During World War II, the Rooney family had a difficult time keeping the Pittsburgh Steelers football team going.
The 75th anniversary of the attack of the US Military installation in Honolulu, Hawaii at Pearl Harbor is more than likely the last major marking of the occasion for people who lived in that era. There are not many people under the age of 80 who can recall that day. The world changed that day as America ended the war after being on the sidelines for two years. Sports would change too.
During World War I, baseball was a non-essential item. During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt made baseball a priority for the moral of the country. And other sports embraced Roosevelt’s stance including the semi-pro operation called the NFL.
All 16 Major League Baseball franchises were able to field a team although it was difficult to fill rosters. The Cincinnati Reds signed 15-year-old Joe Nuxhall in 1944 to pitch. His first game was on June 10 of that year not long after his high school baseball season ended. The St. Louis Browns employed one-armed Pete Gray in 1945 as an outfielder.
The National Football League never received a presidential directive but played anyway. Almost all the teams had enough players except the Pittsburgh Steelers. During World War II, there was not even a “Steelers” name.
Art Rooney combined his Steelers combined other teams. The first was with Philadelphia in 1943 and the second was with the Chicago Cardinals in 1944. The “Steagles” split home games between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the “Car-Pitt” team played at both Comiskey Park in Chicago and in Pittsburgh.
“The Steagles, which was a great name, they had a very good team,” said Steelers chairman, Hall of Fame member, and former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney. “Then the Cardinals the next year. That was disastrous. We had four coaches, none of whom was named the head coach. So it was the old story, who is in charge. We were 0-10.
“But the reason for it was, of course, the war. Not only was it difficult because guys were gone. But where you could have a good team was where there was a military operation. In both Chicago and Philadelphia, they had a lot of navy people because of being on water. So that’s the reason they were able to get the players and that’s the reason we combined with them.
“We had a receiver by the name of Tony Bova who was 4-F because he couldn’t see. But he was our leading receiver.
Pittsburgh survived the war which is more than a couple of other NFL owners could say in those days.
The American and National Leagues of baseball were mildly ordered by the President to play ball during World War II.