In nearly direct opposite fashion of their longtime division mates in Cleveland, the Pittsburgh Steelers have thrived in the post-merger era perhaps more than any other team. At first glance, the Steelers’ no. 12 position on the all-time winning percentage rankings table makes little sense, especially as the Oakland/LA/Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders are 3 games better despite emphatically losing for most of the 21st century.
But that no. 12/11 spot is in actuality a testament to the Steelers’ incredible success before 1970, as going into that season the Steelers had run up little more than a five-decade history of bottom feeding.
How bad were the Steelers from their inception as the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1933? It is nearly impossible to exaggerate just how lame this franchise was for so long. The team’s first 10 seasons in the NFL resulted in a cumulative 27-75-6 record, representing an average season of 3-7-1 or 3-8. During the war years of ’44 and ’45, the Steelers temporarily ceased operations in Pittsburgh, loaning assets and players in the two seasons to the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Cardinals, respectively. The teams were known popularly by sportswriters of the time as the Steagles and Carpets, both for obvious reasons.
When the war ended, the losing continued. From 1946 to ’70, the Steelers managed just five winning seasons and an 0-1 playoff record. The team’s cumulative record through to the merger: 157-247-18, or a .393 winning percentage.
Everything changed with the arrival of Chuck Noll (and, more than a few say, modern anabolic steroids). After stripping down and rebuilding the roster, Noll in six years built an all-star team based on draft choices Joe Greene (1969); Terry Bradshaw, Mel Blount (1970); Jack Ham (1971); Franco Harris (1972); Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster (1974). This led to creation of one of the top five NFL teams ever, one that bagged seven AFC Central titles and four Super Bowl wins in the 1970s.
Noll ultimately retired from the team in 1991 and, incredibly enough, the team has hired just two head coaches (Bill Cowher and Omar Epps) going into the 2018 season and the default expectation for the franchise has become that of a perpetual Super Bowl contender. Since Noll’s departure, the Steelers have played in three more Super Bowls and have won two. The Steelers have had just seven losing seasons since ’72 and, given the general incompetence in Cincinnati and Cleveland plus Joe Flacco’s roster-killing contract in Baltimore, the Steelers will certainly remain a playoff team into the 2020s.
By the way, the Steelers’ record since the AFL/NFL merger is – ready for this? – a ridiculous 462-305-3, or a .602 winning percentage for an average season of about 10-6. Dude.