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  • Greatest turnaround in sports history

    Having lived most of my life in and around Cincinnati, I was conditioned to view the Steelers in the same way any victim views their bully, pure evil with no redeeming qualities. But my job researching the NFL, past and present, has slowly, grudgingly forced me to respect the Steelers and their accomplishments. In recent years, I've even started capitalizing their team name (unlike the yankees). But it isn't just the steelers, oops, Steelers recent accomplishments that led to my change of heart, it's their turnaround, which I consider the greatest in the history of sports.

    Those that don't obsess over sports history as I do may not realize how bad the Steelers really were. They were the joke of the NFL. Not a joke like the Cardinals, Bengals or even Chicago Cubs, more like the Washington Generals. In 1972 the Steelers, coming off a 6-8 season, went 11-3 to make their second ever trip to the post-season, in their 38th year. That '72 season marked a stark turning point for the franchise, beginning a run of 8 straight playoff seasons, including 4 Super Bowl wins. Before '72, they had 7 winning seasons out of 37.

    Take a look at the numbers for the Steelers before that '72 turnaround and since. Is there any team in professional sports that can come close to such a sustained string of success following such a miserable start?

    '33-'71 '72-'11
    Seasons 37 39
    Record 168-270-18 373-229-2
    Win Pct .384 .620
    Winning Seasons 7 30
    Playoff Appearances 1 25
    Championships 0 6
    Coaches 14 3

    Conclusion - If you ever meet someone that was a Steelers' fan before 1972, you have met a true football fan.

    Comments 22 Comments
    1. brauneyz's Avatar
      This is great stuff! I can't wait to see more. Educate me.

      Is it too early to nominate the Raiders for a reverse turn around?
    1. FrzzerBwler's Avatar
      Always knew the Steelers were just awful during the 50's, did not know they were that bad overall though.
      Problem I have, as much as I enjoy seeing the Steelers lose to our local 11, is the team does deserve respect.
      And the head scratcher; if the Rooneys are the Brown family's close friends how can they run their teams so different?
      Now for the 3 coaches since '72, anyone know who turned the job down before it was offered to Chuck Noll? (w/o Google)
      Hint: he's an active coach
    1. Pruitt's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by brauneyz View Post
      This is great stuff! I can't wait to see more. Educate me.

      Is it too early to nominate the Raiders for a reverse turn around?
      The crown for reverse turnarounds is already here in Toronto, the home of the Maple Leafs. When I was a little kids, I - like all Toronto sports fans - knew that the Leafs were 2nd to the Canadiens in total Stanley Cups won. After the Leafs won their last Cup in 1967, they trailed the Habs 15-13 in Stanley Cups. Montreal proceeded to win the cup 10 times in the next 25 years.

      Meanwhile, the Leafs haven't even been in the finals in 45 years!
    1. Polishguy00's Avatar
      Old Man Halas had his way with them for a while because he helped the Rooneys out financially during their first few years. The Steelers truly stunk for a long time and Bears had a little bit to do with it. Bobby Layne, for example. Of course, since the Bears hate good quarterbacks, we got rid of him, too.
    1. GoBigOrGoHome's Avatar
      I hate the Steelers. But it's a healthy hate born of admiration with no small touch of envy.

      Now for the 3 coaches since '72, anyone know who turned the job down before it was offered to Chuck Noll?
      Joe Paterno
    1. Dave Lapham's Avatar
      Joe Pa turned down the Steelers, Pats, and a few other NFL jobs over the years.I think he would have been successful in the NFL, but what a legacy he has built at Penn State. Played vs. his team at Penn State when he had Franco Harris playing FB. The TB was former Colt Lydell Mitchell. (Maybe he wouldn't have been a household name in the NFL). Andy, those comparative stats of the Steelers is mindboggling. They sure had a run of excellent drafts during those turnaround years. How many Hall of Famers did the Steelers draft from 1972 on? The draft was THE lifeblood for turning franchises around in the era of the '70s and '80s. The Steelers did it better than anyone. The second phase was developing those draft choices. The Steelers had great coaching staffs that stayed intact for long periods of time to develop key talent. Sounds like a formula for sustained success.
    1. GoBigOrGoHome's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by brauneyz View Post
      This is great stuff! I can't wait to see more. Educate me.

      Is it too early to nominate the Raiders for a reverse turn around?
      Read up on the Curse of Bobby Layne. Here is an overview of the many, many humiliations we Lions fans have had to endure since trading our greatest QB. Talk about a reverse turnaround...

      Lions humiliations

      Add in the fact that we had a player die on the field during a game (Chuck Hughes).

      Lions deaths & disaters

      The Raiders have had it pretty good by comparison.
    1. Pruitt's Avatar
      When I was a kid, the Atlanta Braves were a laughing stock, and the Orioles and Pirates were perennial powers.
    1. GoBigOrGoHome's Avatar
      Since 1972 (39 seasons) the Steelers have had only five losing seasons. They have only had consecutive losing seasons once (1985 & 1986). Amazing.
    1. Nancy's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Pruitt View Post
      When I was a kid, the Atlanta Braves were a laughing stock, and the Orioles and Pirates were perennial powers.
      Right, the Orioles beat my Reds in the 70 series and the Reds and the Pirates alternated trips to the series for years in the 70s. The Braves stared up at Cincinnati and LA from the basement every season. I liked it that way. Very tired of the Braves all over my TV.
    1. ReaderM's Avatar
      '33-'71 '72-'11
      Coaches 14 3
      To me personally this will always be the most impressive fact of the whole Steelers organization that in the last 30+ years they have only had a total of 3 coaches..When you have organizational continuity and patience like that, it's not surprising to see everything else fall in line.Half the fan bases in EVERY Professional league wishes they could have owners half as great as the Rooney's have been.
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      One of the great things about the way the NFL is currently run is that any team, no matter how bad, can turn its fortunes around on a dime.

      How many worst-to-first stories have we seen in the last couple of decades? The margin between good teams and bad ones is very thin.

      Epic streaks of futility like the Steelers had might never happen again -- unless the NFL decides to change its business model.
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      The Washington Redskins were pretty bad from 1946 to 1968. I'm not going to add up the numbers, but they never had a first place finish in that 22 year run. Vince Lombardi broke a streak of 14 straight losing or .500 seasons.

      After that they went on a great run.

      Then lil' Danny Snyder bought the club.
    1. brauneyz's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by GoBigOrGoHome View Post
      Read up on the Curse of Bobby Layne. Here is an overview of the many, many humiliations we Lions fans have had to endure since trading our greatest QB. Talk about a reverse turnaround...

      Lions humiliations

      Add in the fact that we had a player die on the field during a game (Chuck Hughes).

      Lions deaths & disaters

      The Raiders have had it pretty good by comparison.
      My apologies. I didn't consider the Lions for a turn-around team, in that I thought they were always bad.

      So, is that Curse of Bobby Layne website your default home page? First thing in the a.m. with java in hand, you punish yourself with obits? Interesting motivational tool.
    1. Andy Freeland's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by ReaderM View Post
      To me personally this will always be the most impressive fact of the whole Steelers organization that in the last 30+ years they have only had a total of 3 coaches..When you have organizational continuity and patience like that, it's not surprising to see everything else fall in line.Half the fan bases in EVERY Professional league wishes they could have owners half as great as the Rooney's have been.
      The only modern major league team I can think of with similar continuity would be the Dodgers who had Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda for 42 years ('54-96). Going back a little further you had guys like Curly Lambeau and Connie Mack (was also the owner, which probably helped a lot).
    1. Trumpetbdw's Avatar
      In one of the ultimate games of what if, what if JoePa had left Penn State for the Steelers in 1969? How would their history be different? Of course, he wasn't all that close to accepting the Steelers position. He was much closer to leaving for the Patriots, initially accepting the job before sleeping on it, and changing his mind the next morning.

      As a Steelers fan born in the midst of their initial run, but too young to remember it, I'm certainly aware of their complete and total irrelevance pre Chuck Noll. My dad has been a fan throughout his life, but I've never heard him speak of the Steelers pre-1972, so my memories are formed through NFL films, historical books, and statistical sites, and those teams are essentially forgotten about other than watching Jim Brown bulldoze his way through their old mustard-sleeved jerseys.

      It's an interesting experience being a fan of a team so generally successful, yet waiting for such a long time to actually experience a championship run myself. So many are turned off by the Steelers, and their fans, and I get that. I'm sure it's partly borne in envy, but it's also because so many Steeler "fans" that feel the need to comment, call in to talk shows, etc, have no idea how to handle themselves, other than obnoxiously. It's tough to explain, but for some reason, there seems to be an "us against the world" mentality among so many fans that results in overreacting to every perceived slight from commentators, officials, etc. Many Steeler fans come across like they feel like they are entitled to more exposure, and don't get the fact that they're just bringing more venom onto themselves.

      But the fact is, Steeler fan (myself obviously included) needs to get over it. The Steelers aren't the sexy team in the NFL. The old stand-by never is. The Pats are new (last 10 years), and have the hard-working, ultra-intense, over-achieving QB. The Colts have the legacy QB with the golden arm. The Packers are the new flavor of the month, following last year's choice, the Saints. And then, there are the same old Steelers. And there's something I like about the old stand-by.

      So as perhaps the most frequent Steeler fan commenter on this site, it's my goal for those that have gotten negative vibes from Steelers fans in the past to hopefully see a viewpoint from a fan who is slightly less than abhorring. At least I think I am. If not, then so be it. I've been called worse.
    1. Ragar's Avatar
      I always found it interesting that the Head Coach (Shula), Defensive Assistant (coordinator) (Noll), and Offensive Assistant (McCafferty) of the Baltimore Colts who famously fell to the Jets in SB III, were all able to win Championships later in their career as Head coaches, but flubbed SB III. Just an intersting bit of information.

      On topic, you could argue the New York Yankees at 2 different times have had massive turnarounds, 1st 22 years, 0 WS victories but 2 WS appearnaces (the previous 2 years of 1921 and 1922) The opening of Yankee Stadium in 1923, then winning 22 of the next 53 WS titles.

      Then starting again post strike, winning 5 of the next 16.
    1. Andy Freeland's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Trumpetbdw View Post
      So as perhaps the most frequent Steeler fan commenter on this site, it's my goal for those that have gotten negative vibes from Steelers fans in the past to hopefully see a viewpoint from a fan who is slightly less than abhorring.
      Mission accomplished. You are personally responsible for that fact that I no longer cringe when I see the Steelers logo on a post. Now if we can get someone to rehabilitate the Vikings' logo ...
    1. mikesteelnation1's Avatar
      I feel very fortunate to have had the awesome ownership the steelers have had and to never have had my favorite team truly suck during my lifetime anyway. Clearly that's not the case pre 72! Although I still feel pain from our years of awesome teams with less than decent qbs that kept us at 4 sb rings till big Ben. Were not sexy, the media outside pgh doesn't cover us a ton and I'm good with it. It seems to give our players some "edge" during those truly great seasons. It is too bad at times some of our fans give the rest of us a bad name with their over zealousness, but most of those guys are the weekend warriors , not 24/7 football fans. I'm no homer I see our faults and ill clearly call them out. Mcfadden and gay couldn't cover a $.50 bar tab if you spotted them $.49 and pointed out a penny on the floor!! If we ever get a good offensive line and a 2nd corner that can cover I might come across as "one of those guys' steeler fans though!!
    1. bengalhoel's Avatar
      So the Steelers fans are like the reverse Browns. The Steeler fans dont remember anything before 1972 and the Browns fans are always referring to the magical 50's and 60's seasons.