A Few Minutes with Dan Rooney

Tonight, the Steelers pay tribute to the greatest players of the last 75 years before they battle the Baltimore Ravens. It’s sure to be an eye-opening experience for those who think Steelers football began in the 1970’s. However, the team has a long, rich history and one man has witnessed it all first hand … and has written a book about it.

Dan Rooney is the chairman of the team, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and part of what is widely considered one of Pittsburgh’s premier families. I have gotten to know him over the years while covering both news and sports and what has always struck me is how normal and unassuming this man is despite the fact he is the patriarch of arguably the most successful franchise is the NFL.

I spent some time talking with Mr Rooney and his wife about his new book – which he wrote over the course of two years. He would come home after work and write out his thoughts on a yellow legal pad His wife Pat, a former teacher, would review his writings. He chose to write a book that was not a “tell-all” but a “tell all” about the history of the NFL and the Steelers place in that history. His publishers asked for juicy details, but Rooney instead to tell a historical tale – minus the embellishment – and by sticking to the facts, his booking is more compelling and enlightening.

While I have not always agreed with the Steelers stance on many off-the field issues ( i.e. casino traffic and the construction of Heinz Field ), I do admire this man and how he has maintained and grown his father’s franchise into the signature symbol for the city and this region. Most of all, I think he has done it with a style and grace we normally don’t see in team owners.

Here’s the perfect example: During Super Bowl XXX in Phoenix, Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones was anything but subtle. He had his team stay in the finest hotel in Arizona and Jones, himself, held daily press conferences. Rooney? I remember seeing him walking around the team lobby in a modest hotel in Scottsdale and taking time to say “hi” to fans wearing a Steelers jacket and never drawing attention to himself.

Maybe a better example is the day I had to stop down at the Steeler offices to pick up a media guide back in 1998. Sharon and I were dating at the time and I asked her to sit in the lobby while I went to the executive offices. When I came back, she told me about a older gentleman who came out to the lobby to say “hi” and ask her if she needed a cup of coffee or a water. Who was this kind and attentive gentleman? She looked over her shoulder and pointed him out as he walked back into his office. It was Dan Rooney.

This 75th celebration is the brainchild of Mr. Rooney and whether or not you follow pro football in Pittsburgh, you have to admire how he has taken what is really just a football team and made part of the fabric of Pittsburgh. By the way, Rooney’s book is not a bad read.

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