After the Pittsburgh Steelers joined the NFL in 1933, they played the Green Bay Packers regularly until the leagues merged when Pittsburgh moved into the AFC. The Packers dominated those early contests and hold a series record of 22-16 over the Steelers. Twelve of those wins are in Green Bay.
The Steelers have won the last two exchanges although fans will lament the loss in Super Bowl XLV.
Pittsburgh struggled those early seasons in the league and fans had to wait ten years before they enjoyed watching a winning season. Green Bay joined the league a year after it formed and held ten years plus experience of playing pro football over Pittsburgh.
Green Bay won the first twelve meetings including the 1946 game when Jock Sutherland became the Steelers’ head coach. Sutherland had been the much-respected coach of the successful Pitt Panthers and Art Rooney sought for many years to sign him for the professional game.
Rooney finally got his man in 1946 and the team improved under Sutherland’s tutelage to produce a 5-5-1 record in his first year.
The following season, Sutherland’s magic was working to good effect and the Steelers sat atop the Eastern Division with four wins.
In the days before traveling by plane was common place, the Steelers went by overnight train to Green Bay. When it hit an automobile in Ohio the journey was delayed for three hours.
The Steelers survived the delay to face a Packers team who were in joint first place with the Chicago Cardinals in the Western Division and favored to beat the Steelers by a touchdown. AP’s preview gave little credit to the Steelers, suggesting their wins were due to the porous defenses of their opponents.
The Steelers’ Johnny Clement was the NFL’s leading rusher with a team that was second in total offensive yards. Pittsburgh had scored 17 touchdowns in the previous four games wining three and losing the one by a single point.
The (4-2) Steelers at (4-1) Packers November 2, 1947; Wisconsin State Fair Park
In a bruising contest watched by 30,000 home fans, who were warmed when their team took an early lead. Packers Jack Jacobs’ completed a 17-yard pass to Clyde Goodnight who danced 52 yards down the sideline for the touchdown. On their next possession, Green Bay extended their lead with a 16-yard field goal before the Steelers replied with Joe Glamp’s field goal from 23 yards.
Late in the second quarter, Steelers’ Johnny Clement and Val Jansante began to click. Clement’s 37-yard touchdown pass to Jansante completed the drive, but Glamp’s conversion was blocked giving the Packers a single point lead at half time.
In a penalty laden third quarter, an 81-yard sprint by Clement that finished in the end zone was called back for a clip, but the Steelers overcame the set back.
The Steelers’ defense that had stifled the Packers’ ground game gave them their first lead of the game. Tony Compagno intercepted Irv Comp’s pass, and aided by a great block from Charley Mehelich, returned it 55 yards for the score.
Pittsburgh’s special teams then played their part when Bob Cifer’s punt was downed on the Packers’ five-yard line. The Steelers defense put pressure on Jacobs as he tried to pass his way out of the poor field position. Finding his receivers covered while he faded into the end zone, the Steelers smothered him for a safety.
Chasing the Steelers’ eight-point advantage, the Packers put together a drive of eighty yards. It finished with an outstanding touchdown catch of 27 yards from Nolan Luhn, who outjumped two Steelers to haul the ball in.
Urged on by the vocal home fans and with eight minutes remaining, the Packers pressed the Steelers who were now hanging onto a slender one-point lead. When the Steelers were forced to punt on their ensuing possession, their defense stepped up and strangled the Packers’ revival to seal the win.
For the first time since joining the league, the Steelers had finally triumphed over the Packers with their 18-17 victory confirming the continued progress of the team under Coach Sutherland.
“The Packers are a great team – as great as any we have met this year,” offered Sutherland. “I was very well satisfied with the play of our team. We played a very good football team. I think they have proven that.”
Coach Sutherland guided his team to an 8-4 record that saw the franchise enjoy playoff football for the first time. They tied the Eastern Division with the Philadelphia Eagles, who finished with the same record.
The post-regular season enjoyment soon faded when they lost to the Eagles. The Steelers’ renaissance ended with the unexpected death of Coach Sutherland the following April.
It would be another twenty five years before the Steelers enjoyed playoff football again.