Some Pittsburgh Sports Coins for Yinz*

by Unfrozen Caveman Law Writer

* Yinz – A western-Pennsylvania bastardization of the phrase “you ones”, which addresses more than one person.

With 17 professional championships, Pittsburgh may not be Titletown, USA (that would be New York City, with 65 as of early 2023), but it’s definitely punching above its weight. Yinzertown has won more titles than several much larger cities and markets, including Atlanta, Denver, Houston, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., Dallas, Miami, and Baltimore (suck it, Ravens!). Not bad, considering Pittsburgh only has three of the four major sports (although an old ABA franchise, The Pittsburgh Pipers, did win a championship in 1968 behind the legendary Connie Hawkins).

Obviously, the bulk of these championships have come from the Steelers (sorry Stillers), Pirates (Buccos) and Penguins (Pens). Between the Steel Curtain Steelers of the 70s and the modern-day teams under Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin, the “We Are Family” Pirates teams of the 70s, and the Stanley Cup Penguins teams of the early 90s and 2010s, plenty of titles and many legendary players have passed through the Steel City. And, thanks to various mints, there have been plenty of coins made honoring said teams and players.

Here are a few of the ones I’ve collected over the years:

Pittsburgh Steelers Coins:

1995 Pittsburgh Steelers Coin Set (Image via me)

The Steelers have played in eight Super Bowls, winning six (IX, X, XIII, XIV, XL and XLII). Those six wins are tied for joint-highest with the New England Patriots, while only Tom Brady has more rings than the Steelers franchise.

However, the above coin set came out during a season where we ended up losing in the Super Bowl.

In this case, it was the 1995-1996 season, and the game in question was Super Bowl XXX against the Dallas Cowboys.

That game is still a painful memory for me. The Cowboys were heavily favored since they had won two Super Bowls in the previous three years and had added to their dynastic nucleus by signing Deion Sanders (one of my least favorite players in recent memory).

Yet the Steelers made it a game. Bam Morris out rushed Emmitt Smith. Andre Hastings and Ernie Mills outgained Michael Irvin.

But then Neil O’Donnell happened. In the third quarter, he threw an interception to Larry Brown that led to a Dallas TD. Then, most painfully of all, with the score 20-17 late in the fourth quarter, he threw another pick to Brown that led to another Dallas TD and put the game out of reach.

When Brown, who was named Super Bowl MVP, signed a lucrative free agent contract with the Raiders that offseason, he really should have given O’Donnell some of his signing bonus. Not that O’Donnell needed it, since he high-tailed it to the Jets that same offseason.

Anyway, the above coin set was issued by local supermarket chain Giant Eagle and features a mix of Steelers legends and then-current stars. There were some interesting omissions. For instance, missing out is Terry Bradshaw, the greatest QB in franchise history (depending on how you feel about Ben Roethlisberger). Another questionable omission was Dermontti Dawson, who was the best center in the league at that time and had made two straight First Team All Pro Teams. And of course, O’Donnell is missing, even though he was named team MVP that season (maybe they knew what was coming). But otherwise, it’s a pretty solid representation of two productive eras in Steelers history.

This set, which also came with a collector’s card for each player depicted on a coin, is fairly affordable and easily obtainable on eBay. I’ve seen sealed sets start for as much as $90, which seems high. But if you want something in mint condition, you usually have to pay a premium.

Super Bowl IX Commemorative Medallion (Image via me)

Unlike the previous set, these next two coins conjure up more positive memories for Steelers fans. The above medallion commemorates the team’s first Super Bowl win, a 16-6 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IX at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans.

The phrase “defense wins championships” was quite apropos here, as the Steel Curtain outplayed the Purple People Eaters, holding the Vikings to a record low 9 first downs, 119 total offensive yards, and 17 rushing yards. The Vikings lone score came on a defensive play of their own — a blocked punt that led to a TD.

(In a bit of personal trivia, when I went to Tulane Law School, I lived in a dorm that stood where Tulane Stadium used to. That was another reason why I bought this coin.)

This particular medallion was struck by the Liberty Mint and is pretty affordable. I got mine for less than $10 at a flea market, and I’ve seen used ones go for $25-30 on eBay.

Super Bowl XL Coin (Image via me)

Perhaps my favorite Steelers victory was Super Bowl XL. That year, we won it all as a sixth seed, knocking out the Cincinnati Bengals, the top seeded Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos before beating the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 in the Super Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit.

The game was a fairly ugly affair. Ben Roethlisberger put up a terrible 22.3 passer rating and the Steelers scored two-thirds of their points on two plays, a record 75-yard rushing TD by Willie Parker and a trick play where Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward threw a TD to Antwaan Randle El. There were also questions about the officiating, with most of the big calls going against the Seahawks.

Nevertheless, the NFL later said the game had been properly officiated and that the big calls against the Seahawks had been correct.

Either way, the Steelers had their fifth Lombardi, allowing Jerome Bettis to retire a winner in his hometown. Coach Bill Cowher left the following year, bringing his successful coaching tenure in Pittsburgh to an end.

This coin is a replica of the one used in the pregame coin flip to determine who gets possession to start the game. Tom Brady flipped the coin, marking this one of the few times Pittsburgh ever won when he was on the field.

Produced by the Highland Mint, this coin is slightly more expensive than your usual since it has 24k gold plating. Considering how the price of gold has soared since the 2000s began, there can’t be too much of it in this coin, since it cost me less than $50.

Here’s hoping I get to buy another Super Bowl coin for the Steelers soon. I’m not holding my breath though. Not as long as Matt Canada calls the plays.

Pittsburgh Pirates Coins:

Pittsburgh Pirates All-Time Greats Coins (Image via me)

While the Steelers and Penguins have had plenty of recent success, the same can’t be said for the Pirates. The club last won a World Series when I was in diapers, and has been bad for much of my life.

We were bad for much of the 1980s, an era that included the Pittsburgh Drug Trials, a grand jury investigation that ensnared several Pirates players and even our mascot. Then, from 1993 to 2012, the Buccos had a grand total of zero winning seasons and lost 100 or more games twice. In fact, I used to have a T-shirt that said “Pittsburgh Pirates: Rebuilding since 1993.”

So it’s no wonder that, when Pittsburgh-area McDonalds offered a series of coins in 1987 to commemorate the club’s 100th anniversary, almost all of the people featured were from yesteryear. I have four of the eight coins: Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski and Harvey Haddix. The other four coins were: Honus Wagner, Ralph Kiner, Danny Murtaugh and Elroy Face.

As with the above 1995 Steelers set, there were some interesting omissions, like Pie Traynor, Paul Waner, and Arky Vaughn. It was also too soon for the likes of Jim Leyland, Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and Andy Van Slyke, who were all in the early stages of their Pirates careers.

Since then, there’s probably only one player who did enough in a Pirates uniform to merit a coin: Andrew McCutchen (although Brian Giles, Jason Bay, Jason Kendall and Gerrit Cole had their moments). That probably says a lot about what the last few decades have been like.

Pittsburgh Penguins Coins:

Mario Lemieux 500 Goals Coin. (Image via me)

There are some arguments that are only going to go one way in Pittsburgh. It’s “pop” not “soda.” Dibs are a perfectly acceptable and effective way to reserve parking spots.

And Mario Lemieux was better than Wayne Gretzky.

Sure, Gretzky re-wrote the record books and owns, just about, every single meaningful mark in NHL history. But he always had help and was surrounded by talent everywhere he went. Lemieux joined a terrible Penguins team and put up incredible stats from Day One, shining for a traditional laughingstock of a franchise. The team only became really good in the early 90s — right before his health started to decline. After some injuries and a bout with cancer, he retired in 1997 with the highest points-per-game average in league history.

Plus he, literally, saved the franchise. When the Penguins filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1998, it was Lemieux who stepped in and became the new owner, keeping them in Pittsburgh.

And in 2000, after three years in retirement, he came back and immediately reclaimed his place as one of the best players in the league. He also helped set the franchise up for the next two decades, mentoring Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

As such, Lemieux’s reputation is pretty much unassailable in Pittsburgh. He could run for mayor and probably win in a landslide. Then again, given the state of politics today, that would definitely be a step down for him.

I bought these coins from a couple of Pittsburgh-area flea markets. The above coin, which commemorates Lemieux’s 500th goal goes for about $20-30 on the secondary market.

The one below, however, is much cheaper. Released as part of a “greatest players” set in 1996 (others include Gretzky, Raymond Bourque, Paul Kariya, Jaromir Jagr, Brett Hull, Jeremy Roenick and some questionable choices like Jim Campbell, David Wilkie and Sergei Berezin), I’ve seen these listed for a few bucks on eBay.

Mario Lemieux NHLPA Coin. (Image via me)

There are lots of other Lemieux coins available, including one of him sporting a pretty impressive mullet. And, of course, there are coins for other Penguins, including this “Team of the Millennium” set that includes a coin for my favorite Penguin of all time, Ron Francis.

For modern day fans, there are plenty of coins featuring Crosby or Malkin, as well as a 2009 Stanley Cup coin set that includes colorized images of the two. Anyone who’s read this blog knows how much I hate colorized coins.

Almost as much as I hate it when people say Gretzky was better than Lemieux.