is the unofficial name of the fan base
of the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers
. The name, which is somewhat of a takeoff of Raider Nation
and Red Sox Nation
, was adopted sometime in the 2000s and is used on occasion by Steelers official play-by-play man Bill Hillgrove
, though the name has gotten some disdain by controversial sports commentator Mark Madden
. In August 2008, ESPN.com
ranked Steelers' fans as the best in the NFL, citing their "unbelievable" sellout streak of 299 consecutive games.
Steeler Country is often used for the Pittsburgh area where the fan base originates, but is also often used in areas with a large Steelers fan base.
The Steelers have had a following in Western Pennsylvania
since Art Rooney
bought the team with $2,500 in winnings from the race track in 1933
. That year, Pennsylvania
relaxed its blue laws
allowing sporting events in the Commonwealth on Sundays, paving the way for the Steelers (then Pirates, named after the baseball team of the same name
) and Philadelphia Eagles
to begin play for the 1933 NFL season
. Previously, the state had teams in Pottsville
, but both folded partially due to financial reasons relating to the Great Depression
and partially due to the problems of not being able to play sporting events on Sunday
, when most NFL games took place. Pottsville
are part of the Eagles' territory today (Frankford is actually in
Philadelphia, and many consider the Eagles to be an extension of the Yellow Jackets, though the team and the NFL don't officially recognize the lineage.), so the Steelers are the only NFL team to have played primarily in Western PA.
Much like the early years of the league itself, the Steelers had to compete with baseball and college football in the city, making the team third in the hierarchy to the Pirates and Pitt Panthers, respectively. Despite the team's early struggles, the team would have a small but loyal fan base in the city due to the popularity of American football at all levels in the area, dating back to the game's early days when William "Pudge" Heffelfinger became the first professional football player in 1892 in Pittsburgh, with the first wholly professional football game being played three years later in nearby Latrobe; Latrobe is now the home to the Steelers training camp every summer at Saint Vincent College. To this day, high school and college football get regular press coverage in the area.
By the 1950s, the Steelers had gained some popularity in the city and was on-par with Pitt (this, of course, coinciding with a more-stable NFL as a whole becoming more popular than the college game), but was still a distant second behind the Pirates in the city. Due to the team's constant struggles on the field, Art Rooney was identified as the "Lovable Loser" and fans would identify the team's struggles with SOS--Same Old Steelers.
Rise of the Steelers
In the early 1970s, the Steelers began to rise in popularity due to changes made by the team in 1969 that saw the hiring of head coach Chuck Noll
and the drafting of future Hall of Fame defensive tackle "Mean Joe" Greene
. By 1972
, the Steelers were a playoff contender and began a sellout streak in Three Rivers Stadium
that later carried over to Heinz Field
and still stands to this day. The team is second to the Green Bay Packers
for the longest active consecutive sellout streak in league history.
The team's success in the decade, where it would win the Super Bowl four times, coincided with the United States as a whole (and the city in particular) going through a recession that would eventually see the steel mills close up in the 1980s. The fan base grew due to the team's success because it gave people in the city hope because of the local economic uncertainties at the time. That, plus the Pirates winning the World Series twice, Pitt winning the 1976 National Championship, and the Penguins (which joined the NHL as part of the league's Expansion Six) even enjoying some success earned the city of Pittsburgh the title "City of Champions." The team's popularity in Pittsburgh also grew because of the team's blue collar toughness in a blue collar city such as Pittsburgh.
Since the 1970s, the Steelers have enjoyed having a large fan base rivaled by few sports teams, and have since eclipsed the Pirates by light years as the most popular sports team in Pittsburgh. While the team gained a large fan base nationally based on their success in the 1970s (and are also second to the Dallas Cowboys
as the most popular pro football team in Mexico
), many consider the collapse of the steel
industry in Pittsburgh at the end of the 70's dynasty into the 1980s to be a large catalyst for the unusually high fan base in other cities, since many native Pittsburghers were forced to move elsewhere, causing Western Pennsylvania
in general (and Pittsburgh in particular) to lose nearly half of its population. Examples of this has been shown when the Steelers are on the road, and the stadiums still having a sizable amount of Steeler fans; in particular, teams with usually low fan turnout at home that would otherwise require a local blackout
on television usually end up selling out when hosting the Steelers due to Steeler fans buying up the tickets. The Cincinnati Bengals
(especially during their "Bungals" years in the 1990s and early 2000s) are perhaps the best example of this, as the team usually only sells out home games when the Steelers or Cleveland Browns
are playing in Cincinnati, with the respective fans of the other teams buying up the tickets. Another instance of the team's large fan base was at Super Bowl XL
, where there were an overwhelming number of Steelers fans at the game compared to the number of supporters of their opponent, the Seattle Seahawks
. One ESPN.com columnist suggested that Steelers fans outnumbered Seahawks fans by a ratio of 25 to 1.
In 1997, the Steelers indirectly influenced Tennessee Oilers owner Bud Adams to move the team to Nashville a year early after the Oilers season finale against the Steelers in the Oilers temporary home of Memphis due to the low turnout of fans in all games played at the Liberty Bowl except for the Steelers, whose own fans filled up the stadium. This occurred despite the fact that both teams were playing in a meaningless game (The Steelers, who already locked up the AFC Central title and a first round bye, were resting starters while the Oilers were already eliminated from the playoffs.), and the Steelers on the losing end 24-6. After moving the team from Houston the year before, Adams originally wanted to play in Memphis for two years while Adelphia Coliseum in Nashville was under construction since Vanderbilt Stadium had a small seating capacity below NFL levels.
In November 2007, the Steelers were ranked as the most popular sports franchise out of the 122 teams in the NHL, NBA, MLB and NFL, by a study from Turnkey Sports. Another study ranked Pittsburgh as having the highest percentage of female fans of their local football team, ranking twice as high as the average city. An aspect of Steelers fandom, the Terrible Towel, is "arguably the best-known fan symbol of any major pro sports team". Invented by broadcaster Myron Cope in 1975, the towel's rights have since been given to the Allegheny Valley School in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania which cares for over 900 people with mental retardation and physical disabilities, including Cope's autistic son. Since 1996, proceeds from the Terrible Towel have helped raise more than $2.2 million for the school. The Towel itself was waved at the gold metal match for Women's beach volleyball at the 2008 Olympic Games, something that even the Steelers were surprised of.
The Steelers, like other sports teams with large fan bases, also have celebrity fans as well. Some notable fans include actors Adam Sandler
, Burt Reynolds
, Jeff Goldblum
, & Michael Keaton
, singers Hank Williams, Jr.
, Bret Michaels
fame), Charlie Daniels
, & Snoop Dogg
, professional wrestler Kurt Angle
, comedian Dennis Miller
, and conservative
radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh
, among others. Out of those fans, Keaton, Goldblum, Angle, and Miller are Pittsburgh natives, while Michaels is a native of nearby Butler
(also the home of former Steelers backup quarterback Terry Hanratty
), and Limbaugh once worked at Pittsburgh radio station KQV
in the early 1970s.
The Steelers also have some loose ties to professional wrestling
. Kurt Angle, who played football in high school in addition to freestyle wrestling
, would try out unsuccessfully for the Steelers as a fullback
in 1996 following his gold medal win in the 1996 Olympic Games
before going on to fame with World Wrestling Entertainment
and currently Total Nonstop Action Wrestling
. Ironically, the team would later have quarterback Tommy Maddox
for five years after he played during the XFL
's only season, where he was the league's MVP. The XFL, of course, was founded by WWE chairman Vince McMahon
The Steelers popularity in Pittsburgh has often left it for heel wrestlers (including Angle) to gain cheap heat on the fans when the WWE visits Pittsburgh by making a derogatory comment about the team. In addition, when an uninteresting part of a show occurs during a WWE event in Pittsburgh, the wrestling fans in attendance will yell out the team's official chant, "Here We Go Steelers, Here We Go!".
In recent years, Steeler players Ben Roethlisberger, Jeff Reed, and Max Starks, among others, have been seen at WWE events in the audience. John Cena himself would give Roethlisberger his get well wishes after the team's star quarterback was in a life-threatening motorcycle accident.