"Pro football began in 1892 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when former Yale star William 'Pudge' Heffelfinger was paid a notable sum of $500 to play in a single game for the Allegheny Athletic Association on November 12. For nearly the next three decades, pro football faced its ups and downs as the game was played primarily in small towns throughout western Pennsylvania and the Midwest."
The National Football League wasn't born in Pittsburgh. That happened in Canton, Ohio, on Sept. 17, 1920, when a group of men gathered at the Hupmobile showroom owned by Ralph Hay, also the owner of the hometown Canton Bulldogs, where the result was the formation of the American Professional Football Association (APFA) that would be renamed the National Football League in 1922.
Art Rooney Sr. didn't join until 1933, and so his Pittsburgh franchise isn't the oldest in the NFL, but the only ones left with more seniority in the league are the Cardinals, Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, Detroit Lions, and the one now known as the Washington Commanders.
Rooney's NFL franchise is a storied one with a rich and successful history that's also colorful in the manner of all of those that scraped and fought to remain viable through the remnants of the Great Depression, through World War II, and just generally through that period when professional football was not the glamorous and lucrative business it is today.
In August 2017, the Steelers announced the franchise was creating a Hall of Honor, and as President Art Rooney II explained at the time, "The Hall of Honor will serve as a tribute to the many individuals who have contributed greatly throughout the history of our franchise. This is probably long overdue, and we are excited to begin the process of recognizing these individuals and their accomplishments, both on and off the field, during an annual series of ceremonies."
Almost four years later, in July 2021, meetings began regarding the construction of a museum located inside Acrisure Stadium that would serve as a home for the Hall of Honor while also recognizing and explaining the franchise's decades of history. And on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022, the Hall of Honor Museum officially was opened, and from the initial feedback, it is an unqualified success.
The Steelers currently are involved in their 90th season in the NFL, which means there is a lot of history to cover, and the Hall of Honor Museum goes about it in a way that is chronological, informative, and entertaining.
The 60-minute tour begins with a 12-minute video shown in the Museum's theater, and it combines the polish that can be expected from NFL Films along with a uniquely Steelers perspective delivered via voiceovers from some of the greatest players in franchise history. From there, fans are directed into the Museum proper, and the tour begins with a chronological telling of the significant events that helped usher the franchise from one era to the next.
Here is an example: After guests spend time in the area of the Museum that explains the early days – the time before Art Rooney joined the NFL in 1933, then the decades of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, along with exhibits that show what Art Rooney Sr.'s office looked like in the Roosevelt Hotel and then at Three Rivers Stadium and what Dan Rooney's office looked like at Three Rivers Stadium and then at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex – the story moves into an area that showcases the two things largely responsible for transforming the Steelers from lovable losers into a dominant team that came to be feared.
Those two things are the NFL Draft and the impact of hiring Chuck Noll.
A quick turn away from those exhibits, and the guest is brought into a larger, open area where the space contains three exhibits that characterize the franchise's dominance in the 1970s: the Immaculate Reception, the Steel Curtain, and Super Bowls IX, X, XIII, and XIV.
Walking into the area, just before the displays and artifacts dedicated to telling the story of the 1970s, there's a quote from Noll on the wall. Those words, coming as they did from Noll, deserve a place in franchise history.
This is how Joe Greene provided the context:
"The thing that really, really gave us the impetus and the mind-set, and gave us – as Chuck always said – the refuse-to-be-denied attitude – came on the Monday after we beat Buffalo in the first round of the playoffs in 1974. People on the outside would always hear things like the refuse-to-be-denied attitude and call it a cliché, but to us it was real. But anyway, we were sitting in the locker room over at the stadium, and Chuck said, 'You know, the coach of the Raiders said the two best teams in football (Miami and Oakland) played yesterday, and that was the Super Bowl. Well, the Super Bowl is three weeks from now, and the best team in pro football is sitting right here in this room.'
"I'm telling you, I think I levitated right out of my seat when I heard that. There was no way that the Raiders were going to beat us. Again, it all came from the consistency of Chuck, because when he said that, it was very un-Chuck-like and that's why it had so much power to it. It was almost like it happened yesterday."
And so begins the trip back in time, and once guests get through the 1970s, it's a return to the chronological. The re-tooling during the 1980s, Noll's retirement and Bill Cowher being hired in 1992 and what that meant for the franchise. Then into the 2000s, with the construction of what then was Heinz Field, another Super Bowl, the hiring of Mike Tomlin, another Super Bowl, more mannequins of the great players from that era, and a booth set aside as an interactive treat that many people who already took the tour believe will end up being the highlight for the many who will take it in the future.
It's called the Broadcast Booth, located in an alcove that also contains the franchise's history on the radio, along with photos and information on the people who spoke into the microphones all those years.
For those who enter the Broadcast Booth, there will be an opportunity to sit at the microphone in a re-creation of the radio booth in Three Rivers Stadium and personalize a call of one of five great plays in Steelers history. It will work like this: the "play-by-play" person will sit in a chair behind the microphone and watch a video of one of the five iconic plays in Steelers history and get to hear the audio of the original call. That call is transcribed and displayed in time with the audio. Then the screen resets, and the video of the play is repeated, but the microphone is live and the guest gets to call the play. That call is recorded, the video of the guest making the call is recorded, and the guest will be emailed a copy of their video and their call as a keepsake of the experience.
But the tour is not over. There are areas dedicated to the 2010s and the 2020s, plus the difference-making players of those decades, more mannequins and artifacts, an area paying tribute to Steelers fans, and then it's down a slightly darkened hall into an open and well-lighted area that recognizes every member of the Hall of Honor, with the current class given its own wall. The effect of the room is similar to the effect in Canton, Ohio, when people enter the area where the busts of every member of the Hall of Fame are displayed.
In the center of the Steelers' version are two kiosks where fans can search by name or year of induction a video, statistics, and a timeline of the career of each member of the Hall of Honor to provide an interactive means of understanding why each individual was elected. With that, the tour might be over, but the hope is people will leave with a better understanding of what Mike Tomlin meant and felt when he said, "You can't put a price tag on tradition, on a legacy. It's an honor to be a part of it. It's something I want our guys to embrace. It's something that we openly talk about. It's about respecting those who have come before us, and making the black-and-gold special."
To schedule a tour of the Hall of Honor Museum, click here and then "BOOK A TOUR."