If you find it difficult to wrap your Steelers cerebrum around the fact that the conservative Rooneys actually were the first old-guard NFL owners to have female cheerleaders, get this:
They had male cheerleaders, too.
At least one of them never even knew their name.
"I always thought we were called Steelerettes, too," Roger Hunt said a couple of weeks ago while operating a crane on a local highway project, wearing a construction hard hat much like the one he sported 4 1/2 decades earlier as a member of the ...
"Ingots? I had never heard that term."
Buddy Dial met them, all right. Head on.
The Ingots -- a handful of fellows from the same Robert Morris Junior College as their counterpart Steelerettes -- fired a toy cannon whenever the Steelers scored, which, granted, wasn't often in those gory days of 1962. Well, one day the fellows blasted their 12-gauge mortar, loaded with blanks, almost as soon as that Steelers receiver crossed the goal line. Mr. Dial vanished, up in smoke.
"The heat of the moment," recalled Ken Kanzleiter, an Ingot from Bon Air residing now in Morganton, N.C. "He didn't say anything to us. He just turned and ran away."
Steelers and Pirates announcer "Bob Prince went ballistic [on the air]," Hunt recalled. "I went up to Buddy to apologize to him after it happened, and he said, 'Aw, shucks, it wasn't nothing. Just scared me, that's all.' And Bob Prince wanted to crucify us. We became infamous."
"I hear the film of that is in the Hall of Fame. It actually looked like Buddy had been shot with a cannon," added Bill Day, the former Robert Morris vice president who organized the 1961-70 cheerleader episodes in Steelers history. "Not only did Buddy disappear in a cloud of smoke, so did the Ingots."
Thus the Steelers became not only the first NFL franchise to use female cheerleaders, but the first to use male cheerleaders and then summarily fire them.
Like the Steelerettes, the Ingots were culled from Robert Morris Junior College classrooms Downtown. Records and numbers are hazy, but it appears that while the Steelerettes started in 1961, the Ingots got their start -- and their end -- in the same year, 1962. Their uniform: A hard hat, simple T-shirt (white or gold) and black slacks.
The guys worked with the gals, as they called themselves. They practiced together in the school cafeteria or the front yard of the women's Shadyside dormitory. They danced in unison and did routines.
"Not that any of us were muscles," Mr. Hunt said. "I was a little bit athletic, and I liked to dance."
"We weren't really the cheerleaders of today with flips and that. We were pretty much there to give support," Mr. Kanzleiter said. "The Steelers weren't winning back then, but we went out and tried to get everybody at least to cheer for them." Did it work? "Sometimes."
While the women have reunions and a Web site, www.steelerettes.com, the men have scattered and lost contact.
Blair Jury, one of four Ingots to appear in a 1962 Robert Morris yearbook photograph of the male cheerleaders, moved to the Philadelphia area in 1966 and lost touch with his hometown NFL team -- completely.
"You mean they dropped the cheerleaders, too?" Jury said. "Shows you how many Pittsburgh games I watch. I'm an Eagles fan now."
Chuck Finder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1724.