Dan Rooney bids NFL owners farewell

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DANA POINT, Calif. -- Dan Rooney said goodbye to the National Football League this week as he prepares to become a U.S. ambassador.

He has resigned from all the committees he chaired and worked on. He stood up before his fellow team owners and bade them farewell in his typical low-key manner Monday, and the process has become emotional for him and his friends in the league.

"I find it hard to internalize that he's going off," said Mike Brown, owner of the Cincinnati Bengals. "As long as I can remember, he's been around here and he's been a very important contributor and it's coming to an end. Everything does, but it's difficult sometimes when that happens."

Rooney spoke Monday at the NFL's privileged session that included only the principal owners of each team.

"There was a bunch of us sitting around and talking and Dan sort of said goodbye to all of us," said Bill Bidwill, owner of the Arizona Cardinals, whose family long has been friendly with the Rooneys. "I'm sorry to see him go, but that's the way it's coming down."

Rooney, not an overly sentimental sort, has been trying to maintain that reputation.

"I'm trying to prevent it from not becoming emotional," he said yesterday. "It's really the separation. These guys have been good friends of mine. But it's the way life is, move on to a new challenge."

His new challenge will be as ambassador to Ireland once his appointment by President Barack Obama is approved by the U.S. Senate. Coincidentally, the country's most recent ambassador to Germany traded seats of sort with Rooney and offered some insight into what he can expect.

As part of the separation process, Rooney resigned this week as chairman of the NFL's Pro Football Hall of Fame committee. He also gave up his seat on the Hall of Fame's board of trustees, a seat he held for years and one his father, Art Rooney Sr., had held before him.

One person who rejoined that board is Tim Timken, who served as ambassador to Germany from August 2005 until last December. Timken, a Canton, Ohio, resident, served on the Hall of Fame board until he had to resign when he became ambassador.

"I will say this: The clearance that you go through effectively requires you to get out of everything that you do," Timken said of the process he went through before taking his post in Germany. "I had to resign all my business with all my charitable things and everything else. I had to have a clean slate."

Timken also spent most of his time in Germany.

"If you're the ambassador to Germany, your job is in Germany, not the United States. So I came home very rarely. I worked seven days a week, 10-12 hours a day. It was a very demanding schedule that required me to be in Germany.

"Germany is our largest mission outside the United States. Obviously, Ireland is not that magnitude, so Dan would have leeway to operate things differently."

Rooney has declined to discuss much about the position, and Timken said there is a reason for that.

"We're counseled to do that," Timken said. "Remember, he has to be confirmed by the Senate, and even though the Democrats control the process, senators have very strong feelings about their ability to carry out their consent, which is basically what it is. You don't want to do anything to make them feel that somehow you're already the ambassador."

It has not stopped others from talking about it, however.

Said Chicago Bears owner Mike McCaskey: "To choose a man who has such a long and productive association with Ireland and has actively tried to provide resources to help build unity within the different communities there, I'm just thrilled for Ireland and thrilled for the United States. It's an inspired choice."

But some in the NFL also have found it hard to say goodbye this week to a man who has been so influential and involved in league matters for half a century.

"The team's in good hands with Art [Rooney II] being the president, I don't worry about that for a second," McCaskey said. "Danny's always been terrific in terms of a level head, especially the collective-bargaining area, and we need to fashion a new labor agreement. We'll miss him there."

Dan Rooney's son, Art, assumed the Steelers' presidency from his father in 2002 and has taken on many of those chores and those in the league. But Dan has been such an influence throughout the league and a presence that it's difficult for some to see him go.

"He's been one of the very important owners in this league for a long time," Cincinnati's Brown said. "His franchise has been at the top more than anybody else's. If you accomplish that, you have won the race, and during his time in this league, he has won the race.

"Beyond that, he's been instrumental in the way the league has operated over the years. He's been a huge force in the labor dealings the league has had, and in other areas as well."

Joe Horrigan, a Hall of Fame vice president, called Rooney "our champion."

"He speaks to the owners and they believe what he says," Horrigan said. "He brings that legacy feeling of importance of preserving the heritage of the game. It's a sincere thing on his behalf and to us it's an essential ingredient."

Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com . First Published March 25, 2009 4:00 AM


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