Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about football and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the football urban legends featured so far.
FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: The Steelers and the Eagles combined teams for a season.
During World War II, the National Football League was having trouble with keeping their rosters afloat. The military draft had a number of deferments, but even with those deferments, rosters were decimated (and forgot about a draft – any graduated college players went right into the military).
In 1943, Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney saw his team’s roster dwindle down to six active players.
Looking across the state to the Philadelphia Eagles, whose owner Alexis Thompson had 16 players, Rooney had a crazy idea.
Rooney thought that the two teams could team up and play as one team for the 1943 season.
Thompson had reservations, as did the rest of the league (worrying that this would create a “super-team”), but he eventually agreed and so did the rest of the NFL, provided that the merged team would not qualify for the playoffs.
Since Thompson was in a better bargaining position, the team was officially known as the Philadelphia Eagles – the Steelers just sort of temporarily merged into the Eagles, but that name was only used in Philadelphia, everyone else called them the Eagle-Steelers or the Steeler-Eagles or the Steagles, for short.
Interestingly enough, as the two teams’ respective head coaches, Philadelphia’s Greasy Neale and Pittsburgh’s Walt Kiesling, shared coaching duties, the pair hated each other so much that they decided to just split up the duties – Neale would coach offense and Kiseling would coach defense. Thus, the Steagles inadvertently originated the notion of offensive and defensive coordinators, which are still used today by all NFL teams.
Here’s a program from that season…
The team went 5-4-1, but attendance was at an all-time high, so the gambit worked.
The next season, the NFL expanded to 11 teams, but the commissioner felt that 11 was a bad number for a sports league, so he asked NFL teams if they were willing to merge again for the next season. Thompson was not willing to repeat the experiment, but Rooney agreed to merge with the Chicago Cardinals for a season.
The team, dubbed Card-Pitt, was terrible, and the name Card-Pitt was equated to “carpet,” as all the other teams walked all over them – the team went 0-10.
The next season, two other teams (the Boston Yanks and the Brooklyn Tigers) permanently merged together, giving the league an even number of teams again, so the Steelers and Cardinals went their separate ways.
Amusingly enough, the Steelers and the Cardinals would meet again decades later in a dramatic Super Bowl XLIII match up (that the Steelers won)!
The legend is…
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Tags: Alexis Thompson, Arizona Cardinals, Art Rooney, Boston Yanks, Brooklyn Tigers, Card-Pitt, Chicago Cardinals, Eagle-Steelers, Greasy Neale, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Steagles, Steeler-Eagles, Walt Kiesling, World War II