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Sundays with Sacco: The Legendary Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers.

Their very name evokes toughness, and is there any American city more identified with the rough-and-tumble steel business?

This is a team against which the Denver Broncos have had a lot of success, which might be surprising.

We are 14-7-1 vs. the Steelers, plus a victory in the 1997 AFC championship Game over the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

Denver also has a winning record in Pittsburgh: 6-4 in the regular season plus 1-1 in postseason play.

Amazingly, considering the greatness of the Steelers, they had never won a title of any kind before the "Immaculate Reception" game against the Raiders thrust them into permanent championship contention.

Their legendary owner, Art Rooney, in fact did not see that catch as he was on the elevator heading down to field level from his box when the play occurred. Mr. Rooney had left his box a loser, and emerged from the elevator seconds later to the birth of an entirely new culture for the Steel City.

Mr. Rooney, "The Chief," would take a daily walk through the corridors of Three Rivers Stadium, always in a white shirt and tie, always with his lit cigar, greeting his employees and being very kind to the occasional PR visitor from Denver as well.

He could not have been more gracious, always telling me to say "hi" to Broncos owner Gerald Phipps for him. I have thought many times how much he would have liked Pat Bowlen, who reminds me so much of Mr. Phipps in his great acts of kindness and how all three owners have always treated people.

It has long been rumored and repeated, as tends to happen, that Art Rooney bought the Steelers after a big day at the horse track.

Not true.

He already owned the Steelers for two years before he had his legendary big day at the track, in which Mr. Rooney won over $250,000--and just think, that figure is in 1935 dollars, making it a gigantic sum at the time.

A photo look back at the last time the Broncos played the Steelers.

During World War II, when talent was scarce because so many players went off to war, Mr. Rooney authorized his team to merge with the in-state Philadelphia Eagles, and the two franchises played briefly as the "Steagles" during the war. And speaking of World War II, one of the soldiers who fought on Iwo Jima was Ernie Stautner, before he became a Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive lineman for the Steelers.

Ernie was a very tough guy and was such a fierce competitor that Pittsburgh once lost to the New York Giants in Yankee Stadium and Ernie was so mad he refused to fly back to Pittsburgh with his team.

Stautner was the Broncos' defensive line coach from 1991-93 and although he was in his later years at that time, Ernie would do pushups on his knuckles while the Broncos had their pre-practice stretching. Quite often, that was the highlight of practice for observers. Ernie Stautner was also one of the first athletes to do light beer commercials.

The team was known for several years back in the day as the Pittsburgh Pirates--in the early years of pro football, some teams took the names of their baseball counterparts in the same city, before their own identities were established over time.

When they were the Pirates, Johnny "Blood" McNally was a player and coach for them--and if ever a guy deserved his own column, it was Johnny Blood, so I will write that one down the road.

A great franchise, a great team, and just as a final note, of which few are aware, when Chuck Noll was coaching them to their four world championships with that star-studded squad, he would routinely have in-season practices with no numbers on the team uniforms.

I know, because I was allowed to watch on a couple of occasions.

Noll figured it was very tough to spy on them if the players were wearing no numbers, and that his coaches ought to know their own players well enough to study film of them without needing a program, so to speak.

They won four Super Bowls in that period, so it certainly did not hurt.

And the Steelers started a trend that continues today in the Steel City. Every pro franchise in Pittsburgh has the same colors, the fabled black and gold that the Steelers have worn for so much success over the years.

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