. Two rookie Pirates made the team, Byron White and guard Byron Gentry.

E         Bill Hewitt, Philadelphia
T          Ed Widseth, Giants
G         Danny Fortmann, Bears
C         Mel Hein, Giants
G         Byron Gentry, Pirates
T          Joe Stydahar, Bears
E         Don Hutson, Green Bay
QB      Ace Parker, Brooklyn
HB      Ed Danowski, Giants
HB      Byron White, Pirates
FB       Hinkle, Green Bay


During his pro career, White stood out as a kicker, passer and defensive player and also finished as the leading rusher.

 He also left his mark on Art Rooney.

White told the sports editor of the Pittsburgh Press how he was disappointed the Pirates hadn’t been able to win for Pittsburgh. “I’d tear up my contract and play for nothing if it meant we could win the championship.”

“But, it’s been a great thing for me in one way. I was a hero at Colorado and that’s merely stating a fact, not boasting. I was on a winning team and experienced everything that goes with it – the back-slapping, the handshaking, the autographs and all.

But I think I’ve met more real friends in Pittsburgh and the NFL than anywhere else. You know, when they pick you off  the ground and shake your hand, they mean it.”

White’s contract called for $1,400 to be paid after each game, an additional $1,000 at the end of the season and $300 for each exhibition game.

“The Whizzer had $7,000 coming and had been reading about all our troubles, but he still wouldn’t take the money,” Art Rooney confirmed. “He tried to get me to knock off the extra money I had promised him for the exhibitions because the crowds had been small and he didn’t think he had earned it.

If I never get anything else out of football, it’s worth what it has cost me just to find out there are people like that in the world.”

After moving back home, White took the time to write to Mr. Rooney to express his gratitude for the opportunity to play his one season among the professionals.

The New York Giants beat the Green Bay Packers 23-17 in the championship game and every NFL team was projected to end the season in profit, except for the Pirates.
December 13, it was reported that the champions, New York Giants, were trying to sign White by purchasing his contract from the Pirates and continuing to pay him his salary of $15,000.

This followed a rumour a month earlier that the Brooklyn Dodgers were hoping to buy his contract.

To confirm the low priority given to pro football, when the Pittsburgh press covered their review of the 1938 Grid season, it didn’t include anything on the Pirates, not even Whizzer because to sports fans, gridiron football was college football.

On his way to Oxford, Byron White stopped over in Pittsburgh on December 27 to say goodbye to his friends. “It may be three years before I see you fellows again,” he said.


Most of the content and a couple of the photos I found in the Pittsburgh Press archives. I purchased the above photo and the 1938 programme which I have used. Mike Fabus and the Pittsburgh Steelers provided two of the others for which I am very grateful.


Two football teams played in Paris in front of 2,000 fans and it appeared the French didn’t take to the American version of the game. One newspaper reporter wrote, “The field was strewn with wounded players and the game seemed more like war than sport. Football would be too brutal for the French taste.”

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