1979: City of Champions

This is a Special Edition of the Shaping Opinion Podcast called “1979: City of Champions.” In this extended episode (90 minutes), we take you to when Pittsburgh became the “City of Champions,” and how its impact went well beyond the field, or just baseball or football fans. In the end, it’s about what sports can do to bolster an entire people who are going through hard times. Guests include: Kent Tekulve, Joe Gordon, Lanny Frattare, Michael MacCambridge, John Steigerwald and Walter Iooss, Jr. This is the story of Pittsburgh, City of Champions, like you’ve never heard it before.

City of Champions

In this episode, we start with a group of Pittsburgh steelworkers who are standing around waiting for the arrival of two Pittsburgh sports icons. They stand in the cold and drafty Jones and Laughlin steel mill along the banks of the Monongahela River. The smoke stack above their building belches out thick black smoke. The stack next to it literally belches out fire. The air around the mill is thick with the smell of burning sulfur. If you’re one of the kids at the playground on the bluff above that mill in South Oakland, you’re at eye level with the top of those stacks and you can see that fire. You can see that smoke pouring out, and the air smells like rotten eggs.  You can’t avoid it.

Down below, the guests of honor have arrived. They are both co-honorees – named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsmen of the Year. Willie Stargell of the World Series Champion Pittsburgh Pirates and Terry Bradshaw, of the three-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. About 15 steelworkers, clad in their green and gray mill uniforms, where hard hats and safety glasses, and they crowd around Stargell and Bradshaw, who are in their own work uniforms.

Instantly, these tough and grizzled veterans of the mill become boyish football fans when the two baseball and football stars come in. Not much is getting done around the mill right now.

With them is another legend. The photographer. But not just any photographer. He’s a GOAT in his own right. Walter Iooss, Jr. is Sports Illustrated’s best ever. Ever see that photo of Joe Namath predicting a Jets Super Bowl win at pool side? That was Walter. What about the shot of Joe Montana throwing to Dwight Clark in the 1981 NFC Championship game, the one they called, “The Catch?” That was Walter, too. From Tiger Woods to Michael Jordan, to the iconic Swimsuit editions. If you can conjure up an iconic sports or swimsuit image in your mind, there’s a good chance Walter captured it for you.

And here he is, lighting the floor of a steel mill to take a shot that would soon become iconic in its own right. Willie Stargell in his World Series champion uniform. Gold shirt with black pants. Next to him, Terry Bradshaw in his Super Bowl champion uniform, that classic black shirt with boxed numbers and gold pants. Surrounding them are those steelworkers.

Walter told me there really wasn’t much to setting up the shot, but what it stood for, well, that was something else.

Welcome to 1979 and Pittsburgh, The City of Champions.

In this episode we take you through, chronologically, the year Pittsburgh became the City of Champions, along with stories, insights, and what it all came to mean.


  • Lanny Frattare
  • Joe Gordon
  • Walter Iooss, Jr.
  • John Steigerwald
  • Kent Tekulve
  • Michael MacCambridge
City of Champions

Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated and Walter Iooss, Jr.