From the PG Archives: Rooney Unique in Pro Football Hall of Fame
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This story from the Post-Gazette archives was first published on Sept. 7, 1964.
Art Came in on a Shoestring And He's Stayed for 30 Years
Art Rooney, who in 30 years of operating a professional football team, has achieved the inscrutable dignity of a philosopher, received an honor yesterday.
He was enshrined in Pro-Football's Hall of Fame at Canton, Ohio.
In pro philosopher is an owner who never has won a league pennant. The Pittsburgh Steelers, never as productive as the steel industry from which they derive their name, next week will begin their 31st season with an apparently firm resolve not to disturb the tenets of Rooney's philosophy.
The reasons for Rooney's induction into the Hall of Fame may seem obscure. He never ran for a touchdown in a National League game. Nor did he ever throw a pass or punt. He just sat unobtrusively in the grandstand or press box and chewed on a moist, raveling cigar.
He's Just Himself
But, in the unlyrical language men use in talking about other men, Rooney is simply a great guy.
He is -- and to a much lesser degree still -- a gambler. To him horses are foaled to be bet on. But honesty is more than a policy with him; it is a way of life.
Henry David Thoreau wrote: "To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school,. but so in love wisdom as to live according to its dictates a life simplicity, independence, magnanimity and trust."
Welsh and Irish
Rooney's practical brand of wisdom was acquired in "The Ward," a tough, brawling section of the Northside near old Exposition Park. His father, Daniel, a Welshman was a saloonkeeper; his mother, Kathleen, was Irish. The Rooneys had come to the Northside from a small mining town near McKeesport, where, on Jan. 27, 1901, Arthur was biorn. He was one of nine children.
Arthur played football and baseball and boxed. He attended St. Peter's Parochial School, Duquesne University Prep School, Indiana Normal School and finally spent a year at Georgetown University on an athletic scholarship.
He won the welterweight boxing championship of the A.A.U. In 1925 he was player-manager of the Wheeling baseball club in the Middle Atlantic League. His brother, Dan, was a teammate.
Art, an outfielder, appeared in the most games in the league, 106; scored the most runs, 109; made the most hits, 143; and stole the most bases, 58. He hit .369 finishing second. Dan, a catcher, finished third with .359.
As a scrappy halfback, he played semi-pro football for the Hope Harvey, Majestic Radio and James P. Rooney clubs. Then, in 1933, he scraped up $2,500 and bought a Pittsburgh franchise in the National Football League.
Forest (Jap) Douds was the coach. That year the Pittsburgh Pirates, as they were called then, lost six and tied two. Ray Kemp, a tackle, was the first Negro to play in organized football. The star halfback was Angelo Brovellio, from St. Mary's.
In 1938--Coach Joe Bach gave Pittsburgh its first break-even year, six and six.
"Then I made a mistake," said Rooney. "I let Bach go to Niagara University. If he had stayed here, we might have won our share of championships. We got John (Blood) McNally and then Walt Kiesling for coaches.
Johnny Never Worried
"I was at the race tracks all the time and Blood Kiesling usually were there with me. Bach never was a race track man, Blood was one of the few coaches who never worried about his players. His players worried about him. Blood was a playboy."
Bach came back to the Pittsburgh club, by that time called the Steelers, in 1952 and stayed for two undistinguished seasons. He was again followed by Kiesling, whose three seasons were equally undistinguished.
The Justice Played Here
Byron (Whizzer) White, now an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, played with the Pirates in 1938.
"White probably gave as much of himself as any athlete who ever lived," said Rooney. "We traveled by train in those days and the players played cards. All, except White. He'd read books -- I suppose they were law books."
But Rooney rates Bill Dudley as "the best all around football player I've ever seen."
"Dudley," he said, "was a Jimmy Brown on offense and a Night Train Lane on defense. Steve Owens of the Giants, and Greasy Neal, of the Eagles, imposed an automatic fine on their quarterbacks if they called a pass play into Dudley's territory.
"Dudley had his troubles with Jock Sutherland. Dudley liked to play Dudley's game instead of Sutherland's."
Rooney is quite frank about his gambling.
"For a period of years after 1927 I was one of the country's biggest and most successful horseplayers. I'm still considered one of the top handicappers in the country. But I'm only a spot player now. And I never have made as much as $2 bet at any track I had an interest in," he said.
And Rooney added, he never has bet on pro football, baseball or boxing.
The time Rooney went to a race track he was touted. He was 18 years old when he visited the Maple Heights track in Cleveland.
The tout whispered that he had a good thing in the next race. Rooney gave him $100 to play. The tout brought back some tickets and shoved them into Rooney's hand. Rooney counted the tickets and they totaled a play of $50.
But the horse won at 2-1 and Rooney had his $100 back.
One Legend That Is True
Many of the betting legends involving Rooney are apocryphjal. But this one is true.
In 1935, Rooney and Tony Canzoneri, the one-time lightweight champion, were at Saratoga.
Rooney placed a bet, then went to the men's room. The porter started talking football with him and Rooney missed the race. After it was over, a friend came in and told Rooney his horse had won.
Rooney thanked him casually--and continued talking football with the porter.
He had just won $50,000.
In the middle 1930s Rooney ran unsuccessfully for the office of register of wills of Allegheny County. He made a speech in Houston, PA., one night and listener interrupted to inform Rooney it wouldn't do him any good. Rooney was campaigning in Washington County.
A subsequent speech in Syria Mosque was a classic of political candor. Rooney said: "I don't know what the register of wills is supposed to do and I don't even know where the office is. But, if you elect me, I'll hire people who will know."
In reporting the incident, Time Magazine commented that a rare species of political Diogenes had been discovered in Pittsburgh.
First Published September 30, 2007 3:34 am