The Steelers unveil big plans to celebrate their rich tradition

A special season

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First come the throwback uniforms with mustard-colored helmets, circa 1940s-1960s, an era closer to the gory days than the glory days in the historical rise of the Steelers franchise.

Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette photos
Wide receiver Hines Ward models the Steelers' throwback uniform while standing yesterday with the team's new -- but yet-to-be named -- mascot.
Click photo for larger image.
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The mascot wields a foam rubber steel girder.
Click photo for larger image.

Then there is a new mascot reminiscent of their original logo, with a burly, bearded steelworker brandishing a beam.

What's next to commemorate the Steelers' 75th anniversary season?

Cheerleaders?

Noooooooo, owner Dan Rooney assured yesterday, after club officials announced an array of all-time team selections, mementoes and commemorations over the next eight months to mark the anniversary.

A trial balloon about reviving the 1961-69 Steelerettes -- and joining the rest of their NFL brethren in the sideline-cheesecake business -- indeed was floated up the administration flow chart to Mr. Rooney.

"That didn't get past me," he said.

If the mascot and requisite naming contest don't draw rave reviews from the Steeler Nation, the boss said he might have to alter something there, too.

"We really want to make this special for the fans," he said of the overall anniversary festivities.

"This is going to be a fun time for our fans," his son and Steelers President Art Rooney II added at the Heinz Field West Club news conference also attended by the club's front-office staff, new coach Mike Tomlin, former players, area politicians and corporate partners. "We feel we have the best fans in America. We just wanted to have a lot of ways for them to participate in the 75 seasons."

Fittingly, they did go to their glory days to find a general chairman for this anniversary season: special assistant Joe Greene, whose Steelers No. 75 is enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

The 75th anniversary celebration all kicks off today, when the throwback uniform, the mascot, the naming contest and the anniversary merchandise get unveiled to the Steelers faithful at the Fan Blitz from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. inside Heinz Field for the NFL draft proceedings. Admission to the event is through Gate A and costs $10 for adults and $5 for children.

The uniform, for starters, likely will become a lightning rod for fans of a franchise that won four Super Bowls in the mid- to late-1970s plus Super Bowl XL in 2006, but beforehand endured mostly sad-sack seasons ripe with NFL Films football follies. Strangely enough, Dan Rooney selected an ensemble that harks to those S.O.S. days, for Same Old Steelers -- a term coined in frustration by his own father, the late Art "The Chief" Rooney.

The mustard helmet was last worn in 1962, when, for a rare time, the Steelers made a playoff game that was more of a consolation contest. It comes with a black stripe down the middle and the hypocycloid logo on the right side.

The black jersey has gold numbers, a gold stripe set on each bicep, the Reebok trademark on the left shoulder and, on the right breast, a new special-edition patch, which carries the Steelers logo between the 7 and the 5 above a gold banner portraying the anniversary seasons of 1933-2007.

The white pants contain on their outside edges a gold piping sandwiched between thinner black stripes. And the socks are black fading into a gold-stripe set to match the biceps, followed by a white foot.

Pro Bowl receiver Hines Ward, who modeled the uniform alone (quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had "a prior engagement," he said), announced that the Steelers players embraced the new duds when they were shown the outfit last week in mini-camp. "They loved it, they loved it," said Mr. Ward. Even the helmets, which they recognized as like the one worn by former running backs coach Dick Hoak back in the day. Way back.

The team will wear the uniform twice in the 2007 season: the Sept. 16 home opener against Buffalo, and the Nov. 5 Monday night national broadcast against AFC North rival Baltimore.

"We can go out and turn back time," Mr. Ward said, though fans might hope he was referring more to the 1970-2006 model than the Steelers who failed to compile winning seasons in 30 of their first 37 seasons and went a combined 116-146-10 in that uniform's 1940-1962 period. "For us players, we're going to cherish this year. Get a chance to pay them back, the guys who paved the way and set the trend. Everybody's excited about the upcoming year."

The mascot, the brainchild of Art Rooney II, is a fellow with a black hardhat in Steelers colors, black overalls, a gold long-sleeve shirt with black piping, a surprisingly blond beard, black eyebrows and carrying a steel beam made of Styrofoam and, of course, a 75th-anniversary edition Terrible Towel. In short, he resembles the spawn of Craig Wolfley and Tunch Ilkin, alumni turned Steelers broadcasters. The square, cleft jaw, the pronounced nose, the eyebrows and stern forehead reminded others yesterday of a recently retired head coach.

"[Bill] Cowher might be under there," Mr. Ward kidded. "We have to lift up the mascot [head] to find out."

On a team that retired Stevie Steeler and a fur-wearing Terrible Towel in the 1990s, Mr. Ward added, "A mascot's something new. You see it around other teams. The kids love it." Information about the naming contest is available at www.steelers.com and www.kdka.com.

Also at steelers.com, PNC Bank locations and in a ballot published in the Post-Gazette, fans will find 102 names of former and current Steelers on a list from which they get to pick their 24 selections -- 11 starters each on offense and defense, plus two kickers -- for the All-Time team. The 33 winners, a number in honor of the Steelers' inaugural season, will be announced during that Nov. 5 Baltimore game. The night before, Steelers past and present will be feted at a gala inside the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Other anniversary events on the schedule:

A pre-1970 Legends team will be named, as picked by a selection committee of former players, Steelers officials and media.

Each Steelers home game will reflect a theme decade in team history, starting with the 1930s --when Dan Rooney was a 1-year-old toddler at the time his father launched the ballclub and his mother carried him to games.

A Steelers historical exhibit will be shown at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, in July and August, when the team plays an Aug. 5 preseason game there. Then the exhibit moves to Heinz Field for September and October, and finally to the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center through December.

A historical marker for Three Rivers Stadium will be dedicated at the Nov. 5 Baltimore game.

The 75th also will be celebrated at the June 1 men's fantasy camp and late-July women's training camp at St. Vincent College, the Aug. 11 home preseason opener against Green Bay, the Aug. 29 Kickoff Luncheon, the 2007 Rib Fest Aug. 30-Sept. 3, the Sept. 3 Steelers 5K Race and Fun Run and the Oct. 5 Steelers Fashion Show.

"This is really an exciting time," Dan Rooney said. "I think this is great to start this off and think about the history of the Steelers and what has happened."


Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1724.


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