When an organization loses an icon such as Dan Rooney who has meant so much, in this case to the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s not surprising to quickly hear from a good number of the icons whom he helped to bring into the fold. Many former players and coaches spoke about Rooney yesterday, but one that stuck out to me was Hines Ward, who held a whole bunch of franchise records before Antonio Brown recently started breaking them.
“He taught me the value of just giving back to the city, doing community work”, Ward said about Rooney’s immediate influence on him as a person. “That’s something that when I got drafted in ’98, one of the first opportunities I had was the Salvation Army, and that was something he felt strongly about”, he said, noting that the owner would come down to the mall and help hand out jackets to children at Ward’s event.
“I’ve always referred to him as Papa Rooney. I’m just sad that I didn’t get the opportunity to hop on a plane” with him to Latrobe, he said. Rooney was an avid pilot who often flew his own into training camp. “It goes way beyond being an owner, the relationship that he had with each and every player on that team. I think, the guys, that’s what they’re going to cherish the rest of their lives”.
One memory that Ward will not cherish, and that he continues to live with to this day, was his decision to hold out for a new contract during training camp in 2005. “The year that we won the Super Bowl [in the 2005 season], I held out that year”, he said, “and I remember coming into training camp and he was one of the first guys that I saw when I got into Pittsburgh, and coming out of that holdout”/
“I apologized” said the former wide receiver. “I told him I never wanted to bring negative attention to our organization. It was a misunderstanding on my behalf, on behalf of my agent, and part of a miscommunication with the Pittsburgh Steelers”.
“But I never, ever, ever—that is something I will always regret, of holding out for the Pittsburgh Steelers because he’s given me so much”, reflected Ward about his time with the Steelers and with Papa Rooney. “He gave me the opportunity to live my dream. And playing for 14 years, there’s not a day that goes by that I [don’t] just feel bad for having that kind of dispute with the Pittsburgh organization, holding out”.
Rooney’s response to Ward’s apology was a simple one. “He said ‘hey, don’t worry about it’”, he recalled, continuing to tell the receiver that “’we want you to be a Pittsburgh Steeler for life, and go out there and help us win a Super Bowl’”.
Such a comment meant a great deal, with Ward saying that “just having your owner give that vote of confidence of signing me to a long-term deal and having the trust” that he could be a leader to the team and to the city, “that just meant the world to me to be able to do that”.
“That” was helping to bring another Lombardi to the city of Pittsburgh, and of being able to hand the trophy off to Rooney up on that podium as the Super Bowl MVP. “I almost hugged him too hard”, Ward recalled of that moment. All was forgiven for that holdout, and that would not be the last Super Bowl he helped bring back home, but he will seemingly always regret his decision that summer.