The saddest part of the potential sale of the Steelers isn't that it could take control of the team out of Rooney hands for the first time in more than 75 years.
The saddest part is that the four younger Rooney brothers -- four honest, decent men -- are being vilified for being soulless, greedy money-grabbers because they are considering selling their shares of the franchise to outside interests instead of to their older brother and team chairman, Dan, because they believe it's the right thing to do for their children and grandchildren.
That is sad beyond words.
"I wonder what [others] would do if they had large families and this was happening to them," Tim Rooney wrote in an e-mail interview last week. "We love our brother and his family, but we can't ignore our own."
Can you blame them?
That's right, I forgot, many of you are blaming them.
You would look out for your own, too.
I almost feel sorry for the Rooney brothers because they clearly don't want to sell. They are considering doing so only because the NFL says they can't continue to own the team and their gambling interests at the family race tracks and that one controlling partner must own at least 30 percent of the team's stock. Although Dan Rooney has run the franchise since the death of his father, team patriarch Art Rooney Sr., in 1988, he and his brothers each own 16 percent, the other 20 percent owned by the family of the late John McGinley Sr.
There also is time pressure on a potential sale because of concerns by at least some of the brothers that, if Barack Obama becomes president in November, he will make changes to the tax code that would adversely impact the brothers' children's inheritance.
"The perfect storm," one of the brothers, Art Jr., called it.
Except that things are not so perfect.
"At one of our meetings, Dan asked me what I was mad at," Rooney Jr. said. "I told him I was mad at the situation. I hate it."
Anyone who knows Rooney Jr. knows why. Football and the Steelers have been the biggest parts of his life, family aside. He played a big part in the Steelers' Super Bowl success in the 1970s as the team's personnel director before he was fired by his brother, Dan, in 1986. His South Hills office, where he oversees the family's real-estate interests, is a shrine to the Steelers and, more so, to his father. He's proud that his new book -- "Ruanaidh, The Story Of Art Rooney And His Clan," which is a terrific read -- has been described as "a love letter from a son to his father."
"My dad died going on 20 years ago, and there's not a day that I don't still think about him," Rooney Jr. said. " 'What would he think? Am I doing the right thing?'
"But this sale thing? There's unbelievable pressure with this."
Tim Rooney wrote it's just as hard on him and his family.
Presumably, it's also hard on the other brothers, Pat and John, who declined a request to be interviewed.
Certainly, it's hard on Dan Rooney, who turned 76 a week ago and is fighting to keep control of the franchise. As the oldest of the five Rooney boys, he was designated by Rooney Sr. to take over the team and has been, arguably, the best owner in sports for nearly two decades. Now, he has designated his oldest son, Art II, to be the heir apparent, made him team president and given him much control of the organization.
The problem is that Dan Rooney doesn't have the money to buy out his brothers. The Steelers have been valued at somewhere between $800 million and $1.2 billion. Dan Rooney's initial bid to the brothers was for far less than market value. It's pretty safe to assume the brothers weren't thrilled about being lowballed.
"He said he wanted the team for his son," Rooney Jr. said. "We understand that, and that's all well and good. We all love Artie. But what about our sons?"
It's still possible Dan Rooney could line up investors and buy his brothers' stock. That would greatly ease the fears of Steelers fans, who are afraid of change and want to see him remain in charge.
"Sure, that could happen," Rooney Jr. said. "But I'll say this -- Dan can bring in three or four billionaires, but he will never have better cooperation from his partners than he had with his brothers and the McGinleys. Who's to say the new guys aren't going to want to be involved? We never cared about that. We gave Dan everything he wanted. Even after my problems with him, I never had any worries about him running the team. He's a Hall of Famer, and he deserves to be a Hall of Famer."
There's also that possibility that the Steelers could be sold to an outside party. "There's a real shot of that," Rooney Jr. said. New York hedge fund billionaire Stanley Druckenmiller -- chairman of Pittsburgh's Duquesne Capital Management -- appears to be the most likely buyer at this point.
Tim Rooney is preparing for a sad ending, no matter how a sale goes down.
"I have no concern that the Steelers will suffer as a franchise if sold," he wrote in his e-mail. "I have concerns that the Rooney family will suffer."
Asked to elaborate, Tim Rooney wrote, "The reason I said the Rooneys would suffer from the sale more than the city or the team is because of our emotional involvement. There has not been a second in my life [or] in my two younger brothers' [lives] that we have not owned or have been the sons of the owner of the team. If Steelers fans think they are big fans, what do they think it would be like to be the owners? We will miss our involvement greatly and so will our children and grandchildren."
Does that sound like a villain to you?
The younger Rooney brothers aren't villains.
They're no different than Dan Rooney, really.
They're just trying to do what's right for their families.
Ron Cook can be reached at email@example.com .