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Saturdays with Sacco: How the Steelers were built

Of the NFL press releases and weekly game books prepared by teams for the media, virtually all include a "How the Team was Built" element.

This is generally in the form of a chart, showing year by year acquisitions that make up the current roster and whether each player was a draftee, free agent or trade acquisition.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have that too, but it does not really tell the whole story of the franchise.

It just tells us who comprise the Steelers today, which is nice.

They have a tough-guy championship image, and most fans think of that when Pittsburgh is mentioned, but it was not always that way.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were a team that did not win a single playoff game (in a lone playoff appearance during this time) from their inception in 1933 through 1971, a nearly 40-year trek through the nether regions of the NFL standings.

The Rooney family that owns the franchise today owned it then as well, and Mr. Art Rooney, the patriarch, was regarded as maybe the finest, nicest guy in the NFL and the owner of the most consistently awful team in football.

Then it all changed in a decade, and really in a five-year span that had its peak in 1974.

Interestingly, they came into the American Football Conference in 1970, coming off a terrible season in which they had tied the Chicago Bears for the worst record in football.

So they had a coin flip to see which franchise would get the number one draft choice, and it surprised just about everybody when the Steelers actually won something.

A coin flip.

That coin flip and resulting number one draft choice turned out to be Terry Bradshaw, quarterback from Louisiana Tech who had been tutored in college by former Broncos signal caller Mickey Slaughter.

They already had a new head coach in Chuck Noll, a no-nonsense hard case if ever there was one.

Bill Nunn was handling the scouting for the Steelers, along with Art Rooney Jr., and they had a period of success in player selection that has seldom, if ever, been matched in NFL annals.

By the end of the 1974 draft Pittsburgh had added six future Pro Football Hall of Fame players: wide receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, fullback Franco Harris, middle linebacker Jack Lambert, center Mike Webster and center "Mean Joe" Greene.

And those guys joined two other future Hall of Famers, Bradshaw and Coach Noll.

Eight Hall of Famers were added to a team in a five-year span.

But they had role players as well, as Nunn and Rooney Jr. just kept adding guys.

Defensive linemen L.C. Greenwood and Ernie Holmes, running back John "Frenchy" Fuqua, running back Donnie Shell, defensive lineman Dwight White and linebacker Jack Ham, who was particularly popular to the Polish-American population of Pittsburgh, which regularly brought signs with Polish translations of "Ham" to the games.

By the end of the 1970s, every single player on the roster had been drafted by Pittsburgh or signed with them as a college free agent.

It was a completely homegrown team, and when they won four Super Bowls, there were 22 players on the roster for all four, all homegrown and setting a record of stability and continuity unheard of today.

And they have been building on that foundation ever since, but that is how the Steelers were built, back in the day.

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