In honor of today’s Super Bowl, today’s post is supersized folks. Three columns rolled into one, in fact. More extravagance than a Super Bowl halftime show (and it will take you almost as long to read). So, as we tick down the hours before the big game, sit back and enjoy. I’m joined by guest columnists Rick Pearson and Doug Keklak, who’ll have their own mini-columns below. I’ll start, and my part deals with the team pictured in the above photo. They were, quite simply…the
Worst. Team. Ever.
By Phil Hecken
As the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare to play one another in Super Bowl XLIII, they can both lay claim to one of pro football’s most dubious honors — “Worst Team Ever.” Although the 2008 Detroit Lions waged a serious run at the crown, historians agree that the 1944 Chicago-Pittsburgh Cardinals-Steelers were, quite simply, the “Worst Team Ever.” How do both teams share such a claim, and isn’t that really long name in fact a misprint? No. Back in the early days of football, particularly during World War II, circumstances forced some teams to become defunct, some to abandon playing for entire seasons, and others to merge. The Steelers, in fact, merged twice, once with the Philadelphia Eagles (in 1943, becoming the “Steagles“), and once with the Chicago Cardinals. How and why did the “Pitt-Cards,” as they were known (or more derogatorily, the “Carpets”), come into being, and how did they become the worst team ever. Lets examine, shall we.
Due to the manpower shortage created by the second world war, as well as the addition of 2 new teams in 1944, the NFL found itself with 11 teams, making scheduling impossible. NFL Commissioner Elmer Layden asked Steelers owners Art Rooney and Bert Bell if the Steelers, who had previously merged with the Eagles, would do so again, to create a ten-team league. Rooney obliged, but rejected potential mergers with the Brooklyn Tigers, Cleveland Rams or the Boston Yanks, instead agreeing to merge with the Chicago Cardinals (who had themselves gone winless in 1943), in a deal that would guarantee the Pitt-Cards would play half of their home games in Pittsburgh (at Forbes Field) and the other half in Chicago (at Comiskey Park).
The players wore Pittsburgh Steeler black and gold at home games at Forbes Field, and Chicago Cardinal red and white in their other home games in Comiskey. For away games, they likely wore white jerseys, although accounts are cloudy as to whose white jerseys they wore. Ironically, in what might be considered one of history’s first “alternate” jerseys, for one game in Washington, the Pitt-Cards wore BLUE! (this would be the one and only time in either teams uniform history that blue was worn). This was not done in deference to either city, nor was it done to establish an alternate identity, but the idea was if they wore blue, they’d break their losing streak (this was in week 7 of a 12 week season, and they’d already lost six in a row). The blue jerseys proved of no luck, however, as the team lost in them. They’d lose their remaining 5 games as well, finishing the season 0-12. So how did this team get the nickname “Carpets”? By reversing, “Pitt-Cards” to make “Card-Pitts“, and eventually “Carpets,” the monicker was deemed appropriate by fans and sportswriters alike who felt the name was “very appropriate as every team in the league walks over them.”
Just how bad were the Pitt-Cards? Their punters averaged 32.7 yards per kick, an NFL record that still stands. They only attempted to kick two field goals, and missed both. Of their 15 extra-point attempts, four were missed. Their quarterbacks completed a mere 31% of passes attempted. While their QB’s and receivers did manage to score 8 touch downs, QB’s were much more adept at hitting the opposition — they threw 41 interceptions in 1944, the third highest total in NFL history (as of 2008). Their “best” quarterback (and there were several) threw 13 interceptions and had no TD’s, establishing a stellar QB rating of 3.0. Finally, the Pitt-Card run defense was the worst in the league, and they were outscored by opponents by a whopping 328-108. Even the 2008 Lions weren’t this bad. Truly the “Worst Team Ever.”
I now turn the thread over to Uni Watch sexagenarian Rick Pearson, who has a “few” words about today’s Super Bowl participants. His portion deals with the Steelers and the Cardinals…
Before They Were Good
by Rick Pearson
Something seems to be sort of forgotten in this year’s Super Bowl hype. In the pre-AFL and pre-merger years of the NFL, both the Cardinals and Steelers were for many years in the league’s Eastern Conference, playing home-and-home each season. And, generally speaking, they stunk. Especially when the Cardinals were still in Chicago. So, in a bizarre way, this is like fast-forwarding 50 years and discovering that Super Bowl 93 (let’s hope they’ve done away with Roman numerals by then) is 49ers-Rams or Bengals-Browns.
But, let’s talk unis and the aesthetics thereof; that’s what we’re here for. Until the Cardinals’ recent experiments with a return to red pants, an occasional red monochrome disaster, and then current wholesale redesign, these two teams have been among the more stable, uni-wise, in the NFL. In fact, with the exception of adding a black edge to numerals, making the red a little more burgundy (see here also) and going from black shoes to white, the Cardinals changed very little during most of their time in St. Louis. And of course the Steelers—during the Kordell “Slash” Stewart era—changed to their present numeral font. But, as we’ll see, they are no strangers to such numerical whims. Compared to what many others have done, though, those are minor alterations.
What’s quirky about these decades of “uni-stableness’ is that, by contrast, during those last seasons when they played twice a year—especially from the early-to-mid 50s through the late 60s—they were among the “changingest” teams in the NFL. One or the other, or both, changed something…numeral fonts, pant colors, helmet colors, adding helmet logos or TV numbers…just about every year.
So let’s begin our trip down Memory Lane (why do I feel like Mr. Rogers?). We’ve all seen plenty of footage in the past couple weeks of the Cardinals’ last title. White helmets, red jerseys, white pants. Sometime in the 50s they changed to red helmets, and added red pants on the road (very likely coinciding with the advent of white road jerseys — note the red helmet!). For sure in ’56, perhaps earlier, they wore the red helmets both at home and on the road (certainly Timmy B can tell us precisely when). In ’57, though, they kept the red hats on the road only, returning to white at home (first “two-helmet” team I remember). Come ’58, the red helmets were gone completely. When the Cards moved from Chicago to St. Louis in 1960, the “birdhead” helmet logo showed up. For ’61, the red pants were gone, and the two stripes on the white pants got oddly further apart. In ’62, TV numbers finally were added (I have no idea how they were able to go so long without them, since I thought they were mandated in ‘56 or ‘57). In ’63, the pant stripes were back closer together.
The Steelers did their share of diddling around, too. And then some. Their ’57 unis had block numbers and yellow-gold pants both home and road. For ’58 they went to very, VERY rounded Arabic numbers. The rounded numbers stayed in ’59, but the road numbers were noticeably thinner than the home version, and they switched to white road pants. For ’60 and ’61, numerals became semi-block with the inside corners beveled…and the road jerseys added yellow-gold between the Northwestern-style sleeve stripes. For ’62, more standard block numbers appeared, as did their first TV numbers (the NFL must have put its foot down for ’62), with helmet TVs disappearing (they seemed to rather come and go, anyway) and the one-sided helmet logo making its debut during the season. More obviously, the road jerseys were new. The sleeves—from shoulder seam to the bottom black NW stripe—were yellow gold, with the front and back numbers getting a narrow yellow-gold edge. So, counting the different home and road numbers in ’59 and the gold-edged numbers as variations, the Steelers had six different “number” looks in six seasons. Then late in ’63, the now-classic black helmet was introduced. That meant during that period the also had helmets that were: Gold with TV numbers, gold with no TVs, gold with single side logo and black with single logo. To be fair, the Steelers were a little better by then, making it to the Playoff Bowl that year against the Lions (yes, the Lions). That look stayed around awhile.
Next, of course, came the years of the golden-triangle shoulder yoke (seen here on Shy Obert) (a look NOT inspired by Batman, sorry). By this time the Cardinals were established in St. Louis, of course, and had gone to the black-added set with more ornate pant stripes and white jerseys with multiple sleeve stripes and the TV numbers moved up on the shoulders, a uni that would remain until they moved even further west.
Finally, the Steelers went to the classic set they still wear today, with the exception that early-on the road pants were white. Those pants last appeared in ’71, after they’d moved to the AFC. They showed up in training camp for a while thereafter, though.
It was, to say the least, an interesting time to be uni-watcher (lower case and hyphenated version). You knew the Cardinals and Steelers were gonna do SOMETHING different just about every year there for a while. All you had to do was figure out what it was from black & white highlight films, coarsely screened newspaper photos or wait for next year’s preseason publications (and, no, in my day, we didn’t walk five miles to school. Uphill. Both ways).
And thus endeth Ricko’s amazing contribution to Super Bowl Sunday. Most of those images are from Rick’s personal archives, and are being seen here on UW for the first time. Thanks, Rick! And finally, rabid Steeler fan and UW correspondent Doug Keklak will grace us with…
Steeler Super Bowl Memories
By Doug Keklak
Last summer, I guest wrote a piece about the Pittsburgh Pirates in regards to a DVD set I received in Christmas 2007. This past Christmas, Santa Claus brought me another great Pittsburgh-related sports gift: the full broadcasts of all five Steelers’ Super Bowl victories.
Super Bowl IX: Pittsburgh Steelers 16, Minnesota Vikings 6, Tulane Stadium
• This game was supposed to be played at the Superdome, but it wasn’t finished so the game had to played outdoors, which led to a very bleak setting. That being said, it did give us ample opportunities to see both teams in a variety of sideline jackets and capes.
• A bearded Terry Bradshaw leads his team over the ball while sporting the unique, Dungard-style mask.
• The white jerseys from this era of the Steelers had nameplates that were damn near illegible, no matter how near or far away you were. Also, the kerning was different from that of the home blacks of the day as the space between letters, especially the players with shorter names, appeared to be almost a full letter’s width of space.
• SLEEVES: Roy Gerela and Jack Ham were two players that really enjoyed having longer sleeves, but most players of the day had something at least resembling a sleeve, unlike today.
• Here’s John Stallworth with his patented high and straight shoulder pads, which I always thought gave him a unique look out on the field.
• Although most Steelers opted for white shoes, despite being a predominately black shoe team in the early 70s, there appeared to be no hard rule as there is in the league now. Randy Grossman and Dwight White opted to go the more traditional way for this contest.
• No talk of 70s Steelers football and footwear is complete without mention L.C. Greenwood and his gold shoes. This go around, they appeared to have black laces and are taped a little bit.
• Franco Harris may have reinforced elbows built right into the sleeves of his jersey, but it’s hard to tell. Also notice that his hip pads are NOT being worn on the outside like they do a little later in his career.
• Random stuff: It’s funny to see how much the game has changed since the 70s, you had both teams lining up in formations that saw wide receivers get down in three-point stances. This was the first Super Bowl played with the goal posts at the end line and out of play. I always knew that flags were used in the end zones before the pylon took over. Did they all have numbers printed on them though?
• Old school coaches headset!!! You just don’t see 11 in the box on defense anymore!
• Officials: this will get to be a broken record, but I cannot say enough about how much better I thought NFL officials looked while wearing a proper stirrup. Also, check out the red stirrups sported by the chain gang. Did they shop the same places the Cincinnati Reds got their stirrups?! Something we take for granted these days is the referee’s microphone. This game apparently predates that technology. Note how the ref makes the penalty calls to both sidelines. Lastly on the official front, here’s the signal for illegal forward pass, which is a loss of down. But rather than give the current signal for loss of down, the ref gives this signal, which today, signifies illegal touching.
• The Steelers were the first team in Super Bowl history to score a safety, and when it happened, a player did the signal like we talked about a few months ago on UW. A small bit of trivia, the Steelers also got a safety in Super Bowl X. Since then, only three other bowl games had a safety happen: XX (Bears), XXI (Giants), XXV (Bills).
Super Bowl X: Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Dallas Cowboys 17, Orange Bowl
• The Steelers and Cowboys both wore a bicentennial patch, albeit in different places.
• Terry Bradshaw, again, wearing the Dungard-style mask. Also, check out the nameplate and kerning as compared to the whites worn in SB IX. A shorter name shows about a half letter’s width between letters.
• Although most Steelers were wearing white shoes by now, Bradshaw actually wore black in this game. Teammate Randy Grossman, who caught a touchdown in this game, still was wearing the blacks as well.
• Some Cowboy observations: first initials on back, Drew and Preston Pearson. Roger Stabauch rocking the double bar (doesn’t it look awful close to his face here?) Robert Newhouse sporting some serious neck roll. Sharp dressed man Tom Landry, also a gentleman enough to know to remove the hat indoors.
• Backup QB Terry Hanratty sporting the mesh “S” coach’s cap (and a serious 70s mustache!) Hanratty saw some action this game, and that revealed that he was one of the few Steelers at the time to go with the double bar (his looked close to the face too). The only other man of steel I could find rocking the double bar was Frenchy Fuqua, complete with U-bar attachment. Lynn Swann’s mask was sort of double bar, but not in the thicker more traditional sense. The mask itself wasn’t as thick and the bar were space farther apart. The only other player I remember wearing a similar mask was Clarence Verdin of the Colts in the 80s.
• Remember our debate in the comments the other day regarding Roman numerals? You wouldn’t get cool on-screen graphics if you went the Arabic route!
• Does Jack Ham have ANY part of a black sock on? It looks like strictly a high white to me.
Super Bowl XIII: Pittsburgh Steelers 35, Dallas Cowboys 31, Orange Bowl
• Nice red blazer sported by Dick Enberg.
• In this game, we start to see the elements of some modernizing of the uniform to current standards. You can see the sleeves start to disappear on the offensive linemen. Front bumpers were on the helmets, although not all players wore them, and those that did played in a variety of styles/brands. Mike Webster and Jon Kolb did not wear them while Ray Pinney and Sam Davis wore Riddell and Gerry Mullins appeared to wear Rawlings. In the receiving corps, John Stallworth and Randy Grossman went with no bumper while Lynn Swann a Riddell (I think). Bradshaw was a Rawlings guy, as can be seen by this logo on the side too. The Cowboys also had a lot of inconsistencies, most notably they had some guys in BIKE helmets. Also, was Tony Dorsett’s mask ill-fitted for his helmet? It sure looks like it.
• Tom Landry, as sharp dressed as ever.
• Although Roger Staubach still sported the double bar, he finally went to white shoes for this Super Bowl.
• First initials for Randy and Danny White.
• This muscle stimulator a Cowboy is wearing looks an awful lot like an ankle monitor the police use!
• L.C. Greenwood’s gold shoes, which appear to be Adidas, complete with black laces.
• Terry Hanratty was out and punter Craig Colquitt was in as wearer of #5. Notice in this shot that his rear helmet number is not in the center yellow stripe but set off to the right. This is odd, because the Steelers always treated the single digit placement in the middle stripe. As can be seen in this shot, the front of his helmet was done in the middle.
• Refs still in stirrups (note the different stripe pattern of the official on the chain gang).
• Bless his heart, he’s got to be the sickest man in America (sorry Cowboys fans!)
• Bennie Cunningham with the bucket lid (anyone know what that logo is?)
• Franco Harris with the hip pads out for this one.
• Neat shot here, notice how the “5″ is blue and the “0″ is red. The yardmarker numbers were all blue to the left and red to the right so they split the 50-yard line down the middle.
Super Bowl XIV: Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Los Angeles Rams 19, Rose Bowl
• Pre-game introductions show us that L.C. Greenwood was wearing some athletic specs while Joe Greene’s helmet was a Maxpro.
• Vince Ferragamo was wearing what looks like a Dungard version of a more traditional double-bar mask.
• I know it’s old hat to us UW diehards, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t document Jack and Jim Youngblood.
• L.C. still in the gold kicks, although it appears he moved to Nike in this game.
• Major stripe malfunction for Sam Davis. Another view here.
• What brand is that?
• Officials still in stirrups. Also notice there are going full position spelled out on the backs of their jerseys (Referee, Linesman, Back Judge, etc.).
• FAIL from the graphics department: What number did Bradshaw wear?!?
• Rams cheerleaders going with first name on back!
Super Bowl XXX: Dallas Cowboys 21, Pittsburgh Steelers 17, Sun Devil Stadium
• This game isn’t actually included with the DVD set since the Steelers lost, but since I had the NFL Films half hour production saved on my DVR, I figured I would give it the same treatment as the five wins.
• There are a lot of logos of companies that either aren’t around anymore or aren’t involved in the NFL anymore prominent in this game. For instance, I forget the name of the company that made these turtlenecks [ed. note: I think it's Kappa [-PH]. Also, there a quite a few logos in this shot of the Cowboys (Wilson, Easton and Neumann can be seen). Here’s a shot of Pittsburgh in a pre-game huddle with a pair of Franklin (company that makes MLB batting gloves) gloves visible. O’Donnell was sporting Easton branded wristbands with the Steelers’ helmet at the top of them.
• Logo Athletic was then outfitting the officials.
• At this point, sideline caps were really starting to come into vogue. Sure they existed pretty regularly before that, but this was when we were starting to see specific players with deals: Emmitt Smith was a Starter guy while Troy Aikman and Rod Woodson were with Logo Athletic.
• Intimidating mask factor: Greg Lloyd and John Jackson wore this thick (but light) and fierce looking cage on their helmets throughout the early to mid 90s. The visor on Jackson’s made it look that much meaner.
• In those days, the Steelers were outfitted by Starter.
Super Bowl XL: Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Seattle Seahawks 10, Ford Field
• This was the first Super Bowl the Steelers participated in where they wore the SB logo patches on their jersey. Note that it’s the opposite corner from the Seahawks since the Steelers have their logo on one corner. Also, it can be noted the the backs of both teams’ helmets contained the NFL logo, an American Flag and a SB logo.
• A couple of Big Ben notes: here’s a shot showing his gloved throwing hand but bare off hand, as referenced in Paul’s Page 2 column. Also, note that his playmaker wristband has the logo (Neumann) blacked out, most likely with some kind of magic marker. By this time, Neumann was not an approved brand by the NFL.
• The Bus going blank front bumper. Also, check out Kendall Simmons in the Greg Lloyd/John Jackson style of mask.
• Kimo von Oelhoffen had a unique mask, and the Steelers had a unique way of doing his nameplate.
• In a day and age where coaching gear can get out of hand, I thought both Mike Holmgren and Bill Cowher looked very understated in this game. I’m not saying that as a bad thing either.
• The opposite of understated is this overkill on the officials’ uniforms. How many logos can they fit on one shirt (and I’m not even a logo creep guy!)
Although the Steelers were the first NFL team to win four Super Bowls, they took a little longer than they originally expected to get the coveted “One For the Thumb“, so much so that both the Cowboys and 49ers beat them to it. However, with a win over Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII, they will be the first team to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy six times.
Phil here. Hope you enjoyed the post, sorry if it was long (but not as long as the Super Bowl pre-game shows). Hopefully the actual game will be as good as Ricko’s and Kek’s entries. Give them all big props for their efforts!
Even though I went a terrible 4-6 with my playoff picks, I am riding a bit of a streak on both the Steelers and Cardinals. I have picked the Steelers correctly in both their games, and I have picked against the Cardinals and lost all three times. So, today, I am again picking the Steelers (but as an NFC guy, I guess I’ll be rooting for the Cardinals, their uniforms be damned). I will either be right for a third time (by picking the Steelers) or wrong for a fourth time (by picking against the Cardinals). One streak will end for sure.
Enjoy the game!