You will have no doubt heard by now of the passing of Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, who can be rightfully described as the primary architect of the franchise that we have come to know today, wielding heavy influence in their affairs for over five decades.
But his influence extended far beyond just Pittsburgh, or just his team—or even just the game of football. His worldliness in spite of his passionate localism might seem like a contradiction, even. The breadth of his influence beyond the game, however, is too big to tackle for now.
Over the course of the next couple of days, I thought it would be appropriate to make a visit with the Steelers’ rivals to see how they have been impacted by Rooney’s influence over the years, and by his passing yesterday at the age of 84.
No organization has been a greater rival for Pittsburgh in the past decade than have the Baltimore Ravens, even if they have hit a recent skid—yet through it have still managed to spoil many a Steelers game, including three in the past two seasons.
Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh, for however you might evaluate him, is a man who shares a healthy respect for the history and legacy of the game, and who wears his heart on his sleeve. He gave some thoughtful comments on Rooney’s passing, calling him “a giant of the NFL”.
“Mr. Rooney epitomized the best of this league: classy, great competitor, righteous, fair, and a trailblazer”, he said. “We thank him for all he did to make us better. I will miss his post-game visits to our locker room. Win or lose, he would come shake my hand and wish the Ravens good fortune”.
With the founding of the Ravens franchise, Ozzie Newsome was installed as the general manager, in doing so becoming the first black man to hold said position in the league, so for him, the loss of a man who fought for inclusion was somewhat personal.
“We lost an outstanding person today”, Newsome said. “He humbled me with the respect he showed to the Ravens and myself. He is the father of the ‘Rooney Rule,’ which has meant so much to minorities working in, and wanting to work in, the NFL. We all will miss him”.
Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti, I believe, paid him the highest respect of all when he said that “Dan Rooney was the conscience of the NFL”, no doubt a distinction that he would humbly reject for himself. “While a winner and a competitor at the highest level, he was kind, classy and a true gentleman”.
Bisciotti was not the original owner of the franchise, and came into the ranks as an outsider businessman worth billions. But “Mr. Rooney was so gracious, warm and welcoming when I joined the league”, he said. “I feel blessed to have known him, and our prayers and thoughts are with his wonderful family”.
It may seem cliché and even exploitative when the NFL advertises with the phrase “Football Is Family”, but it is in many ways just that, and it is none more so for the players and coaches. For Rooney, he made everybody family. Every opponent that the Steelers face this year will miss the Chairman’s post-game handshakes.