Prior to the season opener, the Pittsburgh Press reported that Art Rooney’s brother, James Rooney, predicted the Pirates would win the football championship. His enthusiasm was quite emphatic as he waxed lyrically about his brother’s team.  

“We’re stronger than at every position,” he explains. “From end to end and at every spot in the backfield, we have what it takes.

You know what we expect from Whizzer White, so I’ll skip him. A lot of teams will wish they could pass him off that easy.

We’ll show you something in Scrapper Farrell a sawed off little geaser who is a miniature Karcis at fullback.

We’ll show you Billy Wilson, who is tougher than any North Side player ever developed. Wilson will knock the daylights out of somebody this fall for he blocks and tackles harder than any 180-pounder I ever saw. He’ll play offensive quarterback and defensive end.

We’ll show you three great passers in Fiske, Tommerson and Filchock and a receiver as good as (Don) Hutson (Green Bay 1935-45) in Paul McDonough.”

The league had set a new attendance record of well over a million paying customers for 1937. It was a large increase over the previous year’s 805,736, but Art Rooney lost $25,000 during a season that saw his Pirates struggle.

With the majority of the top players receiving $150 to $200 a game, the spotlight during the forthcoming season would be on White and his $15,000 salary. Sammy Baugh of the Redskins was the closet player when it came to wages being paid $10,000 a season for three years.

The other NFL owners were waiting to see if the addition of White would increase the attendance at Pirates’ games to justify that wage bill.


Game 1 at the Detroit Lions September 9

The Pirates lost their season opener against the Detroit Lions, 7-16. For the Pirates’ fans, the interest was in Whizzer’s performance. The Pittsburgh Press reported the Lions were too powerful for White to steal the show, but he did display potential greatness.

“White looked better as an individual than the Pirates did as a team.” He only played half the game, but managed four runs of more than five yards, caught a 35-yard pass and scored his team’s only touchdown.

White also committed a couple of errors, but Art Rooney was satisfied with his investment and said, “On his showing last night, White will be worth every cent of the $15,000.”

1938 roster from the programmeGame 2 versus the New York Giants September 11

A local crowd of 17,340 went to Forbes Field to find out what all the fuss was about The Pirates lost 14-27 to the New York Giants with the spotlight, as expected, on White. The Pittsburgh Press report said he showed flashes of greatness.

“Whizzer White is a rare football gem, every bit as good as ballyhooed in his Colorado collegiate days.

His Pirate support, offensively and defensively, is alternately good and bad, and until it becomes good and stays that way, the Bucs won’t have to bother about any kind of a championship playoff.

The ‘Whiz’ made a touchdown and generally conducted himself as a standout, running from scrimmage, catching passes and returning kicks. He played most of the game and his name was on every tongue as the rather disappointing attendance filed out.

On occasions, the Pirates presented an inspired defense against Giant running plays, but they were never capable of stopping their aerial attack. This failure beat them.”

Game 3 at the (0-1) Philadelphia Eagles September 16

Originally scheduled for the 14th, wet weather caused a postponement for two days. The Pirates would have appreciated the additional rest as the original schedule meant playing three games in five days.

The game took place at night in the Civic Stadium, Buffalo. It was the first time the NFL had returned to Buffalo since the NFL team, the Bisons, folded in 1929.

Coach Johnny Blood announced two changes to his offense before the game, replacing Izzy Wienstock with Tom Burnette at quarterback and replacing Max Fiske at right halfback with Frank Filchok.

Center Mike Basrak stayed in Pittsburgh to receive treatment on his injured knee.

The Eagles stifled Byron White before 18,000 fans and kept the Pirates quiet as they scored in each or the first three quarters. A White fumble on the Pirates 15, recovered by Philadelphia and returned for a touchdown began the scoring for the Eagles.

A 40-yard touchdown reception increased the Eagles’ lead before the game went beyond the reach of the Pirates with Philadelphia’s interception of substitute Fiske’s pass. It was returned 25 yards for a touchdown although the point after kick failed.

The Eagles scored again in the third quarter with a 45-yard touchdown run that increased their lead to 27-0. White showed some brilliance for the Pirates in the final period, completing a long pass to Paul McDonough before he ran over from the one yard line for a consolation touchdown that produced a final score of 27-7.

Byron White page 4 >>>