Art Rooney’s Proud of Pros’ Growth Into Respectability

The Steelers first 25 Years

Art RooneyPro Football has come a long, long way since July 8 1933, when Art Rooney wrote out a cheque for $2,500 to obtain a franchise in the National Football League.

Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Cincinnati were all admitted at the same meeting and 25 years later, only George Halas of the Bears, Tim Mara of the Giants and George Marshall of the Redskins outrank Rooney for length of service in pro football.

“In those days we had a 10-team league,” Rooney recalled. In the East were Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, Brooklyn and Boston. In the west we had the Bears, Cardinals, Green Bay, Cincinnati and Portsmouth.

“We set up our training camp at Newell’s Grove, near Greensburg, Rooney added, “and our squad was all of 31 players. The league limit was 22, compared to 33 now.

We opened our season at Forbes Field on a Wednesday night, and we were bowled over with a crowd of 20,000. The Giants beat us 23-2, but the following Wednesday night we won our first game, beating the Cardinals 14-13. Mose Kelsch kicked the two extra points.

We didn’t win too many games and we didn’t draw too many fans. I talked Jap Douds into becoming a playing coach to save money. I remember we played two games within five days (Wednesday night and Sunday afternoon) and the total gate was $2,613.

Of course, we didn’t have the overheads that stare us in the face today. Twenty five years ago our payroll for 22 players and coaches amounted to less than $18,000 for a season of 11 games. Today, our player and coaching payroll is $300,000. Our average player salary is $8,000.”

There was no thought of scouts to watch the collegians in the old days. But today, the Steelers have a staff of 12 scouts on the payroll. In order to break even at Forbes Field, the Steelers must draw at least 26,000 fans. On the road they need $35,000 a game to meet all the bills. Visiting teams receive a guarantee of $20,000 or 40 percent of the gate.

The biggest reward Rooney can show for his 25 years as a pro football mogul is respectability for the game.

“Now we’re accepted by everybody,” Rooney beams. “And the man who gave us our start in this direction was the late Dr. Jock Sutherland when he agreed to coach us. He brought us our first big advance sale for his first season in 1946 and he put us on the right track.

Had Dr. Sutherland lived he surely would have brought us our first championship. But Buddy Parker will meet this challenge. Parker’s biggest asset is organisation and getting the most out of his players. He could be another Dr. Sutherland for us.

Few people realize what Dr. Sutherland meant to us, both on and off the field. In the two years he coached us (1946-47) we sold out every seat at Forbes Field two days in advance of a game and almost did it in 1948, the year after he died.

The three-year gate totalled almost three million dollars, yet the profits were less than $50,000 because of the costly war with the All-America Conference. For instance, we took in $900,000 in 1948 for regular season and exhibitions yet lost $40,000 on the year."

Still searching for their first championship, Rooney admits the first 25 years in the business are the toughest.

Buddy Perker would coach the Steelers for 8 years finishing 51-47-6. He led the team to second place in the East Division in 1962 with a 9-5 record, their best since Dr. Sutherland’s 1947 season (8-4).

Lester J Biederman the Pittsburgh Press December 1957

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