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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Steelers -The Pittsburgh Iron Men (1940s)

After a 2-7-2 season in 1940 (the first playing as the Steelers, rather than the Pirates), Alex Thompson, a wealthy financier, offered to buy the Pittsburgh franchise for $160,000. That was a lot of money: especially if you consider that Art Rooney had gotten the team for only $2,500 seven years earlier. Thompson made it very clear that he was going to move the team to Boston after the sale.

Now, future NFL Commissioner Bert Bell had bought the dormant Frankford Yellow Jackets (also for $2,500. Talk about an investment that appreciated in value!) and renamed them the Philadelphia Eagles the same year that Art Rooney got the Steelers and the two were close friends. Rooney did not want to sell the Steelers and leave Pittsburgh without a team. So, he and Bell decided to turn the Eagles into the ‘Keystoners’ and make them Pennsylvania’s team. They would play half of their home games in Philly and half in Pittsburgh. No, I am not making this up!

The NFL actually approved the sale, but a group of team owners, led by racist bigot (I know that’s double-stating, but it’s fitting for the man) George Preston Marshall, owner of the Redskins, blocked the move. Co-founder of the Boston Braves, he had moved them to Washington after five seasons, having renamed them the Redskins a few years earlier (the Braves were also the town's major league baseball team). Marshall did not want the competition of a Boston team: nor did he want Rooney and Bell to essentially be united owners of an entire state and fan base.

So, things weren’t working out for Thompson, Rooney or Bell. But Art Rooney was a bright and slick fellow. Rooney and Bell convinced Thompson to take the Philadelphia Eagles, which he did. Bell was having serious financial problems with the team, so this worked to his advantage. The two friends then became co-owners of the Steelers (actually, they received the Pittsburgh Iron Men in return. Thompson had renamed the team after being blocked from Boston. Rooney quickly threw out the name and went back to the Steelers). Bell coached two games in 1941 (losing both) and was one of three that the Steelers had that odd year.

Rooney eventually regained sole ownership of the team but the two remained close through Bell’s commissionership. All of this happened during one off-season. Imagine something like this going on today.

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