R.I.P. Dan Rooney : The End Of An Era

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It’s no accident the Steelers fortunes turned around once Dan Rooney took over day to day operations of the Steelers in 1969. Photo from MMQB- Sports Illustrated.

“Dan was an owner who was active in league affairs. He was a man of integrity and dignity who was always willing to be involved and helpful. He was deeply immersed in the NFL’s labor negotiations, playing a key role for decades. He was seen as a voice of reason during many difficult discussions because he had a strong sense of the best interests of the game. He was practical, and he knew how to forge a consensus” – NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, August 13, 2007

“The story of Dan Rooney’s life focuses on the Rooney family, football, the Steelers, and the NFL. But it is a story that teaches much more. Whatever our career or interests, it is a story that offers invaluable lessons not just for our time but for generations to come.” – Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, August 15, 2007

“George Halas and the founders of the NFL were there at the Hupmobile dealership in Canton, Ohio, when the league was founded in 1920. Then Tim Mara, Charley Bidwill, George Marshall, Curly Lambeau, Bert Bell, Ole Haugsrud, and of course Art Rooney joined the league and brought organization and entertainment values with them. Besides these pioneer owners, the NFL was blessed with outstanding commissioners who joined the league at times of need, when their unique talents provided leadership. I urged the league to record and preserve the history of the NFL for posterity. But now we have lost them all—the first generation who knew how it happened and put it all together. The story as I know it hasn’t been recorded. This led to my purpose in writing this book—to tell the history of the NFL, the Steelers, and me, as I know it from being there and listening to my father and other men who were there from the beginning—the men who started the league, who worked, scraped, spent their money, and hammered it into reality. So as the last man standing, the last to know from hearing, witnessing, and experiencing that history, I guess its up to me to tell the story as best I can.” Dan Rooney – From My 75 Years With The Pittsburgh Steelers And The NFL.

Dan Rooney, the beloved owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the last direct link to the founding fathers of the NFL, and the former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, passed away yesterday at the age of 84, taking a large part of the history of both the Steelers and the NFL with him. Part of what made Dan Rooney so revered, much like his father was before him, was the manner in which he treated everyone. Dan treated everyone he met with respect, and those who worked for him were treated like family. Perhaps there’s no better example of Dan’s love for his players than one that involved former Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, “Papa Rooney was a father figure to me, and I often sought his advice throughout my 12 years with the Steelers. Yet most of the time, he taught me without saying anything. After a tiring practice early in my career, I fell asleep on the couch in his office. He picked up his things and headed to his son’s office next door, letting me sleep. He always displayed this type of kindness.”

From Antonio Brown to Mean Joe Green, it’s impossible to find any player who would have anything other than love for Dan Rooney. The same can be said for any Steelers coach, past or present, or staff member who has ever worked for him. Throughout the league, every owner and representative of the NFL that has worked with Dan, regards him with the utmost respect, which Roger Goodell sums up perfectly, “At league meetings, you could see how the other owners and the commissioner valued Dan’s opinion. He knew the game and league as well as anyone. He had good football and business sense. He understood the complex partnership aspects of a sports league. He was a good listener. He gave sound advice and fought for his beliefs, but he was always supportive when decisions were made. You could see how Commissioner Rozelle and then Commissioner Tagliabue relied on Dan. Now Dan Rooney is the patriarch of the league. He has been there longer than anyone else. He knew the NFL’s pioneers and listened to their stories. He is like a father figure to many of us in the NFL. He praises us when we do something good. More important, he lets us know when he disagrees with a decision and always offers alternatives. He is the conscience of the league. He reminds us of the special values that the NFL and the game of football represent.”

In an era that has seen the NFL become a league that is all about winning now, and instant gratification, Dan Rooney kept operating under the premises of the “Steeler way”, created by the first head coach he ever hired, Chuck Noll. The “Steeler Way” is based on building through the draft and stability within the coaching staff, which has paid off handsomely. Since being put in charge of the day to day operations in 1969, the Steelers have had just three head coaches, hold the best overall record in the NFL, are tied for the most playoff appearances, and lead the NFL with six Super Bowl championships. Part of the “Steeler Way” includes Dan Rooney being eternally greatful to everyone who has contributed to the Pittsburgh Steelers success over the years,

“To all the Steelers who played or coached, the support staff, and those who managed the team—for 75 years. And to our fans—the Steelers Nation— the best in the National Football League.”

Not a demanding man, Dan Rooney insisted that his team conduct itself in a professional manner at all times, both on and off the field, and in victory as well as defeat. The players, with the exception of a few, always strived to do so out of love and respect for him. They way the team reacted to a loss to the Chargers in the AFC Championship, following the 1994 season, inspired this letter to Mr. Rooney.

January 15, 1995 Dear Steelers:

I watched as the last few moments of the AFC Championship game drew down to one play. The Chargers deflected the pass, the game was over. And as I watched the players leave the field I saw the pain in their eyes. I am a Charger fan, I’m elated that the team I love most is going to the bowl of bowls. But I’ll tell you what. The city of Pittsburgh should be proud to have such a team. The players and their young coach are young, enthusiastic, talented, focused, spirited, and together. And the hospitality that poured out to the visitors—to the ENEMY was nothing short of awe inspiring. Championship is not measured by the wins or losses. True championship in pro ball requires talent, heart, courage, teamwork, and professional conductance. I could not believe what I was seeing on that field today. I saw a team that even in defeat would not let go of their championship heart. As I watched the players leave the field I said a prayer for your team. You guys are true professionals. No one can say that the Pittsburgh Steelers are anything other than a truly class A football team. In the short term there is no remedy for the pain of a loss other than time. But as time goes by, you will realize that what I’m saying to you all today is the absolute truth. Today, in my opinion, the real champions of the AFC lost the football game, but they did not lose the championship. You have broken my heart, and you have a new fan in San Diego. Give me a towel.

Sincerely, Patrick J. Morris San Diego, CA

The more success Dan Rooney achieved, the more humble he became, which resulted in him being a reflection of everything that was still great about the NFL. Dan Rooney, elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000, was put in charge of the day to day operations of the Steelers in 1969. In 1973, he was named Chairman of the Expansion Committee, and oversaw the addition of the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976. In 1975 Dan was named President of the Steelers, a role he served in until he was named Chairman, from 2003-2017. Because of his strong belief in equality, Dan pushed for what is known as the Rooney Rule, which requires each team to interview minority candidate’s for head coaching positions, one of his greatest accomplishments. Not only did Dan Rooney serve as the biggest ambassador for the NFL, he also represnted this country as an Ambassador to Ireland for over three years.

The lives that Dan Rooney touched are literally world wide, through charities that he was involved with, and through his influence in helping spread professional football to Europe and Mexico, and the outpouring of love since his passing shows how much he was treasured.

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Thank you Mr. Rooney for being the man you were, and for instilling your values into your team. Your integrity has made every fan proud to be a part of Steelernation, because you always included us as as one of the reasons for the Steelers success. Thank you for your humilty. Your desire to let others enjoy the spotlight of success, while you chose to remain in the background, shows just how much more you enjoyed watching others soak in the moment, than you would have enjoyed it yourself. If more owners and league officials had your character and integrity, the NFL wouldn’t have the issues it is facing today. Thank you for being a blessing to the city of Pittsburgh and all of western Pennsylvania, as well as Steelernation, for all of your 84 years. Most importantly Mr. Rooney, thank you for sharing your life with us through your book, “Dan Rooney: my 75 Years With The Steelers And The NFL”, because it adds great depths of understanding to how wonderful your family truly was/is. May you rest in peace and enjoy your reunion with your father and Myron Cope.

  • On the same day we lost Mr. Rooney, Steelernation lost another wonderful person. R.I.P. Jaime Samuels, you were a real force of nature who made the lives of those you touched, just a little bit better.
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One thought on “R.I.P. Dan Rooney : The End Of An Era

  1. The passing of Dan Rooney, is the passing of a moral giant that the world needed to keep its integrity. The world is now a worse place having lost one of its great people.
    R.I.P Dan, we can only hope that another great human can be found to take your place so that the world will keep its balance. You will never be forgotten by the good people of this world!

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