A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Why do the Pittsburgh Steelers have a logo on only one side of their helmets?

April 19, 2000

Dear Straight Dope:

Why do football teams have pictures on the sides of their helmets, and why do the Steelers, unlike other teams, have the logo on only one side of their helmets?

Faced with a question like this, we turned to our friend Dutch Courage, who writes:

The practice of painting logos on helmets dates to 1948, when Fred Gehrke, halfback for the then-Los Angeles Rams, painted horns on the sides of the team's helmets. Gehrke was an artist on and off the field, equally adept at broken field running and brush strokes . . . I'm sorry, I can't resist the NFL-films-type patter. I'm humming "Drunken Sailor" as I type this. As the league entered the 50's, many teams adopted decorated helmets, although the Pittsburgh franchise went with a fairly spartan gold-helmet-with-the-players'-numbers-on-both-sides motif. In 1962, Republic Steel, located in Cleveland (ack! ptooi!) suggested to Steelers owner Art Rooney that they place the "steel" logo on their helmets. This logo, used by the American Iron and Steel Institute, is three hypocycloids (curvy-looking stars, for you amateurs) in a circle with the word "steel," changed to "Steelers" for the helmet. You can see where it's a natural, even though the idea came from Cleveland, the mistake on the lake, home of the hated Browns.

However, when the logos arrived, Steelers management wasn't sure how they looked on an all gold helmet. So equipment manager Jack Hart was told to place the emblems on only one side, so as to minimize the graphic impact of the design--half of the helmet would look like it always did. As it happened, that season the Steelers posted their best record, 9-5, finishing second in the Eastern Conference and earning a playoff berth, the first ever for Rooney's squad. Because of this, and because the one-sided helmet was unique among NFL teams, the design stuck. Rooney decided to celebrate the occasion by premiering the now familiar black helmet in the subsequent playoff game, paving the way for immaculate receptions, terrible towels, and four Super Bowl victories. Mmm-ha! Yoi, and double yoi!

For more on the history of the Steelers uniform, see Netins.net.

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