Over on Steelers.com, Art Rooney II and younger brother Jim Rooney had a great Father’s Day conversation with Tunch Ilkin, reminiscing on what it was like growing up around their dad, Dan Rooney.
Ilkin began the conversation by asking Art how his father balanced his job and his family.
“He was away a lot, he traveled a good bit and he worked hard hours,” he said. “The other side of that was having a dad in the football business, being around the team a lot. He brought me around a lot. Used to go to work with him every Saturday morning. It was certainly fun being around the team in those early days.”
Though Rooney was one of the most respected and well-known figures in football, he kept a sense of humility around him when it would be easy to fall into arrogance. Jim explained that mentality and how it was passed down from Dan to his children.
“My father always said, and my grandfather The Chief always said the same – don’t be a big shot. That was his statement to not act that way. I think for both of them it was about getting things done. Whether that was the Steelers, my father’s work in Ireland, my grandfather’s work in the community. Whenever you went anywhere with them, they were engaged in something that had some sort of purpose or meaning.”
Rooney was named Ambassador to Ireland from 2009 to 2012, becoming the first to visit all 32 counties in the country.
Even Tunch shared a great story about Rooney and their relationship during the 1987 strike, which lasted a little more than three weeks and saw replacement players temporarily brought in.
“Every player rep was afraid they were going to get cut. Except me. Because me and your dad had a great relationship. When we went on strike, the first thing he said to me was ‘keep them together, Tunch. Keep them together.’ During the strike, I remember, I was looking for a football field to practice on. Your dad heard through the grapevine that I was looking for a field. So he calls me up and he says, ‘Tunch, there’a a key on [secretary] Marianne’s desk for a practice field on the North Side. You didn’t get it from me.'”
So Tunch and other players had a place to workout during the strike. Ilkin went on to share that Rooney paid any players cut post-strike two game checks as a sort of severance pay that probably no other team offered during that time.
This past April marked three years since Rooney’s passing. He was a titan of the game, a larger-than-life figure with the mentality and humility of an ordinary man. If you have the time, check out the entire 15 minute conversation between the three. They share some terrific stories.