NFL's 'most storied franchises' to clash as history's Goliaths
By Bob Cohn
Published: Sunday, February 6, 2011
Mark Murphy is an educated man and a former hard-hitting NFL safety. Both conditions help the Green Bay Packers' president understand why Super Bowl XLV is unique.
"To me it's the two most storied franchises in the league," he said of the Packers and Steelers, who meet today at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. "You look at the team with the most championships versus the team with the most Super Bowl championships. It's really something."
The names ring out. Art Rooney and Curly Lambeau. Terry Bradshaw and Bart Starr. Joe Greene and Ray Nitschke. Chuck Noll and Vince Lombardi. And on and on.
"It's pretty special, given the history of both franchises," said Steelers President Art Rooney II, grandson of the Steelers' founder. "It's gonna be exciting to go up against them. They're a special franchise."
Green Bay was the bell cow of the league's early days under Lambeau, the Packers' first coach and a co-founder, and then during Vince Lombardi's epic nine-year reign starting in 1959. After a long drought, Green Bay won its league-best 12th championship in 1996 under Mike Holmgren.
The Steelers, quiet through the Lambeau and Lombardi years (and in between), roared into the modern-day NFL in 1970 led by Noll, their coach, and ruled most of the decade. They re-emerged as a power during the 1990s under Bill Cowher, then broke through in the new millennium, first with Cowher and now with head coach Mike Tomlin.
"The Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. "That's football."
Along with the vision of commissioner Pete Rozelle, the franchises ignited the NFL's surge in popularity during the 1960s and 1970s, first one and then the other, Lombardi's Packers and Noll's Steelers, a steady assembly line production of championships and Hall of Famers.
The Packers' 21 enshrinees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, rank second behind the Chicago Bears' 26. The Steelers' 18 are tied for third most with the New York Giants, according to the hall.
Three Hall of Famers spent time with both franchises, including halfback John "Blood" McNally, tackle Robert (Cal) Hubbard and guard/coach Walt Kiesling.
Tom Murphy, the Packers' official "archivist," said he rooted for the New York Jets to beat the Steelers in the AFC Championship game because he believed the Packers would have a better chance of winning the Super Bowl.
"But on the other side of the coin, I was telling people it would be really cool if we played the Steelers because of their history, especially their recent history," he said. "There really can't be any better Super Bowl opponent for us -- taking into account tradition, a long history of success and stability of ownership -- than the Steelers."
Both teams own a national fan base, a shared blue-collar identity with their cities and continuity of ownership. The Packers have been community-owned since 1923. Art Rooney founded the Steelers in 1933, and he and his family have owned the club since.
The Steelers' success "is a tribute to the Rooney family, the way they run the organization," Mark Murphy said. "I think it's very similar to the way we do it."
Rob Ruck, a University of Pittsburgh professor and sports historian, co-authored "Rooney: A Sporting Life," which portrays the history of professional football and the elder Art Rooney's role in shaping it.
"It's kind of amazing to have three generations of Rooneys running their team and the consistency in which they have operated," Ruck said. "They're deeply committed to Pittsburgh. They're able to see beyond the chalk lines. Tough businessmen, no doubt, but very loyal to this area and the people."
'History and tradition'
The arguments of Steelers fans notwithstanding, the Packers probably would be considered the best team in NFL history, given their championships.
But with a record six Super Bowl titles, four in the '70s and two after the 2005 and 2008 seasons, the Steelers can claim supremacy in the 40 years since the 1970 merger of the National Football League and the American Football League.
The teams never met in the playoffs before the merger. From 1933 through 1971, the Steelers were nearly 100 games below .500 with no championships.
After the merger, the only opportunity for them to meet in the playoffs would be the Super Bowl, as the Steelers, Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Colts agreed to leave their NFL rivals to join AFL teams in one of the two newly created conferences, the American Football Conference. The Packers and other old NFL teams joined the National Football Conference.
By the time the Steelers won their first playoff game in 1972 on Franco Harris' Immaculate Reception, the Packers had collected 11 league titles.
Not surprisingly, the Packers dominated most of the regular-season series with the Steelers, winning the first game Oct. 15, 1933, in Green Bay and going on to win 12 in a row. The Packers lead the series 21-14, but the Steelers have won seven of the past nine.
"As a kid, I remember the Steelers as not being very good. Then Chuck Noll came along, and they got real good," said archivist Murphy, 60, a member of the Packers' franchise Hall of Fame board of directors. "This is the team you want to beat if you want to put a diamond in your championship crown."
Hall of Fame actually is a misnomer. Located inside Lambeau Field, it really is a large museum that typifies and captures the lore of the Packers, who were founded in 1919, two years before joining a league that would become the NFL in 1922. Among the array of photographs, videos, memorabilia and other exhibits is a replica of Lombardi's office, complete with his original desk.
Each of the 12 championship teams is given its historical due. So is Lambeau, who coached the Packers for 31 years. Perhaps because it was so long ago, Lambeau has taken a back seat to Lombardi, whose teams won five titles in seven years and is considered by many to be the greatest coach ever in any sport.
The Steelers have similar features honoring their rich history.
The Great Hall at Heinz Field serves as a Steelers Hall of Fame, with replicas of Lombardi Trophies commemorating their Super Bowl victories. Displays built from lockers that once stood at Three Rivers Stadium showcase mementos, uniforms and equipment of Steelers Hall of Famers and other prominent players.
In its South Side practice facility, the team displays its six Lombardi Trophies in a second-floor room, as well as black-and-white photographs that hung in founder Art Rooney's office at Three Rivers Stadium.
Mark Murphy, the Packers' president, noted this is the first time teams more than 75 years old will meet in the Super Bowl.
"History and tradition," he said.
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