More than just about any other professional sports franchise, the Pittsburgh Steelers are and have been for the entirety of their existence been the embodiment of one set of ideals held and set forth by one family, the Rooneys.
The team has to this day ever known three owners: Art Rooney, “The Chief”, the man who founded the franchise in 1933 and the man from whom all lessons were learned in how to interact with professionals on a personal level originate within the organization; his son, Dan Rooney, who took his father’s social wisdoms and combined it with his keen business and football sense to forge the greatest dynasty in the sport’s history; and his son, Art Rooney II, under whom the team has added two more Lombardi trophies.
While Dan Rooney may have been instrumental in turning the Steelers into the football superpower on the field that they have since become after he took over front office responsibilities in 1969, fighting for the hiring of Chuck Noll, and helping to draft Joe Greene, it was all built upon the interpersonal architecture that The Chief had provided, honing an ideal that the team still seeks to emulate, though not without failure.
To be truthful, Art Rooney could not be said to be the most savvy of football minds. From the 1930s when the Pittsburgh Pirates began to the earliest stages of the 1970s, the Steelers were frequently a laughing stock, a winning season fairly rare, though they produced some Hall of Fame talent such as Ernie Stautner, whose number the team has retired, and Jack Butler, who also went on to do amazing things as a scout. And he did so having received Art Rooney’s encouragement.
The Chief’s primary principle was a simple one, and one that he made sure to pass down to his children. Dan Rooney recently shared that principle in reflecting upon the lessons learned from his father recently, saying, “I learned that the most important thing is to treat everybody right. You can’t think you’re some big shot and ride over little people”.
While every ideal in practice is imperfect, the Steelers have put forth their efforts to assure that this simple principle is their guide in doing business, and have worked to employ the men that would continue down that path, also with head coach Bill Cowher, and currently through head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert.
It has been an important element in the Steelers’ success to follow this basic social rule to treat everybody with respect, no matter the circumstances, and has become particularly important in the free agency era, in which it has become harder and harder to keep a team together.
Drafted players more frequently than not choose to stay in Pittsburgh, in part because of their chances of success, but also in part because they have become part of a family. Free agents often come in and are adopted as new sons, most recently such as DeAngelo Williams and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Treat everybody right, and they’ll do everything to do right by you.