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PNC Park and the city of Pittsburgh

Sports in Pittsburgh have been played dating back to the American Civil War. Baseball, hockey, and the first professional american football game had been played in the city by 1895. Pittsburgh was first known as the "City of Champions" when the Pittsburgh Pirates, Pittsburgh Panthers, and Pittsburgh Steelers won multiple championships in the 1970s.[1] Today, the city has three major professional sports franchises, the Pirates, Steelers, and Penguins; while the University of Pittsburgh Panthers compete in a Division 1 BCS conference, the highest level of collegiate athletics in the United States, in both football and basketball. City universities Duquesne and Robert Morris also field Division I teams in basketball and Division 1 FCS teams in football, with Robert Morris additionally fielding a Division I hockey team.

Pittsburgh is once again being called the "City of Champions" as its Steelers and Penguins are the reigning champions of the NFL and NHL, respectively, and with all three of its college basketball teams and Pitt football qualifying for the postseason in 2008. These accomplishments have earned Pittsburgh the title of "Best Sports City" in 2009 from the Sporting News.[2] Including the 2008-09 seasons, the Steelers have reached the NFL playoffs in six of the last eight seasons winning two Super Bowl titles, the Penguins have reached the NHL playoffs the last three years with back-to-back finals appearances and a Stanley Cup championship, Pitt football played in bowl games for 2 consecutive years and won the 2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl, and the city's basketball teams have reached the postseason for nine straight seasons, with three teams boasting 12 total tournament berths and Pitt earning an NCAA tournament Elite Eight showing in 2009.

The flag of Pittsburgh is colored with black and gold, based on the colors of William Pitt's coat of arms; Pittsburgh is the only city in the United States in which all professional sporting teams share the same colors. The city's first National Hockey League (NHL) franchise, the Pittsburgh Pirates were the first to wear black and gold as their colors. The colors were adopted by founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Art Rooney, in 1933. In 1948, the Pittsburgh Pirates switched their colors from red and blue to black and gold. Pittsburgh's second NHL franchise, the Pittsburgh Penguins, wore blue and white, due to general manager Jack Riley's upbringing in Ontario. In 1979, after the Steelers and Pirates had each won their respective league championships, the Penguins altered their color scheme to match, despite objections from the Boston Bruins.[3][4]

In 1975, late Steelers radio broadcaster Myron Cope invented the Terrible Towel, which has become "arguably the best-known fan symbol of any major pro sports team."[5] Cope was one of multiple sports figures born in Pittsburgh and its surrounding area; others include golfer Arnold Palmer, Olympian Kurt Angle, and basketball player Jack Twyman. Pittsburgh is also sometimes called the "Cradle of Quarterbacks"[6][7] due to the number of prominent players of that position who hail from the area, including NFL greats Jim Kelley,George Blanda, Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath, Dan Marino, and Joe Montana.


Professional sports

The City of Pittsburgh has had various professional sports franchises throughout its history and today is home to three teams competing at the highest professional level in their respective sports: the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL, the Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL, and the Pittsburgh Pirates of Major League Baseball.



We had 'em all the way
—Pirates broadcaster Bob Prince, after a comeback[8]

Prior to 1876, three amateur Pittsburgh baseball teams—the Enterprise, the Xanthas, and the Olympics—competed, most often at Recreation Park.[9] On April 15, 1876, Recreation Park was the site of a game between the Xanthas and the Pittsburgh Pirates who began play in 1882 under the name the Alleghenies (alternately spelled "Alleghenys"[10]). The Alleghenies won the game 7–3.[11] In 1887, the Alleghenies moved from American Association to the National League after owner William Nimick became upset over a contract dispute.[12] The Pirates were purchased by Barney Dreyfuss in 1900. He recruited Hall of Famers Fred Clarke and Honus Wagner, built Forbes Field, and was instrumental in starting the World Series. Under Dreyfuss the Pirates won the World Series in 1909 and 1925.[13] The franchise won the World Series three more times—in 1960, 1971, and 1979.[14]

In addition to the Pirates, the Pittsburgh Stogies, Pittsburgh Burghers, Pittsburgh Rebels played in various leagues from 1884 to 1915.[15] The Pittsburgh Keystones, Homestead Grays, and Pittsburgh Crawfords played in the Negro Leagues. With players including Josh Gibson and Cumberland Posey the Grays won 12 league titles—the most by any Negro League team[1]—including nine consecutive from 1937 to 1945. The Crawfords finished their eight year existence with a .633 winning percentage, with a line-up including Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and Satchel Paige.[16]


Pittsburgh had one of the founding members of what became the NBA. The Pittsburgh Ironmen however only played a single season in the late 1940s before folding. The Pittsburgh Renaissance (or Rens) played semi-pro ball in the early 1960s before folding.

The most lasting legacy of pro roundball in Pittsburgh was the Pittsburgh Pipers-Pittsburgh Condors of the American Basketball Association of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Pipers defeated a New Orleans franchise owned by Harry Connick, Jr.'s father in 1968 for the very first ABA World Title. This was significant in that never before had a professional world basketball championship been awarded to a team allowed the three point shot and the dunk as the ABA instituted in 1968.

After the ABA Pipers/Condors folded in the mid-1970s the city hosted the Pittsburgh Piranhas of the CBA in the mid 1990's. The franchise made it to the championship round in the 1994-95 season only to come away second best. In the late 2000s the Pittsburgh Xplosion, a development league team owned by former NBA player Freddie Lewis,[17] played in a revamped ABA/CBA at Mellon Arena and the Petersen Events Center before ceasing operations prior to the 2008-09 season because of the economic recession.


Mellon Arena will be replaced by Consol Energy Center in 2010

First played in Pittsburgh in 1895, ice hockey grew in popularity after the Duquesne Gardens opened in 1899. The Gardens housed the largest indoor rink in the world and was home to the city's first NHL franchise, the Pittsburgh Pirates, from 1925 to 1930. The Gardens also was home to the Pittsburgh Shamrocks and the Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets of the International Hockey League as well as the Pittsburgh Hornets of the American Hockey League.[18]

In 1961, Mellon Arena was constructed for use of the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera. Founded as part of the 1967 NHL expansion the Pittsburgh Penguins have played home games at Mellon Arena since their inception.[19] The Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992. The franchise recorded their third Stanley Cup in 2009.[20] The teams included players Mark Recchi, Kevin Stevens, Jaromír Jágr, and Mario Lemieux.[21] Lemieux holds multiple franchise records and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1997.[22][23] He suffered from multiple injuries, including Hodgkin's lymphoma, throughout his career.[24] In 1999, Lemieux purchased the Penguins and saved the franchise from bankruptcy. He returned to play one year later as the first player/owner of the modern era.[25] The Penguins, led by top point scorers Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, returned to the Stanley Cup finals in 2008 and won the franchise's third Cup in 2009.[26] As of 2008, the Penguins rank 113% above the national average for male television viewers aged 18 to 34.[27] Forbes projects that the franchise will become more valuable after their move to the Consol Energy Center in 2010.[28]


The first professional football game was held in Pittsburgh

On November 12, 1892, William Heffelfinger was paid $500 to participate in an american football game for the Allegheny Athletic Association. With this transaction, Heffelfinger became the first person to be paid to play football. The first professional football game was held at Recreation Park in Pittsburgh. Heffelfinger scored the game's only points as the Allegheny Athletic Association defeated the Pittsburgh Athletic Club, 4–0.[29][30]

In 1933, as the oldest of nine children Art Rooney, who had been raised on the North Side of Pittsburgh, founded the Pittsburgh Steelers.[31] Originally nicknamed the Pirates,[32] the team later changed their name to the Steelers, to represent the city's heritage of producing steel. The Steelers' first season with a winning record came in 1942. However, they lost their first playoff game in 1947.[33] In 1969, the Steelers hired head coach Chuck Noll who strategically drafted players in order to improve the team.[34] Three years later, in the first playoff game at Three Rivers Stadium Pittsburgh's rookie running back Franco Harris returned an errant pass that bounced off an opposing player for a game winning touchdown in a play that later became labeled the Immaculate Reception. In 1974, the Steelers won their first Super Bowl in franchise history—a feat which they would repeat in 1975, 1978, and 1979 to become the first NFL franchise to win four Super Bowls. In 1992, Noll was suceeded by Bill Cowher, who led the franchise to its fifth Super Bowl victory in 2005. Mike Tomlin succeeded Cower and led the Steelers to an NFL record sixth Super Bowl victory in 2008.[33] As of 2009, the Steelers have 18 members in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.[35] In October 1964, Ernie Stautner, who played on the Steelers from 1950 to 1963, became the only Steelers' player to have his number—70—retired.[36] In 2008, ranked Steelers' fans as the best in the NFL, citing their "unbelievable" sellout streak of 299 consecutive games.[37][38] Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney, son of founder Art Rooney, became the majority owner of the Steelers in November 2008 along with his son Art II, after they bought all of the shares of two of his four brothers.[39]

In addition, Pittsburgh is home to a women's professional football team, the Pittsburgh Passion. Founded in 2002, the Passion are members of the Independent Women's Football League.[40] The team went 12–0 and won a national title in 2007.[41]

Other pro sports

Pittsburgh also is home to several other professional sports teams not considered to be competing at the highest level of their respective sport. The Pittsburgh Riverhounds are members of the USL Second Division. The team plans to move to a multi-million dollar sports complex that is currently in development.[42] As the "most established area minor-league football team" the Pittsburgh Colts are members of the North American Football League's Regional American Football League.[43][44]

College sports

There are several universities within the city that field athletic teams in NCAA Division 1 including the University of Pittsburgh (often referred to as "Pitt"), Duquesne University and Robert Morris University. Of these, the University of Pittsburgh is the only school that is a member of a BCS "power" conference (the Big East). Other universities in Pittsburgh that field athletic teams include Carnegie Mellon University (Division III), Chatham University (Division III), Point Park University (NAIA), and Carlow University (NAIA).


College football in Pittsburgh dates back to the University of Pittsburgh which first organized a football team in 1889 and played its first sanctioned game in 1890. In the first half of the 20th Century, Pitt, Duquesne, and Carnegie Tech (now called Carnegie Mellon) all fielded football squads that made "major" bowl game appearances from the 1920s through the 1930s. These appearances included Duquesne in the 1936 Orange Bowl, Carnegie Tech in the 1938 Sugar Bowl, and the University of Pittsburgh appearing in four Rose Bowls (1927, 1929, 1932, 1936).[45] In particular, Pitt was a national power during this era, claiming 8 national championships under the guidance of coaching legends such as Pop Warner and Jock Sutherland. More recently, the Panthers won another National Championship in 1976 and competed for several more through the 80s. Multiple inductees into the College Football Hall of Fame played at Pitt, including Dan Marino, Tony Dorsett, Mike Ditka, and Larry Fitzgerald.[46] Pitt is the only university in Western Pennsylvania to still play college football at the highest level, the Football Bowl Subdivision, while Duquesne and Robert Morris have football teams that compete in the Football Championship Subdivision, and Carnegie Mellon fields a Division III football team.


The Petersen Events Center, basketball home of the Pittsburgh Panthers

Three Pittsburgh universities, the University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, and Robert Morris University, compete in NCAA Division 1 basketball. Pitt and Duquesne are the traditional basketball powers in the city, but all three universities have made multiple appearances in the National Invitation Tournament and NCAA Tournament. Pitt claims two pre-NCAA tournament National Championships in 1928 and 1930[1] while Duquesne won the NIT title in 1955, its second straight trip to the NIT title game. Since the 2000-01 season, Pitt has won multiple Big East Conference championships and appeared in eight straight NCAA Tournaments and an NIT tournament, advancing to the Sweet 16 four times and the Elite Eight once. Pitt women's basketball has also made recent appearances in the NCAA Tournament.[47] A rivalry game between Pitt and Duquesne, termed the City Game, is played annually between the two schools' men's and women's basketball teams, as well as their baseball teams.

Other collegiate sports

Along with college football and men's and women's basketball, the area universities compete in many additional sports. The University of Pittsburgh also fields Division 1 teams in baseball (its oldest sport first played in 1869[48]), cross country, gymnastics, track and field, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, volleyball, and wrestling.[49] The Duquesne Dukes, in addition to many of the sports above, also participates in NCAA Division I lacrosse, golf, and rowing.[50] Robert Morris University fields teams in hockey among other sports.[51]

Annual sports events

Pittsburgh hosts an annual Formula-1 ChampBoat Series race, the Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta, which is the largest inland regatta in the country during July at Point State Park.[52] There is also an annual large rowing regatta, the Head of the Ohio, which has taken place for 22 years and which typically takes place in September.[53] The Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, considered the premier vintage grand prix in the United States, is held annually at Schenley Park.[54] For 30 years Pittsburgh has also hosted a large 10K and 5K road race, the RIchard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh Great Race, which attracts nearly 10,000 athletes and has been ranked as a Top Twenty Multi-Race Events by USA Track & Field's publication On The Roads.[55] In addition, the 20th Pittsburgh Marathon will be hosted in the city in May 2009.[56]

Pittsburgh was previously home to the the first national high school all-star basketball game, The Dapper Dan Roundball Classic, from 1965 to 1992, prior to its move to Detroit and later Chicago.[57]


Pittsburgh native Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks

Multiple professional athletes were born or raised in the Pittsburgh area. Major League Baseball players Ken Griffey, Sr.,[58] his son Ken Griffey, Jr.,[59] and Hall of Famer Stan Musial were born in Donora, Pennsylvania.[60] Hall of Fame inductee, player and manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Honus Wagner was born and raised in Chartiers.[61] Major League outfielder Tito Francona and pitcher Doc Medich were born in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania.[62][63] Super Bowl winning coaches Bill Cowher and Mike Ditka were born in Pittsburgh and Carnegie respectively.[64][65] Super Bowl winning quarterback Joe Namath and Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett were born in Beaver Falls and Rochester respectively. 3 Time Super Bowl MVP Joe Montana is from New Eagle. Jim Kelly from Pittsburgh was the leading QB of the Buffalo Bills to 4 straight Super Bowl appearances. Johnny Unitas, National Football League's most valuable player in 1959, 1964 and 1967 is from Pittsburgh as well.[66][67] Owner of the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban and Basketball Hall of Fame member Jack Twyman were born in Pittsburgh.[68][69] Olympic gold medalists Swin Cash and Kurt Angle were born in McKeesport and Pittsburgh respectively.[70][71][72] Professional golfers Rocco Mediate and Arnold Palmer were born in Greensburg and Latrobe respectively.[73][74] Author Jim O'Brien, who was born in Pittsburgh, has authored 20 books about Pittsburgh sports.[75]

Professional franchises

Franchise Years Sport Venue League League Championships*
Pittsburgh Pirates 1882–present baseball PNC Park Major League Baseball 1901, 1902, 1909, 1925, 1960, 1971, 1979
Pittsburgh Steelers 1933–present american football Heinz Field National Football League 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 2005, 2008
Pittsburgh Penguins 1967–present ice hockey Mellon Arena National Hockey League 1990-91, 1991–92, 2008–09
Pittsburgh Colts 1979–present american football South Stadium North American Football League
Pittsburgh Riverhounds 1999–present soccer Chartiers Valley High School USL Second Division
Pittsburgh Passion 2002–present american football George K. Cupples Stadium Independent Women's Football League 2007 (NWFA)
Pittsburgh Xplosion 2005–2008 basketball Mellon Arena / Peterson Events Center Continental Basketball Association
Pittsburgh Pipers/Condors 1967-68, 1969–70, 1970-72 basketball Civic Arena American Basketball Association 1967-68
Pittsburgh Stogies 1884 baseball Exposition Park I Union Association
Pittsburgh Burghers 1890 baseball Exposition Park Players' League
Pittsburgh Rebels 1914–1915 baseball Exposition Park Federal League
Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets 1915–1925, 1930–1932 ice hockey Duquesne Gardens International Hockey League 1924, 1925
Pittsburgh Keystones 1922 baseball Ammon Field Negro National League
Homestead Grays 1912–1950 baseball Forbes Field Negro League 1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1943, 1944, 1948
Pittsburgh Pirates 1925–1930 ice hockey Duquesne Gardens National Hockey League
Pittsburgh Ironmen 1946-47 basketball Duquesne Gardens Basketball Association of America
Pittsburgh Crawfords 1931–1938 baseball Greenlee Field Negro League 1935, 1936
Pittsburgh Shamrocks 1935–1936 ice hockey Duquesne Gardens International Hockey League
Pittsburgh Hornets 1936–1956, 1961–1967 ice hockey Duquesne Gardens, Mellon Arena American Hockey League 1951-52, 1954–55, 1966–67
Pittsburgh Triangles 1974–1976 tennis Mellon Arena World TeamTennis 1975
Pittsburgh Spirit 1978–1980, 1981–1986[76] soccer Mellon Arena Major Soccer League
Pittsburgh Gladiators 1987–1990 american football Mellon Arena Arena Football League
Pittsburgh Maulers 1984 american football Three Rivers Stadium United States Football League
Pittsburgh Phantoms 1967 soccer Forbes Field United Soccer Association
Pittsburgh Phantoms 1994 roller hockey Civic Arena Roller Hockey International
Pittsburgh Phantoms 2009 basketball Court Time Sports Center American Basketball Association

*The championships listed for the teams are the highest possible achievement in their respective leagues for each season. For baseball seasons prior to the advent of the World Series in 1903 and the Negro League World Series in 1942, National League Championships and Negro National League Championships are listed.

Professional arenas

  • Forbes Field (1933–1963)
  • Pitt Stadium (1958–1970)
  • Three Rivers Stadium (1970–2000)
  • Heinz Field (2001–present)


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  6. ^ McHugh, Roy (20 January 1991). "VIEWS OF SPORT; True Grit: Quarterbacks From Steel Belt Football". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-07-01.  
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  14. ^ Finoli, Ranier 2003, p. 612
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  51. ^ "Robert Morris University Athletics official site". Retrieved 9 January 2009.  
  52. ^ Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta, accessdate=2009-01-10
  53. ^ Head of the Ohio, accessdate=2009-01-10
  54. ^ Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, accessdate=2009-1-10
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  75. ^ O'Brien 2008, p. 8
  76. ^ Did not play the 1980–1981 season


  • Finoli, David; Bill Ranier (2003). The Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia. United States: Sports Publishing L.L.C. ISBN 1582614164.  
  • O'Brien, Jim (2001). The Chief: Art Rooney and his Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: James P. O'Brien - Publishing. ISBN 1-886348-06-5.  
  • O'Brien, Jim (1994). Penguin Profiles. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: James P. O'Brien - Publishing. ISBN 0916114163.  
  • O'Brien, Jim (1998). We Had 'Em All the Way: Bob Prince and his Pittsburgh Pirates. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: James P. O'Brien - Publishing. ISBN 1886348030.  
  • O'Brien, Jim (2008). Pittsburgh Proud. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: James P. O'Brien - Publishing. ISBN 9781886348141.  

Further reading

  • McCollister, John (2002). Bucs: The Story of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Lenexa, Kansas: Addax Publishing Group. ISBN 978-1886110403.  
  • McCollister, John (2008). The good, the bad, and the ugly Pittsburgh Pirates: heart-pounding, jaw-dropping, and gut-wrenching moments from Pittsburgh Pirates history. Chicago: Triumph Books. ISBN 9781572439825.  
  • Mendelson, Abby (2005). The Pittsburgh Steelers: The Official Team History, Updated Edition. Lanham, Maryland: Taylor Trade Publishing. ISBN 1589792467.  
  • Sciullo Jr., Sam (2005). Pitt: 100 Years of Pitt Basketball. Champaign, Illinois: Sports Publishing. ISBN 1596700815.  
  • Sciullo Jr., Sam (1994). Greatest Moments in Pitt Football History. Athlon.  


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