On this date 89 years ago, on May 19, 1933, the National Football League granted the request for an expansion franchise in Pittsburgh to be owned by Art Rooney and the Pittsburgh Professional Football Club was formed as the team that later became the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Rooney paid a $2,500 franchise fee to the NFL for the team that is now worth several billion dollars.
Rooney’s request came in anticipation of Pennsylvania repealing its blue laws that prohibited professional sports on Sundays, when the NFL played. The club’s first home was at Forbes Field in Oakland, and as such, was nicknamed the Pirates to match the stadium’s primary tenant.
A North Side native, Rooney was involved in several sporting ventures. He promoted fights for the Rooney-McGinley Boxing Club and was an avid horse racing handicapper, having rumored to have won the Steelers’ NFL entry fee betting on horses.
But Rooney was always around football as one of the founders of the Hope-Harvey Majestics Football Club, a semi-pro team on the North Side and in many ways the precursor to the Steelers. Rooney was manager, coach and quarterback for the team.
Despite their current status as one of the marquee franchises in the league, the Steelers early days — then known as the Pirates — were mostly known for futility. The club struggled to maintain its existence throughout the 1930s.
In 1940, the team was re-named Steelers, but continued struggles caused Rooney to sell the team. He later took an interest in the Philadelphia franchise, and when new Pittsburgh owner Alexis Thompson was blocked from moving the team by the league, the clubs swapped cities, putting Rooney back in charge of the Pittsburgh team, once again known as the Steelers — all in one offseason.
Because the Steelers never missed a game in Pittsburgh, the NFL considers the Rooney reign in Pittsburgh unbroken, but technically, the franchise that Rooney paid for in 1933 lives on as the Philadelphia Eagles.
It wasn’t until the hiring of head coach Chuck Noll in 1969 three decades later that Rooney’s investment in the team started to pay off, and the team became what is today under his guidance, winning four Super Bowls in the 1970s.
Rooney passed the leadership of the team to his son Dan M. Rooney after his death in 1988. Dan’s son Art Rooney II is the current president.