PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Steelers Nation has lost a legend, as chairman and former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney has died at the age of 84.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 13, 2017
According to our news partners at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Rooney died Thursday after a brief illness and his funeral Mass has been set for Tuesday at 11 a.m. at St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland. Memorial donations can be made to Duquesne University and United Way of Southwest Pennsylvania.
Dan Rooney’s funeral Mass will be held Tuesday at Saint Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh
— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) April 14, 2017
Long before he ran the Steelers, Dan Rooney ran the offense on the football team at North Catholic High School. He was a high-regarded quarterback, as if he’d been born into the game.
Which, of course he was.
Dan Rooney was born in 1932, just as his father was about the found the Pittsburgh’s NFL franchise, a team then known as the Pirates.
Fresh from earning an accounting degree at Duquesne University, Art Rooney’s oldest boy joined him in the team’s front office, working at his father’s side and learning all aspects of the game before eventually taking over leadership of the Steelers in 1969.
The library at the Steeler Headquarters tells the sweet story of the years that would follow, years that began with what turned out to be a masterstroke – hiring Chuck Noll as head coach.
Dan Rooney’s man, and the now-household names he helped bring to the Steelers, turned the sorry team around and gave a struggling city bragging rights. Pittsburgh in the 1970s was the home of champions, winning four Super bowls in six seasons.
By the time KDKA’s Ken Rice to Rooney on the occasion of the team’s 75th anniversary, they’d added a fifth Super Bowl, with the sixth only a couple of seasons off.
“This is the team your father founded, and 75 years later, you could argue the Steelers are as popular now as ever,” Rice said to him in May 2007.
“It’s because the 70s were so good,” Dan Rooney responded. “That got the people interested, and they’ve just remained Steeler fans since. … You know, it was almost a miracle. Jon Greene came in ’69, Bradshaw in ’70, then the great draft in ’74. But in ’72, when we got Franco, and Franco is almost a mystical figure, and he makes that catch, which is unbelievable, and it just took off from there.”
KDKA’s David Highfield Reports:
MORE ON THE LIFE OF DAN ROONEY:
- Sports Community Remembers
- Pittsburgh Community Remembers
- Catholic Community Remembers
- Tom Murphy On North Shore Rebuild
- A Tribute To Dan
- Photo Gallery
- More Steelers News
An exceedingly modest man, Dan Rooney conceded that he didn’t entirely mind bringing visiting NFL owners by the office.
“You just let ‘em see it, it says it itself,” he said.
His coaches and players remember his steady leadership and approachable nature.
“Dan was best described probably as a cool head, as far as the ownership was concerned,” Chuck Noll said. “When we were into labor problems and we had a strike, he was someone that was able to go in and talk to the union, talk to the players and get things sane, you know.”
They also remember some tough contract negotiations. Andy Russell had earned an MBA – he’d studied negotiating – and thought he didn’t need an agent.
“And I remember going to my first Pro Bowl, I said, ‘Do you think I deserve to go to the Pro Bowl?’ He said, ‘Oh yeah, you shoulda gone last year,’” Russell said. “And I said, ‘Why is it I’m paid 1/3 of what the Pro Bowl players are paid?’ I was kinda miffed. He said, ‘Well Andy, we can’t be held responsible for the mistakes of other owners.’ I mean…”
But throughout all those high-profile Pittsburgh autumns and winters, Dan and his wife, Patricia, were quietly busy with much more than football. They had 9 children and infused their family and their football team with a purpose beyond winning – family and team became champions for the community, boosting the efforts of charities. Those included, notably, the American Ireland Funds, supporting the Rooneys’ beloved homeland.
And in 2009, President Obama appointed Dan Rooney U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. It was off to the Palatial Ambassador’s residence in Dublin. There, a new tradition began – flag football games on the lawn every 4th of July. And Dan Rooney would become the only U.S. Ambassador to visit every single Irish county.
By then, Dan’s son Art II was in day-to-day control of the Steelers, but Dan, as team chairman, still loomed large among NFL owners.
Even back in 2007, he’d realized how valuable his long tenure with the League still was.
“I got a call from the National Football League, they asked me a question about what happened at one of our League meetings,” he said. “I gave ‘em the answer, and I said to them, ‘Why did you ask me that question?’ They said, ‘You’re the last guy left that was there.’”
You get a deeper sense of what Dan Rooney meant to those close to him when you listen to Joe Greene, Rooney’s pick to present him for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Greene told friends Rooney’s gesture meant more to him than even his own enshrinement in Canton.
“He said, ‘I would like for you, if you don’t mind, to present me at the Hall of Fame,’” Greene said. “And I probably went silent for a couple of seconds.”
“There was no answer. He just, you know, there was nothing,” Rooney said. “And I figured, he must be trying to figure out how to say, ‘I can’t do it…’”
“I was stunned and honored, all at the same time,” Greene said.
“He is a man of great character and integrity,” Greene said at the induction. “He loves and consults God, he loves and cherishes his family, he loves the Steelers organization, and he loves the fans and the City of Pittsburgh.”