The Pittsburgh Steelers … before they were the Steelers!
I copy and restore lots of old photos. Many are historically significant, and others are simply just important to the family and interesting in their own way. Often times they have a great story behind them, and I thought that many of you would be interested in learning about some of them. So with that in mind, I’m starting “Wayback Wednesday” where, once a month or so – on a Wednesday – I’ll feature an old photo and tell a little bit about it. I hope you’ll like this idea!
Did you know that the Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t just play baseball?
The very first photo I’m writing about is one that my client, Tom Whelan from Crofton, picked up last week. His father, also named Thomas J. Whelan, played on the 1933 Pittsburgh Pirates football team. Yes, that’s right – I said the Pirates football team! Even though the city of Pittsburgh already had the baseball Pirates, it was common practice at the time to give NFL teams the same name as the local baseball team. (Not exactly sure why, but that’s what they did.) To distinguish between the two teams, local media took to calling the football team the “Rooneymen”, because the legendary Art Rooney was the owner. According to my client, Mr. Whelan, Rooney bought the franchise for the team in 1933 for $2500. Quite an investment, I’d say, as the team is still majority-owned by the Rooney family, and is now valued at over $1 Billion. The team didn’t actually become the “Steelers” until the 1936 season.
Thomas J. Whelan – the father – only got to play one season for the team due to suffering a knee injury. He had become quite the player during his college years at Catholic University when he was known as “Tommy” Whelan. According to the Catholic University Athletics website, Whelan “was one of college football’s most electrifying players in the 1930s and arguably the greatest running back in Catholic University history. The Washington Herald reported that Holy Cross Coach John McEwan called him CUA’s “George Gipp,” after the legendary Notre Dame running back who inspired Fighting Irish Coach Knute Rockne’s ‘Win One for the Gipper’ speech”. The site goes on to say that the “1932 Cardinals were one of the most dominant teams in CUA history, going 6-1-1 with five shutouts. They outscored their opponents 123-21, with Whelan providing much of the offensive fireworks. In the season-opening 47-0 win at CCNY, he threw a 22-yard TD pass, had a 65-yard kickoff return and scored on a 10-yard run”. Whelan was the 1932 team MVP and an honorable mention All-American.
Unlike most of the old photos I receive, I didn’t really fully restore the photo that Mr. Whelan brought in. Art Rooney had sent the photo to Whelan years ago, and Mr. Whelan just wanted me to copy it and make the faded text a bit clearer. Mr. Whelan has lots of other photos and news clippings from his father’s football days, and it was fascinating to see them.
Thanks to Mr. Whelan for allowing me to share a bit of this history.