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Obituary: Joe Santoni / Restaurateur who named Steelers

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

By Shelly Anderson, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

It must have seemed like a natural to Joe Santoni. He worked in the mills for Pittsburgh Steel. He loved sports, especially the local NFL team, known through the 1930s as the Pirates.

In 1940, the team wanted a new identity, something that would differentiate it from the city's major-league baseball club. The Post-Gazette and the football team joined efforts to hold a contest to come up with a new nickname.

Mr. Santoni submitted the name "Steelers," and that was the one team owner Art Rooney Sr. liked.

"That just boosted his morale something great," Mr. Santoni's sister, Norma Fayer, said yesterday. "He was a great sports fan."

Mr. Santoni, who for decades owned the popular Santoni's restaurant in Charleroi, died Friday of complications from heart surgery. He was 82.

Fayer recalls that her brother was honored at a game and given free season tickets for a year for his winning entry. She said he remained a season-ticket holder and continued to go to games until shortly before his death.

At the Charleroi home Fayer and Mr. Santoni shared after their spouses died, there is a large book with a signed picture of Rooney, the Steelers' founder.

After following the team he named through decades of losing seasons, Mr. Santoni was thrilled to watch the Steelers become a powerhouse and win four Super Bowls in the 1970s, Fayer said, adding that her brother traveled to at least a couple of those Super Bowl games.

"He had pictures of the Steelers all over the restaurant," said Fayer, who at times worked at the Italian-American eatery as a waitress. Mr. Santoni sold the restaurant a few years ago.

Mr. Santoni also is survived by a sister, Fern Bourbouse, of Phoenix, Ariz.; , a stepson, Dempsey Welsh, of Charleroi; and a stepgrandchild.

A Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. today in Mary, Mother of the Church in Charleroi. Interment will be in Monongahela Cemetery.

Shelly Anderson can be reached at or 412-263-1721.

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