I’m not even going to begin to suggest that I have an adequate level of knowledge about the man or even sufficient capacity as a writer to be able to appropriately pen a send-off to Daniel M. Rooney, who was arguably the single-most important man in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise. I just want to get that out of the way off the bat.
Dan Rooney was born just a year before his father, Art Rooney, “The Chief”, founded the franchise in 1933, but it wasn’t until the son became intimately involved in running the organization that they actually began to carve out the legacy for which they are now known. And while it may have been some years since he has born the burden of day-to-day responsibilities, the loss of his presence will be tremendous.
Years before he was even officially given the title of team president, Dan was already running the team. He was intimately involved in finding Chuck Noll as the coach who would forge a new identity for a lowly football team that would quickly berth a dynasty. He empowered a great deal of people who shaped the legacy of the 1970s Steelers, including Bill Nunn, the scout who found so many important pieces of the puzzle in the draft from small schools in that decade.
More importantly, he, following in the footsteps of his father, maintained, and retained, a familial identity within the organization that carries on to this day, though it will feel much less like home without him to all those who knew him.
Feeling it most today among the players might be quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has been with the organization now about as long as anybody. It was Rooney who reminded Bill Cowher of his biggest regret—passing on Dan Marino—that convinced the Steelers to revisit their scouting report on Roethlisberger, and they ended up drafting him instead of a lineman.
There are so many ways in which Dan Rooney has stamped his mark on not just the Steelers, but the game as a whole. The Rooney Rule is just one of them, and has been a watershed moment for the advancement of minority coaches, even if it is not without its flaws.
Beyond that, Rooney even served a term in government, holding the ambassadorship to his beloved homeland of Ireland during the first term of President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2012.
It was even before that time, however, that the process of the passing of the torch began. Dan passed on the title of president to Art Rooney II, his son, and the grandson of The Chief, beginning in the 2003 season, taking on the title of chairman for himself.
Daniel M. Rooney is the only person to have ever held the title of chairman in the history of the Steelers organization after his father, and it may be some time before another bears it. But titles—at least not that sort of title—have never been important in the Steelers organization. It was all about family. And this family just lost its father figure.