With the current disruption to the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp preparations due to the pandemic, imagine what it must have been like for Art Rooney when his request to join the National Professional Football League (NFL) was finally confirmed in July 1933?
Rooney was an experienced sports entrepreneur, but even he must have been overwhelmed knowing what was required to prepare his infant franchise for the opening game of the season just short of eleven weeks away.
Anticipating the NFL’s approval for a team, Rooney had already put some important details in place. He had his coach Forrest “Jap” Douds under contract, and he had negotiated for the team to play their home games in Forbes Field.
The quest for his players now became Rooney and Douds’ priority.
The NFL didn’t introduce the draft system until 1936 so the organization’s endeavor to put together a roster to compete in the top echelon of pro football was enormous.
Pittsburgh was rich in collegiate talent with three successful university teams so it was natural that Rooney would initially look at the local talent he was familiar with. Despite that abundance of homegrown athletes, Rooney’s premier signing was from the west coast. Angelo Brovelli from St. Mary’s College, Oakland was an All-American halfback who Coach Douds was keen to acquire.
Shortly after Brovelli returned his contract to Pittsburgh, the promoters on the Pacific Coast decided to form their own pro loop. Brovelli would have been a much sought-after star for the new league, so it was fortuitous that Rooney decided to pay top dollar to acquire the athlete.
As the organization continued their head hunting, they announced training camp would open on September 1 in Newell’s Grove. That gave Coach Douds just two weeks to get his players to gel and play together as a team before the season opener against the New York Giants.
The signings of players increased in tempo during August and continued right up to the eve of training camp opening when Pittsburgh brought in Purdue All-America end Paul Moss.
Pittsburgh Scrimmage at Hustead Field
Unlike the current exhibition season when the teams play games against opposing NFL teams, for Art Rooney and Coach Douds they would have just a few scrimmages to evaluate their players.
The Uniontown Evening Standard became quite excited when it was suggested the Pittsburgh pro team might play an exhibition at Hustead Field. “Many hundreds of Fayette County football fans have read about well known professional and college gridders scores of times but never really had an opportunity to see them in action,” the newspaper enthused.
The proceeds from the game would benefit the local high school athletic teams and a large crowd was expected. As the exhibition game approached, the newspaper promoted the game with regular column inches.
They provided details that the fans were due to be treated to an exhibition of blocking, passing, kicking, running and catching drills for one hour, followed by a 30-minute scrimmage between the players.
“High school football players from county schools will be able to gain valuable knowledge from the antics of the pros who have been selected for the team due to their outstanding play and versatility on the college gridiron. A clinic in which the high school gridders can have their questions answered will be held before activities commence.”
It was to be a golden opportunity for the local football fans to mix with the cream of professional athletes including the very college players whose careers they had been following in the newspapers.
Sadly, if the report in the Herald is a true reflection of events, the excitement was misplaced.
“At the time the game was arranged the pro management gave assurances that the names of the players with the number of the jersey they would wear would be made public. The pros also promised to show something interesting. Instead, the exhibition was nothing more than a brief warmup.”
The article did note a redeeming factor. They acknowledged the clever way the pros handled the ball, especially Moss, who the paper profiled before the game claiming he was a highly coveted player and Art Rooney had outbid other teams to sign him.
For the players themselves, the exhibition would have been a welcome diversion from the drudgery of camp where the routine varied very little. The players were roused at 7am to be on the field at 8. A three-hour session followed before lunch and rest until 2pm. From 2 to 4.30 they were back on the practice field again before all were in bed early… allegedly.
The team had one more scrimmage attended by a large crowd at Tarentum, before breaking camp and returning to Pittsburgh to prepare for the first ever NFL game to be played in the city.
The short training camp was over, and Art Rooney would begin a forty-year quest for a championship.