Dan Rooney and Ike Taylor have a very unique relationship, one that has an almost “grandfatherly” feel to it, with the way the Hall of Fame owner treats his now-retired cornerback, whose nickname “Swaggin” was a testament to the way he played.
Taylor, who turns 35 next month, has almost half a century to go until he catches the 82-year old Rooney, but that doesn’t stop the two from being active on social media, fist-bumping or whatever else bridges the gap between the two. Taylor event went as far as calling Rooney “Papa” which truly showed how special he was to him.
This was on full display in last year’s team photo, when Ike made sure, no matter where he was in the photo, that Rooney was right next to him.
After being drafted in the fourth round out of Louisiana-Lafayette in 2003, he morphed into the team’s shutdown corner, shadowing the opposition’s best receiver, often with great success. However, his lack of interceptions, due to his poor hands, are reasons why there weren’t any Pro Bowls on his resume. He had only 14 picks in his career, and several bad games in prime time spots, including the 2011 playoff loss to the Tim Tebow-led Broncos where Demaryius Thomas absolutely scorched him, left him as a scapegoat for the team’s secondary woes.
However, he played on three defenses that finished #1, a handful of others in the top 5, and played in three Super Bowls, winning two. In fact, in Super Bowl XL versus Seattle, it was Taylor who gave the team momentum, with a late 14-10 lead. He intercepted a Matt Hasselbeck pass, and the ensuing possession gave way to one of the most memorable plays in SB history, the gadget play where Antwaan Randle El threw a touchdown bomb to Hines Ward. “It sort of gave us breathing room,” Rooney said. “It was great. I thought maybe he was going to learn how to catch.”
It became very common for Taylor to just pop into Rooney’s office to have a simple conversation about life in general, whether it be sports, family or the team itself. However, one day what occurred was a little out of the ordinary. Rooney was in his office finishing some work, when Ike came in and admitted he was a little tired out.
Taylor ended up sleeping for several hours before waking up, alone, in the owner’s office, and it’s a memory he won’t soon forget.
“A Hall of Famer, a six-time Lombardi Super Bowl champion, one of the pioneers of the NFL … he came up with the minority rule (for coaching hires) and for a guy like that to have his door open for me to come in because he saw I was tired and let me fall asleep and him leave out … that is unheard of,” Taylor said.
In today’s age of free agency and teams chasing paychecks, it’s a rarity when a player spends his entire career with one team. Taylor played all 12 of his seasons with Pittsburgh, a mark that means something to Rooney.
“It means they enjoy it here,” Rooney said. “I’ve been close to a lot of players down through the years. Ike is sort of a special guy. He’s very open and kids around. I think he’s been very good for the team.”
The fact that the team took a chance on a small-school product from the bayous of Louisiana has always meant the world to Taylor, and as he’s pursuing a career in broadcast after his playing days, he’s apparently going to try his hand at coaching this summer as an intern at OTA’s and training camp in Latrobe, PA.
“It is rare, in this day of free agency, that is super rare to play for one team,” he said. “For me to have this opportunity says a lot about how they felt about me, what I gave back to the organization. I wasn’t cut, I wasn’t released. It was just my contract was up and it was time to retire. If you want to have pride, well that is the kind of pride I have, being able to play my contract out. Other than having my son, playing for the Steelers has been the best experience in my entire lifetime.”