By Ralph Iannotti

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The death of beloved Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney sent a wave of sadness through the city he loved so much.

To fans of the Black and Gold, he was the longtime chairman of the Steelers organization who played a major role in elevating the team from mediocre to consistent Super Bowl contenders.

To people in Pittsburgh, he was a family man, the father of nine children, someone who never forgot where he came from and a man who had a well-deserved reputation as a humanitarian and a mentor both on and off the football field.

Steelers fan Eric Witt said he was sad to hear of Rooney’s death.

“Rooney is definitely going to be missed; my heart goes out to the Rooney family,” he said.

Bill Winston, who lives in the Fineview neighborhood, said, “Rooney was a person that was always kind enough to speak to you.”

Dan Vansickle said the news of Rooney’s death “was really disappointing, sad news for the whole town of Pittsburgh. I mean, Rooney also did a lot for the city of Pittsburgh, it went beyond what he’s done for the Steelers.”

To his North Side neighbors and others around the City of Champions, Rooney was not only seen as a football legend, but he was the guy next door.

He was an early and strong supporter of President Obama, who later named him Ambassador to Ireland.

Steelers fan Carl Cimini said, “He’s going to be missed terribly, especially here on the North Side. His influence is really felt here.”

John Dailey said his sister went to college in Ireland, when Rooney was the U.S. Ambassador.

“He helped her to get a visa,” Dailey said. “Rooney was really a lovely man.”

Andrew Masich, President and CEO of  Heinz History Center, called into KDKA to talk about Dan Rooney’s legacy in the City of Pittsburgh.

“I spent a lot of time with Dan Rooney when we wrote the book, his biography, about 10 years ago, and I got the chance to get to know him, his family, flew with the team on the plane, was in the locker room, but the humanity of the man always showed through,” he said.

Masich said Dan Rooney had a philosophy of humility that he carried with him throughout his life.

“He always said his father taught him: ‘Don’t play the big shot.’ And that really stuck with him,” he said. “He was approachable, there was something about him that was quintessentially Pittsburgh.”

Full interview with Andrew Masich below: 

Masich said the “three Fs” were all important to Dan Rooney: Family, Faith and Football. His Irish heritage was also close to his heart.

“There was no better day for Dan Rooney than the day he was sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland,” Masich said.

Several officials shared statements on what Dan Rooney meant to them and to the City of Pittsburgh.

Gov. Tom Wolf released a statement honoring the legend and offering condolences:

“Pennsylvania has lost a true icon and one of our most revered citizens, civic leaders and public servants. Dan Rooney was truly loyal and dedicated to the tremendous organization he built and the city and country that he loved to serve. On behalf of every Pennsylvanian, Frances and I express our deepest condolences to the Rooney family, Dan’s friends and colleagues, and every member of Steeler Nation. He will be missed but his legacy will live-on forever in the hearts of the countless players, fans and citizens whom were lucky enough to experience his passion and grace.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement, saying in part that few men have contributed as much to the National Football League as Dan Rooney:

“A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he was one of the finest men in the history of our game and it was a privilege to work alongside him for so many years. Dan’s dedication to the game, to the players and coaches, to his beloved Pittsburgh, and to Steelers fans everywhere was unparalleled. He was a role model and trusted colleague to commissioners since Bert Bell, countless NFL owners, and so many others in and out of the NFL. A voice of reason on a wide range of topics, including diversity and labor relations, Dan always had the league’s best interests at heart. For my part, Dan’s friendship and counsel were both inspiring and irreplaceable. My heart goes out to Patricia, Art, and the entire Rooney family on the loss of this extraordinary man.”

Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto took to social media to honor Mr. Rooney.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald issued a statement that reads:

“The contributions that Dan Rooney made to Pittsburgh are immeasurable. Those of us who grew up in the 70s know how his leadership of the Steelers took a team that hadn’t been successful into one that became extremely successful, and provided a source of pride to all of us in western Pennsylvania. But beyond that, he used his influence to transform the NFL. His institution of concepts like the ‘Rooney Rule” and leadership on many issues set a great example for the generations to follow. He was a proud North Sider who was always committed to his neighborhood. I got to spend an afternoon going around his old neighborhood as he talked with pride about the people he grew up with, the things that transpired in his neighborhood, and how he was excited about Pittsburgh’s resurgence. His work was even felt on an international stage through his help to bring peace in Ireland. While he traveled the world as the US Ambassador to Ireland and an ambassador for the NFL, he was always a Pittsburgher to his core and was always thinking about what was best for his neighborhood and his city. The thoughts and prayers of this entire region go out to the entire Rooney family.”

Fitzgerald tells the “KDKA Morning News” Mr. Rooney was always trying to help the community any way he could.

“Anytime we had an opportunity to bring a big business into the region, Dan Rooney would [say], ‘Hey, if you want to bring them down onto the field before the game if they’re Steeler fans,’ and we did,” he said.

Fitzgerald says it worked on multiple occasions and that they beat out other surrounding states for projects like the construction of the cracker plant.

Fitzgerald adds that Mr. Rooney was humble and didn’t like to take credit for things he did.

“You’d be at an event and he would be the [honoree] of the event…He would be standing the back [saying], ‘Oh no, let that guy cut the ribbon, let him hold the scissors and let him or her be up in front.’ But, you knew that his influence and his fingerprints were on it,” Fitzgerald said.

Even former president Barack Obama released a statement, recognizing the former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland as a great man:

“Dan Rooney was a great friend of mine, but more importantly, he was a great friend to the people of Pittsburgh, a model citizen, and someone who represented the United States with dignity and grace on the world stage. I knew he’d do a wonderful job when I named him as our United States Ambassador to Ireland, but naturally, he surpassed my high expectations, and I know the people of Ireland think fondly of him today. And I know the people of Pittsburgh, who loved him not only for the Super Bowl championships he brought as the owner of the Steelers, but for his generosity of spirit, mourn his passing today. Michelle and I offer our condolences to the Rooney family, some of the most gracious and thoughtful people we know — even as we celebrate the life of Dan Rooney: a championship-caliber good man.”

Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office Stephen Zappala released this statement:

“Like his father before him, Dan Rooney is forever woven into the fabric of western Pennsylvania and beyond. He was a larger than life figure who at the same time lived his own life in a quiet, unassuming manner, making everyone fortunate enough to come into contact with him feel as though they occupied an important space in the world in which he lived. His contributions to professional sports, to the country and the world as Ambassador to Ireland, and most importantly to the community that we all call home, will never be forgotten.”

Pittsburgher and former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett issued this statement:

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the nation have lost an icon. Dan Rooney not only helped turn the Steelers into world champions he helped to revitalize Pittsburgh, the city he loved, and our entire region. As successful as he was in football, it did not define his life. Dan and Patricia raised nine children and he gave back to our community by generously supporting local charities. A quite and humble leader, I was honored to call him a friend.

Also, University of Pittsburgh Athletic Department officials have also released statement’s on Rooney’s passing.

Pitt head football coach Pat Narduzzi said:

“A truly unforgettable and special moment for me was getting a personal visit from Dan Rooney after I had just accepted the head coaching job at Pitt. This is a man who built one of the most successful and famous sports organizations in the world, yet he was always so humble and accessible to everyone. Mr. Rooney represents the very best of the game of football and the very best of Pittsburgh. I don’t believe this unique collaboration between an NFL team and college program could exist anywhere else. The credit for that goes to Mr. Rooney and his passionate commitment to Pitt and Pittsburgh. Our hearts and prayers are with the Rooney family and Steelers organization.”

And Pitt’s new Athletic Director Heather Lyke said:

“Growing up in Canton in the shadow of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I became educated very early on about ‘The Steeler Way’ and the incredible family tradition of this iconic NFL franchise. Since arriving in Pittsburgh last month, I have been able to experience firsthand the tremendous class and warmth of the Rooney family. Dan Rooney has an incredible legacy that goes well beyond the football field and we will all continue to be inspired by his example and memory. Our prayers and sympathies are with the Rooney family and all of Steelers Nation.”

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