The Pittsburgh Steelers jersey has seen a ton of changes over the past 87 seasons, since the team was founded in 1933 as the Pittsburgh Pirates, merged with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1943 to become the Steagles, the Chicago Cardinals to form Card-Pitt in 1944, before re-merging as the Steelers ever since.
The Early Years
The Steelers’ (then known as the Pirates) first uniforms resembled that of the National Hockey League, featuring vertical black and yellow stripes which displayed the city’s crest in front. These uniforms also returned in 1994 as throwbacks when the NFL celebrated their 75th anniversary.
Also appearing during this time were the infamous “bumblebee jerseys,” which the team wore as throwbacks from 2012 until 2016.
Finally, in 1936 the team adopted the now-familiar Northwestern striping pattern which remains on the uniforms today in different variations.
1950s – 1960s
The Steelers’ first “modern” look came in the early 1950s, when they continued donning the yellow Northwestern stripes on the black jerseys with yellow numbering.
The team would get rid of the striping on select jerseys for a time, however, featuring a new white jersey with black numbering and diamond-shaped number patches on the shoulder, which appeared in 1962. Another version of the white jersey came about during this time as well, containing yellow sleeves with black Northwestern stripes.
In 1966, the ‘Batman’-themed jerseys arrived, this time featuring no Northwestern stripes on either jersey with a yellow triangular-diamond covering the shoulder and collar areas.
Dan Rooney stated he didn’t want the Steelers to follow the lead of the Green Bay Packers as many teams were doing at the time and wanted the team to have a unique look. However, the jerseys were panned by the NFL, the media, and even Steelers players alike, leading the team to scrap the jersey after just two seasons.
1970s – 1990s
Come 1968, the Steelers adopted a similar look to what is seen on the field today, with the yellow Northwestern stripes returning now with white stripes filling in the gaps between the yellow while on the away jersey, black stripes were added, outlining the yellow striping.
The numbers were block in nature, white at home and black on the road.
The Steelers have made two distinct changes to their jerseys since adopting their familiar look in 1968. The team’s ‘Steelmark’ helmet logo now appears on the left-hand side of the jersey and in 1997, the team dropped their block numbering in favor of rounder italics.
Some have stated the Steelers have made the change to italics to symbolize the City of Pittsburgh’s identity change from a blue-collar manufacturing city, particularly in the steel industry, hence the name Steelers, to a modern-day tech-driven city which is also known for its UPMC chain of medical centers and hospitals dotting the region.
Along with the rest of the NFL, the Steelers debuted a Color Rush jersey featuring classic yellow Northwestern striping and yellow block numbering with the Steelmark patch on the left-hand side of the jersey.
The team has also revived their classic ‘block numbering’ jersey to use as throwback uniforms, resembling that of the Steel Curtain Era during the team’s dynasty years in the 1970s.
The Steelers have definitely earned the right to timeless status, but for me, I can’t get over the team’s sleek numbering design. Yes, it makes sense given the city’s change in identity, as mentioned earlier and when one visits Pittsburgh, they can definitely see the change from the blue-collar stereotype the town held for decades, but maybe I’m just biased in the fact that I’m from the Pittsburgh area and hold it to a higher level (though I am a Browns fan, ironically)!
Nonetheless, I crave the team’s classic block-numbering look and I was ecstatic when I saw it debut last season. It’s my hope fan demand becomes high enough to the point the team brings this look back on a full-time basis. Teams with such classic designs have moved toward this trend in recent seasons, including the Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers, and others.
If I have one request for the Rooney family, it’s to bring back the Steel Curtain Era look for good.
Related Article: The Pittsburgh Steelers Helmet History