I never met Dan Rooney. Never had the opportunity to exchange small talk or shake his hand. Yet, it feels like a member of my family has been lost. He somehow feels familiar to me, like a kind uncle who was always there. A reassuring presence that provides guidance without giving a word of advice; just leads by being who he is. A true mensch.
Dan Rooney came into this world before the Pittsburgh Steelers came into being as an NFL team back in 1933. He literally grew up with the team; a familiar presence to Steeler players and coaches from so long ago. The owner’s son who started as a ball boy to running the day to day operations of the club in 1969 eventually becoming the principal owner. He would later hand over the operation of the team to Art Rooney II in 2001 passing the family business from one generation to another.
It is hard to imagine that stooped old man was once quite the athlete. He was the quarterback for Pittsburgh’s North Catholic High School and a candidate for Pittsburgh all-city honors. After a terrific senior season; he ended up as second-team all-city quarterback behind … Johnny Unitas.
His rise to running the Steelers coincided with the Black & Gold’s rise as a perennial NFL power. The Chief was the founder; but knew when and whom to delegate control of the team. It was Dan Rooney who met Chuck Noll for the first time following the Colts loss to Joe Namath and the Jets in the 3rd Super Bowl. The Steelers didn’t always get it right. Dan Rooney was in favor of drafting Dan Marino but the front office went with Gabe Rivera instead. But that may be why we have Ben Roethlisberger now. In Dan Rooney’s words, “I couldn’t bear the thought of passing on another great quarterback prospect the way we had passed on Dan Marino in 1983, so I steered the conversation around to (Ben) Roethlisberger,”
In many ways, Dan Rooney is Pittsburgh Steelers football. A drive to win; but humble and kind in spirit. But Dan Rooney would be the first to say that sport is not the end all be all pursuit of his life. His acts of kindness are legend and he built relationships with players which lasted well beyond their tenure as Pittsburgh Steelers. He is the Rooney, that the Rooney Rule is named after. In his own words, “The biggest thing my father passed on to me, and I hope we’ve continued it, is to treat people right. We treat our players as family, not workers. We’re concerned for them away from the field and whatever problems they might have. My father always had a relationship with the players. And I’ve tried to do the same.” The testimonial of many players will attest that didn’t just say those words; he lived by them.
Much more is to be said of this great man; though his loss is great for Steelers nation; he has left a legacy of excellence on and off the field. I will not grieve his loss; I will celebrate the life of Dan Rooney. Godspeed to you Sir.