City proudly sports its black and gold

All of Pittsburgh's teams wear the colors, a rarity in the U.S.

PITTSBURGH - Black and gold. They decorate Pittsburgh's hilly neighborhoods and adorn the city's flag. Steelers fans at Heinz Field turn winter days brighter with black and gold Terrible Towels.

And, in a national oddity, all three of Pittsburgh's sports teams use the colors.

For more than 100 years, black and gold have symbolized Pittsburgh almost as much as the iconic images of the smoky steel town. Drawn from the family coat of arms of William Pitt, the Lord of Chatham, for whom the city was named, the colors have evolved into a source of pride for Pittsburgh's residents.

Unlike other cities nationwide in which each team has its own colors, the Steelers, who face the Arizona Cardinals in next Sunday's Super Bowl, the Pirates, and the Penguins all sport the black and gold.

Each adopted the colors at a different time, finally coalescing in 1980, a year after the Pirates clinched the World Series and the Steelers the Super Bowl. The victories made Pittsburgh the city of champions just as it suffered debilitating economic losses caused by the collapse of the steel industry.

"It's just another thing that makes the city of Pittsburgh unique," said Jim Trdinich, spokesman for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Pittsburgh was officially named in 1758 for William Pitt, who as secretary of state made key decisions that helped British forces in the colonies successfully capture from the French the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers.

Just over 140 years later, Pittsburgh's council decided that the city flag would use the black and gold - really more of a yellow - from the Pitt family's coat of arms.

In 1933, a new football team adopted those colors as its own, even emblazoning Pittsburgh's crest - also borrowed from William Pitt's coat of arms - on its jerseys. The only year the team's players wore different colors was in 1943, when they wore green and white during a brief wartime merger with the Philadelphia Eagles in which they were renamed the Steagles.

In 1948, the Pirates made the switch from their red, white and blue uniforms to black and gold, and in 1980 the NHL's Penguins followed suit.

Today, the colors not only are associated with the city, but characterize it as well, said Anne Madarasz, director of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh.

"The black comes to the root of our character - we're hard workers . . . we're jobs that you can see the result of," Madarasz said, referring to the pride native Pittsburghers have for the heavy industries that put their city on the map. "It becomes the aura of those teams, but also the character of the city."