Steelers game-worn jerseys highlight new History Center exhibit
You can see the blood stains.
The fabric is torn.
And the dirt and grass stains have made indelible marks.
That’s Steelers football.
A dozen game-worn jerseys were unveiled at the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum at the Senator John Heinz History Center on Thursday in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. They are part of a new display on loan from philanthropists Thomas and Alba Tull.
“These are not clean jerseys,” said Andy Masich, president and CEO at the history center. “You can see the battle marks. There are drops of dried blood and dirt and grass stains. Boy, do these jerseys bring back memories.”
They certainly do for Franco Harris, former running back, known for the “Immaculate Reception.” His jersey is on display as well as the cleats he wore on that history-making day — with 22 seconds left in a game against the hated Oakland Raiders on Dec. 23, 1972, Harris scored the touchdown of his life.
A clip of that scoop catch plays above the glass case holding his cleats.
“Every time I watch that I get a chill because, it’s kind of unbelievable,” Harris said. “I would often think, ‘Did this really happen?’ I don’t remember anything from leaving the backfield to crossing into the end zone. But then I see it and I say, ‘Yes, this really happened.’ ”
The Tull jersey collection includes Hall-of-Famers such as Harris, Terry Bradshaw, Mel Blount, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, Rod Woodson and “Mean Joe” Greene, as well as the man known as much for his gold shoes as his fierce defensive play, L.C. Greenwood.
There are also jerseys from more recent Steelers legends such as James Harrison, Brett Keisel, Hines Ward and Ben Roethlisberger. There are game-worn signed shoes from Bradshaw and signed shoes and gloves from Roethlisberger.
The collection joins Pittsburgh football treasures already on display in the 20,000-square-foot, two-floor sports museum, including Harris’ cleats and field turf, his Super Bowl IX ring and other game-worn jerseys from Greene, Dwight White and Jerome Bettis.
Harris is chairman of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum Champions Committee. He was influential in bringing the exhibit to the history center through his connection to the Tulls.
Alba Tull serves as CEO of Tull Investment Group. Thomas Tull is the founder, chairman and CEO of Tulco, and part of the Steelers ownership group. The couple, through their Tull Family Foundation, has supported charitable causes such as Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Science Center, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Pittsburgh Promise and the Tull Family Theater in Sewickley.
“Thomas Tull is one of the best Pittsburghers you can imagine,” Masich said. “He has an amazing sports collection, and when he told us his jersey collection would be available we felt it would be perfect for the sports museum.”
The exhibit opens Friday, and the items will be on exhibit for at least a year. The Steelers provided videos and photography.
“We didn’t pay that much attention to capturing moments or collecting memorabilia back then,” said Harris, as he watched the continuous replay of the Immaculate Reception. “But Thomas Tull took the time and the resources to capture these moments of our past. We’ve realized how important this is to capture moments in history, and now it’s here for others to share.”
Pittsburghers have a tie to their sports teams, wherever they go in the United States and abroad, Masich said.
“This is for Steeler Nation,” Masich said.
Harris noted another big play when he was standing in front of James Harrison’s jersey — the linebacker’s 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII.
“That was one of the biggest plays in Steelers history,” Harris said. “We didn’t realize the history we were making back in those days.”
It is certainly a rich history, Masich said.
Harris’ catch started the path to the Steelers being the greatest National Football League franchise of all time with six Super Bowl championships.
The jerseys tell a story and represent special moments in Pittsburgh Steelers sports history, said Anne Madarasz, director of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum. She said they wanted to include past and current players to make the exhibit attractive to guests of all ages.
The colors black and gold sustain us as a city because we identify with them. And having someone like Harris so involved it means a lot to the museum and the city of Pittsburgh.
“Franco opened the door for us to get this exhibit,” Madarasz said. “And a huge thank-you goes to Thomas and Alba Tull. They see the value in sharing.”
Madarasz highlighted the players from the Chuck Noll era. She noted his first training camp began on July 16, 1969, which was on the same day of the Apollo 11 launch — the first lunar landing mission.
“Some people in Pittsburgh might argue the Chuck Noll era was more significant,” she said. “But both events changed history.”
The museum has a hockey exhibit opening Jan. 26 with everything from Penguins Stanley Cup championships to the Winter Classic to women’s hockey and sled hockey.
Tickets are $18 for adults, $15 for seniors, $9 for students and children ages 6-17, and free for children 5 and younger.
Details: http://heinzhistory center.org
JoAnne Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062, [email protected] or via Twitter @Jharrop_Trib.