Steelers to lose personal touch with Dan Rooney in Dublin
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger smiles with Dan Rooney last March after signing a new $102 million contract.
Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, seen here watching the Steelers at training camp last summer, was honored by Queen Elizabeth for his for his work toward reconcilation in strife-torn Northern Ireland.
Share with others:
Dan Rooney will soon earn the official title, yet he's always been an Irish ambassador with his Steelers and throughout the NFL. He's long been known as the league's voice of reason and conscience and, when it appeared war would break out or did between the league's players and owners, a man of peace.
Ireland may be gaining an ambassador, but the Steelers and the NFL are losing football royalty, a Hall of Famer and son of the franchise's founder who put personal integrity above all else while operating his team and dealing with its people.
His absence will be felt in Pittsburgh and across the NFL, where labor war clouds again are gathering. His son, Art Rooney II, succeeded his father as Steelers president in 2002, and the public will discern few changes in the way the team is operated, partly because Art has run the daily operations of the team anyway. And Art's chief adviser, his father, will remain only a phone call away in Dublin.
"I don't believe Dan would be able to take on these new responsibilities if his son Art wasn't already a Super Bowl-winning club president,'' said Joe Browne, the NFL's longtime executive vice president of communications and himself an Irishman.
The Steelers will miss Dan Rooney's personal touch. Like his Hall of Fame father, Art Rooney Sr., Dan often visits the locker room, sits with secretaries at lunch, stops by the press room at the team's offices on the South Side to chat, and remains an important connection to the 1930s, when he first hung around his father's new football team, and even to the great days of the 1970s, a time fewer and fewer Steelers employees have experienced.
What's your reaction to Steelers' owner Dan Rooney being named ambassador to Ireland? Visit our community forum and share your comments about this issue.
Mr. Rooney made a heavy commitment to this new post; it is not an absentee job or one that allows for weekend visits home in the fall to watch the family football team. He's expected to depart for his new job sometime during his team's training camp, and for a man who has missed few games in franchise history, it might not be an easy parting.
Among those who thought a separation between Dan Rooney and the Steelers would never come are some in his family. It occurs months after Dan and his son successfully -- against considerable odds -- cobbled together a new ownership group of the franchise that involves losing two of his four brothers as partners.
"I'm shocked," said brother Tim Rooney, who is selling all of his shares in the team. "I don't know the time and the element and everything else. I think he may be in Ireland but he'll be in contact with the stadium, that's for sure.
"I think he's going to continue to have a very strong attachment with the Steelers, and I surely hope he does because nobody could possibly do a better job or give better advice."
The family, brother Tim said, is happy for Dan, who will hold the highest political post of anyone in Rooney history.
"I think it's great, you know," Tim Rooney said. "It's wonderful for Dan, and I think he'll do a tremendous job in Ireland. He knows so much about it and spends so much time there. I think he'll be able to accomplish so much over there."
It also is a first for the NFL.
"If approved, it would be a new round for us because we've had land developers and former players and oilmen as owners but we've never had a U.S. ambassador as a club owner," Mr. Browne said.
Where the NFL might miss him most is on the league level. Mr. Rooney has served on most of the important NFL committees, including chairman of the powerful management council executive committee. The Rooney Rule is named after him because he pushed for the rule that mandates interviews for minorities by any NFL team seeking a head coach. He has been a chief adviser to the past three NFL commissioners, Pete Rozelle, Paul Tagliabue and now Roger Goodell, who learned he landed the job from Dan Rooney.
"If he's confirmed, he still hopefully would be a trusted adviser to the commissioner, which is a role he has served going back at least to the days of Pete Rozelle," Mr. Browne said from the NFL offices in New York yesterday.
"When one thinks of Dan, one thinks of qualities such as integrity, honesty, trust -- and I'm sure these are some of the same qualities the president saw before he made his announcement."
They are qualities that thrust Mr. Rooney into the middle of the league's labor agreements and disagreements with its players. While Mr. Rooney represented management, the NFL Players Association had a trust in him to the point that former union head Gene Upshaw called Mr. Rooney a friend. Mr. Upshaw died last year and the union named a new executive director last week, DeMaurice Smith. The collective bargaining agreement is set to expire in two years and if there is no extension, 2010 will be an uncapped salary year.
Normally, Mr. Rooney would be in the middle of working on a new CBA with the NFL and its union.
"It depends on how much time he'll have," Mr. Browne said. "He had a very good relationship with Gene Upshaw, but also from the management side his impact was felt again in advising the commissioner on labor positions."
Mr. Rooney has been involved in the Steelers daily operations for more than 50 years, since the 1950s, and was handed control of the team by his father in the mid-1960s.
Art Rooney Sr. officially turned over the title of president to Dan in 1975.
First Published March 18, 2009 12:00 am