There may be nothing more incredibly to me about the life of former Pittsburgh Steelers Owner, President, and Chairman Dan Rooney than the deep personal bond that he forged with many of his players, none more so than former cornerback Ike Taylor, who yesterday was literally one of the last people to be with him on this Earth.
At 84 years old, Rooney was put to rest on Tuesday, April 18, attended by his pallbearers: seven of his grandchildren, and Ike Taylor. I cannot imagine any greater example of the extent to which the relationship between the two went so far beyond the game of football. He was family.
Sean Gentille of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette did a wonderful job of rounding up a myriad of anecdotes that help to flesh out the special relationship that existed between the seemingly unlikely pair, a 5’10”, hunched-over 84-year-old white man from a well-to-do background a 6’2” athlete who grew up and was shaped by the streets of New Orleans.
Perhaps their greatest connection between one another is the fact that they both have tremendous hearts. And they both had the humility to embrace any differences. They were so comfortable with one another that Gene Collier writes of Taylor’s ability to tell the owner of the franchise that he wears his pants too high.
Taylor now works for the NFL Network as an analyst in the wake of his playing career, which allowed him to help Rooney bring another two Lombardis into the Steelers’ trophy case, but that gave him the venue to pay his respects to his dear friend on the airwaves.
“You see a guy who has all this money, but still drives a Buick”, he said. “He’s still got like, four or five suits”. Taylor said that he is “just humble, a guy who doesn’t worry about the materialistic things, who just cares about people in general”.
And Taylor may have been the only one with whom he had a special handshake. I don’t think that there is any doubt the 2003 fourth-round draft pick held a special place in Rooney’s heart in spite of the many hundreds and hundreds of players that he has signed to contracts over the decades.
There are images all around the internet if you care to look for them that show Taylor up front, on the right side of the casket, serving as Rooney’s pallbearer. That would exemplify the point of fact that he served his friend until the very end.
But it wouldn’t exemplify the bond that they shared. Frankly, the one that I have chosen to adorn this article does a much better job. In fact, it is my favorite image of Dan Rooney whenever he and Taylor have been together, because I think it speaks so much to the character of both men.
He touched the lives of millions of people in some way, shape or form, either through his work with the Steelers, as a US Ambassador, or through his many charitable endeavors. But few, perhaps none outside of his family, shared the sort of bond with Dan Rooney as that relationship that he shared with Ivan Taylor, 48 years the junior in the pair.
Taylor once said that “the Rooney family feels like family to me”, and that was no truer than yesterday.