Steelers forge tough winning image for Pittsburgh

By Steve Keating

When the Steelers run onto the field in Dallas on February 6 to face the Green Bay Packers it will mark their eighth Super Bowl appearance, equaling a record held by the Dallas Cowboys.

Founded in 1933, the Steelers are the NFL's fifth-oldest franchise, as much a part of Pittsburgh's gritty, blue-collar image as the once-booming steel factories that used to dominated the skyline.

There are no longer any steel mills within Pittsburgh city limits but the unique bond the Steelers have forged with their fans remains as strong as the steel the city once produced.

In reality, Pittsburgh is now much more of a white-collar town, the city undergoing a remarkable metamorphosis following the collapse of the steel industry with new businesses such as health care, education and technology moving in.

Despite the shift, Pittsburghers continue to embrace the tough, hard-working reputation that lives on in the Steelers' smash-mouth style of play.

Even the Steelers' unique team logo of three hypocycloids (diamond shapes) is a product of the steel industry. Created by the U.S. Steel Corp, the Steelmark logo was used help to promote the American industry and appeared on labels for products ranging from tanks to tricycles.

Steelers supporters are recognized as among the most loyal and fervent in the NFL, selling our every home game since 1972.

"I know our fans are going to turn out," said receiver Hines Ward following Steelers 24-19 win over the New York Jets in the AFC Championship game Sunday. "Whatever a ticket costs, they're going to get their hands on them."

Steelers Nation extends well beyond the city's borders.

The demise of the steel industry scattered Steelers fans across the United States, many taking their allegiance and trademark Terrible Towels with them as they went in search of work.

A life-long supporter who would only reveal his name as Jimmy D told Reuters he has been to more than 350 games, flying up from his home in Coral Gables, Florida every weekend to see the Steelers at Heinz Field.

"It's just what we do," he said before a recent game, wearing a black and gold wig, face paint and Ben Roethlisberger jersey. "I've been coming to Steelers games for as long as I can remember."

STABLE FRANCHISE

Part of the Steelers' success has grown out of the type of stability seldom seen in any major sports franchise anywhere in the world.

Founded by Art Rooney, the team, originally known as the Pirates, has remained in family hands for three generations.

(1975, 1976, 1979, 1980).

A shrewd evaluator of talent, Noll built his dynasty around the draft.

He used a first-round selection in 1969 on future Hall of Famer "Mean" Joe Greene, who became the cornerstone of the famed 'Steel Curtain' defense and then the following year used the number one overall pick to grab yet another Hall of Famer, quarterback Terry Bradshaw.

It was Noll's keen eye that produced one of the greatest drafts of all time in 1974 when he scooped up future Hall of Famers, wide receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, linebacker Jack Lambert and center Mike Webster with four of his first five selections.

After beating the Los Angeles Rams to win the 1980 Super Bowl it would be 16 years until the Steelers returned to the championship game and 26 years before they would lift the Lombardi trophy again, defeating the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 to give Cowher his Super Bowl ring.

Three years later, with Tomlin in charge, the Steelers were back in the Super Bowl, edging the Arizona Cardinals 27-23.

Despite the Steelers' unmatched success on the field, the team ranked a modest 17th on Forbes list of most valuable NFL franchises in 2010 at $997 million while the Cowboys, who will host the Super Bowl, are ranked number one at $1.8 billion.

(Editing by Steve Ginsburg; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)