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History of Pittsburgh Steelers uniforms: How do they rank?

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The current Steelers' uniforms are a slightly modern take on one of the most recognizable classics an NFL team has ever used. It's iconic. But how do the Steelers' past uniform combinations rank against one another?

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

A recent ESPN poll scored the Steelers' classic black and gold uniforms -- changed little in the last forty-plus years -- as the best in the NFL. In fact, none of the the top teams in the poll -- Pittsburgh, Oakland, Green Bay and Chicago -- have been enticed into the uniform explosion in the NFL and college ranks in the last 10 years, save for the occasional throwback.

Just how excellent is the Steelers' classic look?  Good enough that the University of Iowa Hawkeyes use a nearly identical look for which they formally requested, and received, permission in 1979. They still use the same look today.

But it's not as if the Steelers have never had other uniforms, which got me thinking: which Steelers' combo is, truly, the "best of the best" and how do they rank against one another?

There is one enormous problem with that question, though: an overwhelming majority would choose either the block-numbered look used from the late 1960s until 1996, or the current version, which is identical except the non-block, italicized font used for the numbers.  So there's no point in including them in the discussion.  We all know how they look, and we all love them.

There are five other, distinct looks the team has used, though -- and I've taken the liberty of ranking them for you.

5. 1933 Pittsburgh Pirates (inaugural season)

The term "draping yourself with the flag" took on a nearly literal meaning for the Steelers...err...Pirates...in their first year of existence. Yes, the football team shared a name with the baseball team until 1940. If you've seen the design -- or you watched a Steelers home game during the NFL's 75th season celebration in 1994 -- the design of the jerseys may have looked disconcertingly familiar to you.  That's because the front of the jersey featured the Pittsburgh city seal, which also adorns the city's flag (among other things).

That wouldn't have been bad, except that the jersey also featured stripes that bent in every which way imaginable or ended abruptly. It was like looking at an early map of downtown Washington, D.C.

4. 1966-67 "Batman" Jerseys

From the number down, the 1966 uniform looks identical to the block-numbered get-up used from 1968 to 1996. Above the number? Caped Crusader!

Featuring a diamond shape with corners on either shoulder, and at the middle of the front and back of the next, these jerseys gave the wearer a look that said, "I have a cape hanging down my back." Sadly, the super heroes didn't arrive in Pittsburgh until the 1970s.

The organization has publicly stated that these jerseys will never be worn in a game again. That didn't stop Nike and Reebok from selling custom replicas, though.

3. 1962-1965 "Diamonds in the Rough"

In 1962, the team jerseys featured gold diamonds on the sleeves.  There's very little to say here, honestly. They aren't bad -- I like the black trim on the collar and sleeves -- but they aren't all that good, either. A variation of this was also used, in which the sleeves had stripes and were all gold.  This variation actually looked better, in my opinion. Both jerseys were paired with white pants and gold helmets, and bore the modern Steelers logo for the first time.

2. 1934-35 "Killer Bees"

We know this look well from the team's current preferred throwback, which will be worn this year in week nine against the Oakland Raiders. The modern take uses white backgrounds for the numbers and, of course, lacks the awesomeness of leather helmets.  Otherwise, they are largely faithful the original, with black and yellow stripes on the jersey -- which featured full-length sleeves -- and tan pants.

Thankfully, the team has a much better record wearing these jerseys as throwbacks than they did the first time around.

1. 1936-1961 "Northwestern Stripes"

In 1928, Northwestern University added stylized stripes to their jerseys, featuring a think stripe around the sleeve and a thinner stripe flanking the larger one on both the top and the bottom.  The NFL began urging its teams to use a similar look, which the Steelers adopted in 1936 -- and still use today.

The jersey featured gold numbers to go along with the stripes, which were also gold. Over time the pants were tan, gold and white. The helmets were also gold, with facemasks first appearing while this uniform design was in use.