Pittsburgh Professional Sports Teams

From its earliest years, Pittsburgh has always been a city that has embraced its professional sports teams. Whether that team is baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates, football’s Pittsburgh Steelers, or hockey’s Pittsburgh Penguins, fans from all walks of life come out in droves to support their teams. All three of these franchises have seen their fair share of ups and downs, but the fans of Pittsburgh have cheered them all the way.

The Pittsburgh Pirates franchise is the city’s oldest professional sports team. Professional baseball was first played in Pittsburgh in 1876, but the Pirates as we know them today were not formed until 1891. The earliest and most famous Pittsburgh Pirate player was shortstop Honus Wagner. During the early 1900’s Wagner made Pittsburgh one of the best teams in baseball, winning the first of their 5 World Series Championships in 1909. However, after Wagner retired, the team had a significant drop off in performance and struggled before winning their second World Series in 1925.

Perhaps the most famous sports moment in Pittsburgh history occurred in 1960, when 2nd baseman Bill Mazeroski hit a game winning and World Series clinching homerun in the seventh and final game of the 1960 World Series. To this date it is the only time a World Series has been won on a walk-off homerun in game 7. While Bill Mazeroski may have won the World Series for Pittsburgh, the team was led by none other than Roberto Clemente. Clemente is probably the most beloved sports figure in Pirate history because of both his performance on the field and his generosity off it. Clemente tragically died in 1972 while flying to Nicaragua to provide aid to earthquake victims. His death marked the beginning of the end for the Pirates franchise.

While the Pirates managed to win the 1979 World Series behind power hitting first baseman Willie Stargell, the team and franchise as a whole was starting to dwindle. During the early 1990’s the team came close to making back to the World Series but fell short each time. Since 1992, the team has steadily declined and the once proud franchise has not even made the playoffs, let alone win a World Series, in 16 years. The Pirates currently play at the recently constructed PNC Park which played host to the 2006 All- Star game.

The Pittsburgh Steelers franchise is probably the most consistent and most popular professional sports team in Pittsburgh. The Steelers were founded in 1933 and is the AFC’s oldest and most successful franchise. The team has appeared in six Super Bowls and is one of only three teams to have won the Super Bowl five times. Their glory years occurred without a doubt during the 1970’s. From 1974-1979 the franchise became the first, and to this point the only, team to win four Super Bowls in six seasons. Those teams were led by a multitude of future Hall of Famers including quarterback Terry Bradshaw, running back Franco Harris, wide receiver Lynn Swan, defensive players “Mean” Joe Greene, Mel Blount, and Jack Lambert, and of course legendary Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll. Their defense was the key to their success and was aptly nicknamed “The Steel Curtain.”

The 1980’s brought tough times to the Steelers as their star players from the 70’s were retiring. The 1990’s brought more success for the Steelers behind new head coach Bill Cowher. Cowher led the team to the playoffs in each of his first six seasons including a Super Bowl appearance in 1995. Although the team lost to the Dallas Cowboys, the Steelers showed they were once again a team to be reckoned with. Their fifth Super Bowl win came in 2005 as the Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks. Two years later, Bill Cowher retired and made way for a promising new head coach by the name of Mike Tomlin. Tomlin has led the Steelers to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons and the Steelers are currently vying for another Super Bowl appearance this season. The Steelers currently play at Heinz Field which is notorious for its poor footing and windy conditions making it one of the most difficult places for opposing teams to play.

The last Pittsburgh franchise is the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins were founded in 1967 as part of the NHL’s expansion from six to twelve teams. In their brief history, the Penguins have managed to win two Stanley Cup championships and produce one of the best hockey players in history. Their early years were marked with disappointment and tragedy as their promising young star, Michael Briere, died after being in a car accident. While the franchise made the playoffs several times in the 1970’s and 1980’s their success did not come to fruition until 1990, when star player Mario Lemieux and rookie Jaromir Jagr teamed up win back to back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992.

The following year saw the Penguins lose their coach Bob Johnson to Cancer and their star player Mario Lemieux was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. Lemieux has able to return later that season after missing only 24 games. Lemieux eventually retired in 1997 and was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame that same year. Jaromir Jagr was able to lead the team to the playoffs in 1998, but had little success after that. In 1999 Mario Lemieux bought the Penguins after rumors that the team would be forced to move to another city. In 2000 Lemieux returned to the Penguins and became the first player to both own and play for the same team at the same time. The Penguins are currently led by a host of young and promising talent that includes Sidney Crosby, Marian Hossa, and Evgeni Malkin.

The city of Pittsburgh sports franchises have a very long and rich sports history despite not being located in a major sports market like teams in New York, Chicago, Boston, or Los Angeles. While the city’s sports fans are comprised of mainly blue collar workers, their sports teams reflect that mentality in the way they play their respective sports. This has allowed their teams to gain the respect of their fans in both good times and bad.