At first glance, the Steelers and Cardinals don't have much in common. The Cardinals are trying to win their first championship since the Truman Administration on Sunday, while a Steeler win would give them a NFL record six Super Bowl titles. The Cardinals have called three different cities home while the Steelers are a civic institution. And, yet, neither one would exist without the other one.
During World War II, the Cardinals, then based in Chicago, and Steelers were both struggling to fill their rosters and remain solvent so they came up with a clever solution. During the 1944 season, the two teams combined operations and played under the name Card-Pitt. It didn't take long for the team to become known as the Carpets because of the way the opposition walked all over them.
The team, a precursor of this year's Detroit Lions, went 0-10. Not that the coaches noticed. According to the New York Times, Chicago coach Phil Handler and Pittsburgh coach Walt Kiesling spent more time at the racetrack than at the stadium. They missed some woeful quarterbacking. The team threw 41 interceptions and things got so bad that leading rusher Johnny Grigas walked out on the team the night before a game with the Bears. He left behind a note explaining his decision.
“When your mind is changed because of the physical beating, week in and week out, your soul isn’t in the game,” Grigas wrote. “I tried to win and worked hard, but the work-horse, as I was termed by the newspapers, is almost ready for the farm. In closing all I can say is I’m deeply sorry — but these are things which can’t be fully explained. Good luck and may the team win just this one.”
While that season may have served as an omen for much of the Cardinals future, both the teams and the sport have come a long way in the last 65 years.
Amazingly enough, no matter who won the NFC Championship Game, the Steelers would have been in the same situation. In 1943, they combined operations with the Eagles, the team was called the Steagles, for a more successful campaign.