I’m certainly not the best qualified person on this site to talk about Mr. Rooney, and I suspect others who are better qualified will be writing pieces about his passing, but I couldn’t let the day go by without touching on what Dan Rooney has meant to the Steelers and to Pittsburgh.
One of the things which first intrigued me about the Steelers, long before I truly became a fan of the team, was the different way the team seemed to go about their business. All of this has been very well documented. The color blindness of Art Rooney (aka “The Chief”) and his multitudes of friendships with the most unlikely assortment of people. The strong commitment to family, church and community which pervaded the organization from the beginning.
Dan Rooney exemplified the best traits of his father. Like his father, he was a humble man. He lived his entire life in a small house in a not particularly salubrious area of town. He could have afforded something far more palatial but chose to remain there. Part of that was from a desire to see the neighborhood he loved return to the vital place he remembered as a child. He wrote a lovely article for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette in 2013 about the neighborhood, and in fact co-authored a book published that year.
He continued in his father’s tradition of caring about every person in the Steelers organization. One of the refrains you hear from players who come to the Steelers from other teams is how odd but refreshing it is to see the owners in the lunch room or in the hallway, and what a shock it is (in the case of an unheralded small-contract signee) to find out they know your name.
NFL teams are a business, and after all “NFL” stands for “Not for long.” And if you’re going to win, you have to take the “What have you done for me lately?”approach. But I appreciate that the way the Rooneys have always conducted the team brings an element of dignity to what would otherwise be a sausage mill.
One of the things I have always loved about the Steelers is training camp. And one of the things I have always loved about training camp is watching what happens when Mr. Rooney came on the field. He was never a tall man, and became quite bowed in recent years. But the players would inevitably gravitate to his spot on the field if they were free, and it was quite a sight to see Mr. Rooney with, say, Ben Roethlisberger. It was clear that he was held in great esteem.
Mr. Rooney was one of the most influential owners in football, and a true advocate for fairness, as demonstrated by the rule named after him, the Rooney Rule.
I suspect Art II was the de facto chairman of the team by the time Mr. Rooney was named Ambassador to Ireland. But I believe he passed on his values to his son, and expect the team to continue to be a place where new players marvel, as Alejandro Villanueva did recently, that the organization actually cares about you as a person. Thank you, Mr. Rooney, for showing the world that you can run a franchise without disregarding the humanity of the men who pass through your doors, however briefly.
There is a much more extensive article on Dan Rooney on the site, which you can find here.