This is part of "Remembering Art Rooney Sr.: A Father's Heirlooms Still Cherished." Click on headline to see complete story.
Before the Chief died, Art Rooney Jr. began a mission he still holds dear: Keeping alive the legend of his father and those great Steelers teams.
In the early 1980s, Art Jr. hired artist Merv Corning to paint portraits of his father from photographs taken throughout the years. When Corning died in 2006, Art Jr. simply found new artists. His Bethel Park office, where he has handled the family's real estate ventures since 1987, is a shrine to the image of a man he probably never came to know as well as his four brothers did.
To Art Jr., his father is more "the Chief" than Dad, and he'll often refer to Art Sr. that way. Art Jr. reveres his old man, and you can hear it when he dusts off his favorite stories.
Art Jr. knows he's different, too.
"I think everybody thinks of him," Art Jr. says. "But I think I'm the only one that maybe thinks about the approval. Even at this day, 77 years old."
A few weeks ago, Art Jr., took a bad fall on the stairs at his Mt. Lebanon home. He thought about what the Chief might say about it. And in the days after, as he stayed in to rest, he considered that his father might have found the will to go to Mass each morning, injury or not.
"I try to go every day," Art Jr. says. "All the brothers try to go every day. I went Sunday, but I didn't go during the week. It was too much stress, pain, but that's the difference between my dad and me. He would have been there."
On the family's draft day, with the second pick, Art Jr. selected the Chief's weathered red prayer book, the pages yellowed from constant use. The leather-bound book, bought around 1950, contains a prayer card with the Chief's markings in pen. The old man was keeping a strict count of his devotion. The tally stops in August 1988.
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The words in that book were a crucial part of the code Art Sr. lived by: You went to Mass, you said the rosary, you treated everyone with respect, and, if you were a man who wanted to smoke tobacco, it had better be from a cigar.
Art Rooney Jr., with his wife Kay, above, chose to keep the Chief's weathered red prayer book.
The leather-bound book, bought around 1950, contains a prayer card with the Chief's markings in pen. The old man was keeping a strict count of his devotion. The tally stops in August 1988.
There were no gray areas as far as he was concerned. Art Jr. remembered him once saying "show me a musician and I'll show you a bum," and he assumed that logic applied also to actors. Still, after graduating from Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Art Jr. decided to go to acting school in New York. His father paid for it -- begrudgingly.
"He thought it was terrible," Art Jr. says. "Terrible."
Art Jr. did not become an actor. He came back to Pittsburgh. His mother had to ask Art Sr. to give him a job with the Steelers. He started off selling tickets. During those days, the product was lacking. Art Jr. had played football in college, so he felt he could contribute his knowledge to help bring in some better players. The Chief was skeptical, but why not let the kid try his hand at scouting?
With this chance to prove something to his father, Art Jr. lived out of a suitcase for years. He rose to director of scouting and helped Steelers coach Chuck Noll pick the players that made them all famous.
But Art Jr. didn't know how much credit his father actually gave him for the team's success. Sometimes, the Chief would bring visitors into Art Jr.'s office because he wanted to show them the scouting process. That was always nice.
One memory would stick out. Art Jr. was attending a racing meeting for his family. A man who knew the Chief introduced himself to Art Jr. and told him, "Your dad told me you were the main guy building the team." Twice, before the meeting was over, Art Jr. asked the man to repeat what the Chief had said, and each time it rang true.
"I couldn't believe he said that!" Art Jr. says.
He'd have to hold onto that moment forever. Because when the Steelers' talent dried up and Dan decided to fire Art Jr. in January 1987, Art Sr. didn't stand in the way.
Art Jr. was heartbroken.
That day in the fall of 1988, as the five brothers arrived at the house on North Lincoln, Art Jr. walked through the door with very mixed emotions.
J. Brady McCollough: email@example.com and on Twitter @BradyMcCollough. First Published August 25, 2013 4:00 AM