Most regular season wins, most playoff wins, and best Super Bowl winning percentage. The Pittsburgh Steelers are the most successful franchise in the NFL, and they’ve done it with consistency. The Steelers are the seventh-oldest franchise in NFL history, and have accumulated only nine losing seasons since 1970. Three coaches: Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin, have guided the Steelers to over four decades of success and a 6-2 record in the Super Bowl.
Here’s what the Steelers have done at the top:
1. The Steelers Won Four Titles in Six Years in The 1970’s
While kids today may see the Patriots as the NFL’s most dominant franchise, that moniker belonged to the Steelers in a different time. The Steelers racked up four Super Bowl titles in a short span under Chuck Noll, going back-to-back twice between 1974-1979.
In the Steelers first-ever Super Bowl appearance, the Steelers defense posted a shutout to win Super Bowl IX over the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings blocked a punt for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to ruin the shutout, but the Steelers won 16-6. Franco Harris rushed for 158 yards on 38 carries, and was named Super Bowl MVP. The Steelers went back to the title game the next year, this time against Roger Staubach and the Cowboys. Lynn Swann posted 161 receiving yards and a TD for MVP honors, and the defense picked Staubach three times for a 21-17 win.
In two years, the Steelers went from AFC pretender to the NFL’s mountaintop. But that was just the beginning for a team that, before 1972, had zero playoff wins in franchise history.
2. Pittsburgh Had One Playoff Appearance From 1933-1971
After being founded by Art Rooney in 1933, the Steelers did not experience immediate success. It was a full ten years before they would experience their first winning season in 1942, but that’s not where the dynasty started. In fact, the Steelers were forced to merge with other teams the following two seasons after a player shortage due to World War II.
The Steelers franchise changed forever when Chuck Noll applied to be the team’s 14th head coach. Rooney was also considering hiring Joe Paterno from Penn State, but Rooney was impressed by Rooney’s football expertise and player knowledge. Noll took over before the 1969 season, and went 1-13 in his first season. Rooney gave time to let Noll draft and develop talent, and it wasn’t long before the team started winning games.
3. Chuck Noll & The Steel Curtain Dominated For More Than a Decade
So the Steelers dominated in ’74 and ’75, but were eliminated in each of the next two postseasons. It’s not like they weren’t winning: Pittsburgh won six straight AFC Central titles during this stretch. But they didn’t go back to the mountaintop until 1978, when they defeated the Cowboys 35-31. The Steel Curtain was fading, but the trio of Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris and Lynn Swann kept the Steelers offense moving. Bradshaw was the MVP of Super Bowl XIII, throwing for 318 yards and four touchdowns.
They went 14-2 that season, but still managed a 12-4 repeat effort the following season. This time it was the Rams in Super Bowl XIV, and the Steelers won 31-19 to become the first team to win four Super Bowls. Bradshaw was once again outstanding, and became just the second player ever (Starr) to win back-to-back Super Bowl MVP awards.
4. Noll Was Replaced by Bill Cowher After 23 Seasons
After Super Bowl XIV, Noll won just two playoff games over the next 12 seasons. He was replaced in 1992 by Bill Cowher, who had been the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator. Cowher may have been able to keep the team solid on defense, but a quarterback of Bradshaw’s caliber was eluding them. Cowher led the Steelers to Super Bowl XXX with Neil O’Donnell as his quarterback, but his team fell to the Dallas Cowboys.
Cowher’s teams stayed consistent through the nineties, but playoff success was nowhere to be found. The Steelers won their division in eight of Cowher’s 15 seasons, but his teams lost four AFC Championship games. Things changed in 2004, when the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger with their first round pick. The man they eventually called Big Ben went 13-3 in his first season as a starter, and led them to the Super Bowl the following year. The Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 to win Super Bowl XL, giving Cowher his first career Super Bowl ring. Hines Ward, long credited with being an unheralded wide reciever, earned MVP honors with a five-catch, 123 yard performance.
5. Tomlin & Roethlisberger Define Modern-Era Steelers
Cowher and the Steelers went 8-8 in 2006, leading to Cowher retiring in the offseason. Rooney had hired two young defensive-minded coaches, and the pair had lasted for 38 years. For the 16th coach in Steelers history, Rooney didn’t deviate from his strategy. He hired 34-year old Mike Tomlin as Pittsburgh’s first African-American head coach, and Tomlin did not disappoint. In his 10 years as NFL head coach, Tomlin has yet to finish with a record below .500.
With Roethlisberger calling signals, the Mike Tomlin era has been strong. In his second season, Tomlin guided the Steelers to a last-second win over the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. That game is best known for two plays: James Harrison’s 100-yard interception return at the end of the first half, and Santonio Holmes’ game-winning TD grab in the final seconds. The Steelers won 27-23, and Holmes was named MVP. With the win, the Steelers became the first NFL franchise to win six Super Bowls.
In recent years, the Steelers have been to the NFL’s final game only once. They fell to the Green Bay Packers at Super Bowl XLV, although similar to the previous Super Bowl win, Roethlisberger was driving late with a chance to win the game. But this time the comeback attempt fell short, and the Steelers lost 31-25.