Pennsylvania Keystoners

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The Pennsylvania Keystoners was the idea for an American football team thought up by then-Pittsburgh Pirates owner, Art Rooney, in 1939 to have a single National Football League franchise based in both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The team would play half of its home games in each location. The idea for the Keystoners was the result of a "franchise two-step" between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Steelers that is still regarded as one of the most convoluted in sports history.

History[edit]

Origins[edit]

During their early histories, the Pirates and the Eagles were among the weakest in the league. In his first eight years of operating the Pittsburgh franchise, Pirates founder Art Rooney was estimated to have lost $100,000. Neither the Eagles nor the Pirates-Steelers had posted a winning record in their first eight years of existence. Losses on the field were compounded by the combined loss of about $190,000 in Depression dollars. The Steelers were so bad that Rooney sold them at the end of the, 1940 season to Alexis Thompson, a 26-year-old steel heir from Boston, Massachusetts frequently described in the press as "a well-heeled New York playboy". Thompson renamed the Steelers the Ironmen, but he planned to move the franchise to Boston and play games in Fenway Park. Eagles owner Bert Bell brokered a deal in which Rooney sold the Steelers for $160,000 which was 64 times his original franchise start-up fee of $2,500 in 1933, and Rooney in turn invested $80,000 to become partner with Bell in the Eagles. The deal, which also involved the trade of 11 Steelers to the Eagles and eight Eagles to the Steelers, came to light on December 8, 1940, the day the Chicago Bears defeated the Washington Redskins, 73-0, in the NFL title game.

Meanwhile, the Eagles were owned by a syndicate headed by Bell, however the team lost $80,000 and 21 games in its first three seasons. Soon all of the team's investors left the franchise, and by the end of the 1935 season Bell had the Eagles to himself. He became the coach, general manager, scout and public relations director, and took to selling tickets on downtown Philadelphia street corners. Because the rent was cheap, the team played in the 102,000 seat Municipal Stadium before at least 100,000 empty seats. According to one account, one rainy Sunday, only 50 people showed up for a game against the Brooklyn Dodgers; Bell invited those few fans up to the covered press box, where he provided free coffee and hot dogs.

The deal[edit]

Rooney and Bell had become close friends during the early NFL years, and so, soon after he sold the Pittsburgh franchise, Rooney bought a half interest in the struggling Eagles operation. The two owners planned was to field a combined Philadelphia-Pittsburgh team called the Keystoners that would play home games in both cities. The original proposition was that Thompson would buy the franchise and take the Pittsburgh club to Boston and Bell and Rooney would pool their interests in the Eagles to form a Philadelphia-Pittsburgh club, splitting the home games between Forbes Field in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia's Municipal Stadium.

Second thoughts[edit]

The Pittsburgh Pirates were supposed to be renamed the Boston Ironmen, however Thompson's move to Boston fell through. The Rooney/Bell idea to have one Pennsylvania Keystoners franchise with games in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh was vetoed by the league as well. However Rooney had second thoughts about leaving Pittsburgh for Philadelphia, he caught Thompson at the right time and the two men changed their plans. As a result, Rooney and Bell would take their Philadelphia operation back to Pittsburgh and rename it the Steelers while Thompson, could move Rooney's original franchise to Philadelphia and play as the Eagles.

Afterwards[edit]

Before the 1941 season, Rooney returned the name to Steelers back from the Ironmen. Bell began the season as the Steelers' coach, but after two losses, Rooney hired Aldo Donelli. Bell continued as part owner of the Steelers until 1946 when he was elected NFL commissioner. Bell served as commissioner until 1959 when he died of a heart attack at Franklin Field in Philadelphia during a game between two teams he had helped form, the Steelers and the Eagles.

Because the Steelers never actually missed a game in Pittsburgh, the NFL considers the Rooney Family's ownership reign to be unbroken. But from 1941 to 1946, when Bell became NFL commissioner and gave up his half interest in the Steelers, the club's operating name was still technically referred to as the Philadelphia Eagles Football Club Inc.

The teams would merge though for one season in 1943 as the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh "Steagles" due to player shortfalls brought on by World War II. The league only approved the merger for one year; Pittsburgh was willing to merge again for 1944 but not Philadelphia. This forced the Steelers to merge with the Chicago Cardinals (as Card-Pitt) for 1944 (64 seasons later, the Steelers beat the now-Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII).

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