Effect of team's sale on Art Rooney Jr. setting in

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For Art Rooney Jr. and his bond of blood to the only NFL franchise to win six Super Bowl titles, things are the same, only different.

Confusing? Well, no more so than the NFL-driven process under which four Rooney brothers had to sell part or all of their stake in the Steelers to outside investors to keep operations under the control of the Rooney family.

Make no mistake. Beginning with the opening of training camp at familiar Saint Vincent, the Steelers will operate under the same winning formula that made them a synonym for stability even if Dan Rooney has moved on to become U.S. ambassador to Ireland.

But Art Jr., still listed as a vice president on the administrative charts, is in the final stages of selling half his 16 percent interest in the team and all his holdings in two racetracks/casinos owned by the family.

"For me, it is different," said the namesake of the franchise founder but familiarly known as Artie. "But I'm still a Steeler. I still bleed black and gold, just like all of my brothers."

Brother John Rooney also is selling half his Steelers stake and all his racetrack holdings, while Tim and Pat Rooney are selling their football holdings but will continue to operate the racetracks.

The new ownership group was put together by the father/son team of Dan and Art Rooney II, the team president. They lined up the investors in tough economic times to allay NFL concerns about control and connections to gambling.

"My mother used to say there's plenty a slip between cup and lip, but it looks as if there won't be any slips now," Art Jr. said. "The Chief left the team to all his sons, but he wanted Dan to run things, and Dan was the one who hired Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin on the way to six Super Bowl wins."

That's not to say the process was stress-free. The NFL approached the Rooneys about consolidating ownership following Super Bowl XL, and it has taken time to line up new money and minimize any hard feelings on family members who resisted changes.

"The big thing with the family during this process was making sure the Steelers would continue to be a source of family honor. I think the family honor is secure," Art Jr. said. "I can't rap the new owners. These guys came up with all this dough. They put their money where their mouths are."

The five Rooney brothers each owned 16 percent of the Steelers, and the McGinley family owned 20 percent, some of which also is being sold. The NFL wanted one person to control at least 30 percent of the stock.

Things weren't nearly as complicated in the days when Art Rooney Sr. founded the franchise for $2,500 in 1933 and enjoyed many a time at the racetrack with fellow owners from the Mara and Bidwill families.

A must-read for anyone seeking a candid, anecdotal history of The Chief and the city that identifies with his football team is Art Rooney Jr.'s book Ruanaidh. The word is pronounced Roo-ah-nee and is the Gaelic spelling for Rooney.

The Rooney family's connection to Saint Vincent actually goes back to before there was an NFL. The Chief played on campus against the university's prep team while he was a member of the Duquesne University prep team -- Holy Ghost Academy.

"We figured it out that the first time would have been around 1913 or 1914," Art Jr. said.

The training sites for the football franchise have varied over the years, from the South Side of Pittsburgh to the University of Rhode Island.

It was Art Jr., a North Catholic High School graduate who got his liberal arts education at Saint Vincent, who convinced his father to bring the team to Latrobe. The first year was 1966, when Bill Austin was the coach and the Steelers had not won a title of any kind.

"We always wanted to train there, but they didn't have the dorm room. When we trained at Rhode Island, if you needed a jock strap, it became a major logistical problem," Art Jr. said.

Details were worked out between the Steelers' Fran Fogarty and the Rev. Conall Pfiester, treasurer and procurator at Saint Vincent.

Originally, hundreds of fans would be on hand on any given day. The number is now in the tens of thousands.

It has been mutually beneficial. The Steelers undergo a bonding ritual away from the hustle and bustle of the big city, and the college benefits from the pilgrims who flock to Latrobe the way the cliff swallows flock back to San Juan Capistrano. The college book store, for example, will reach 10 percent of its annual sales by offering Steelers memorabilia over the next three weeks.

But Art Jr., who supervised some of the greatest drafts in NFL history, has not been a training-camp regular since 1987. That's when he was fired by his brother Dan and reassigned to manage real-estate holdings.

In fact, he said he has been to camp twice since then -- in 2007 for the dedication of Chuck Noll Field and once to pick up his grandson after practice.

"It's not that I didn't want to go, I just didn't think it was my place," he said.

This is the 44th year the Steelers will train in Latrobe. Through thick and thin, Saint Vincent has become a summer home for a remarkable extended family.

"I will take credit for anything that's positive," Art Jr. said, with a laugh. "It has been a great ride."

Robert Dvorchak can be reached at bdvorchak@post-gazette.com .


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