Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.
We have heard all the numbers.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have won six Super Bowls, and could win their seventh on Sunday. The franchise has also tied the Dallas Cowboys for the most Super Bowl appearances (eight) and playoff victories (33) in NFL history.
If the award for being the greatest franchise in league history was given for Super Bowl success, then the Steelers would win the title hands down.
That, however, is not the case.
Perhaps an argument can be made that the Pittsburgh Steelers are the greatest franchise of the Super Bowl era (and even that is based only on the quantity of Super Bowls won). But for a league like the NFL, whose rich history and tradition extends FAR beyond just the league’s current championship game, the assumption that the Super Bowl is the only standard by which franchise greatness can be determined is completely absurd.
Furthermore, making the statement that the Pittsburgh Steelers are the greatest franchise in NFL history, because they have the most Super Bowl success is like saying that Florida is the greatest college football program because it has won the most BCS national championships.
Break down and assess the qualities of the Pittsburgh Steelers that are lauded as justification for the title of “Greatest Franchise in NFL History.” Analysis shows that the Steelers are actually lacking in both quality AND quantity.
We Got Six. How Many Yinz Got?
Ask anyone in Pittsburgh why they think the Steelers are the greatest franchise in NFL history, and that is the response that you will get. Of course, they are referring to their unprecedented six Super Bowl championships (with a possible seventh on the way).
When you consider the fact that there are still five franchises that have never won a single Super Bowl – let alone six Super Bowls – I cannot deny the impressive stature of that claim.
But let’s add the perspective of history to that claim, and see where it REALLY stacks up.
Professional Football in America began in 1920, with the official formation of the NFL coming two years later in 1922. Since then, there have been 88 different NFL championships awarded, only 44 of which were titled Super Bowls.
That means the Super Bowl era only accounts for HALF of the league’s ACTUAL history. So what about the OTHER half?
During that 44 year stretch, the Pittsburgh Steelers won exactly ZERO championships, while teams like the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, and Cleveland Browns owned the gridiron.
In fact, when you look at the total number of professional football championships won, the Steelers six titles ranks them as FIFTH on the list, behind the Green Bay Packers (12), Chicago Bears (nine), Cleveland Browns (eight), and New York Giants (seven). That means that, with a win on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, the “alleged” greatest Franchise in NFL history will climb to the lofty peak of being tied with the New York Giants for only the FOURTH most championships in history.
Conveniently Ignoring History
While the Pittsburgh Steelers have been among the most dominant franchises of the second half of the league’s 88 year history, the team’s first-half performance was ABYSMAL. But the “Yinzers” seem to have forgotten about THOSE years.
For the first 37 years of the franchise’s history the Pittsburgh Steelers played to a combined record of 168-270-18. That’s a HORRIBLE winning percentage of just .368. During that same period the Steelers recorded only five seasons with a winning record (that means 32 losing seasons), and only one post-season appearance, a 1947 blowout at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Again, the 1970s marked a very impressive run, and the accomplishment cannot be ignored. But when you consider that five year stretch in the context that the league had already crowned 52 OTHER NFL champions before it happened, the accomplishment loses some if its significance historically.
Similarly, the present-day Steelers organization has essentially dominated the league for a period of five years, from 2005–2010.
Therefore, in the 88 year history of the NFL, the Steelers have been dominant for two five-year stretches. THAT’S IT!
The VAST MAJORITY of the Steelers’ 77 year history was spent in pathetic futility.
Other Historical Comparisons
The Pittsburgh Steelers may be tied with the Dallas Cowboys for the most post-season victories in NFL history, but again, many of those victories came at a time in the league when more post-season games were played each season. Using the 2005 Super Bowl championship as an example, that year alone accounted for FOUR different post-season victories.
In terms of historical context, getting four post-season victories in one year is not nearly as impressive as getting a playoff victory in four consecutive years. The team that can consistently sustain post-season success over an extended period of time is by far the greater franchise.
- The Pittsburgh Steelers, in a 77 year history, have reached the post-season 26 times. By comparison, the Dallas Cowboys have reached the post-season 30 times in a history that spans only 50 years. That’s more appearances by the Cowboys in fewer seasons, and simple math will tell you that the Steelers reach the playoffs only 34 percent of the time, while the Cowboys have done it 60 percent of the time.
- As for total franchise victories, the Steelers are once again fifth on the list with 541 total victories, behind the Washington Redskins (547), the New York Giants (636), the Green Bay Packers (664), and the Chicago Bears (704).
- The Pittsburgh Steelers boast a franchise win percentage of .520, ranking them 14th out of 32 active franchises.
- The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a total of 19 Hall of Famers. Compare that to the Chicago Bears (26), or the Green Bay Packers (21).
Keeping Things in Perspective
No matter which way you slice it, the Pittsburgh Steelers fall WELL SHORT of historical superiority. The franchise does not have the most championships, the most Hall of Famers, the most wins, or the best win percentage. And, for the first FOUR DECADES of existence, the Steelers were the bottom-feeders of professional football.
They are a team that was founded before World War II, but not until the mid-1970s did they have ANY success. The only REAL success came in two very different five-year periods that have book-ended the last 40 years.
Yes, the Steelers may have won the most championships in the NFL over the last 44 years, but do they deserve the title of Greatest Franchise in NFL History?
Not by a Cleveland Mile!