Steelers chairman Dan Rooney dies at 84

Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, one of the NFL's most influential and popular executives, has died. He was 84.

Rooney took over operation of the team in the 1960s from his father, Art, who founded the franchise. From there, Dan Rooney oversaw six NFL championships for a team that had never before played in an NFL title game.

"Few men have contributed as much to the National Football League as Dan Rooney," commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he was one of the finest men in the history of our game and it was a privilege to work alongside him for so many years. Dan's dedication to the game, to the players and coaches, to his beloved Pittsburgh, and to Steelers fans everywhere was unparalleled. He was a role model and trusted colleague to commissioners since Bert Bell, countless NFL owners, and so many others in and out of the NFL.

Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, one of the NFL's most influential and popular executives, has died. He was 84.

Rooney took over operation of the team in the 1960s from his father, Art, who founded the franchise. From there, Dan Rooney oversaw six NFL championships for a team that had never before played in an NFL title game.

"Few men have contributed as much to the National Football League as Dan Rooney," commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he was one of the finest men in the history of our game and it was a privilege to work alongside him for so many years. Dan's dedication to the game, to the players and coaches, to his beloved Pittsburgh, and to Steelers fans everywhere was unparalleled. He was a role model and trusted colleague to commissioners since Bert Bell, countless NFL owners, and so many others in and out of the NFL.

Off the field, Rooney was appointed U.S. ambassador to Ireland in 2009 by President Barack Obama and served until his resignation in 2012. In March 2016, the Jackie Robinson Foundation honored Rooney with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

"Dan Rooney was a great friend of mine,'' Obama said in a statement, "but more importantly, he was a great friend to the people of Pittsburgh, a model citizen, and someone who represented the United States with dignity and grace on the world stage. I knew he'd do a wonderful job when I named him as our United States Ambassador to Ireland, but naturally, he surpassed my high expectations, and I know the people of Ireland think fondly of him today.''

Rooney was born July 20, 1932, in Pittsburgh, to Art Rooney Sr., who founded the Steelers the following year. Dan Rooney played football for North Catholic High School and was named to the 1949 all-Catholic League second team, notably losing the first-team spot to quarterback Johnny Unitas -- whom the Steelers later signed, and cut.

Rooney began working for his father in 1955 after graduating from Duquesne University. He was named president of the Steelers in 1975 and held that position until 2003, when he took on the role of chairman and his son, Art Rooney II, took over the presidency.

"My job is to do what's best for the organization and to make that decision regardless of what the consequences are to me personally," Dan Rooney once said. "I take my position very seriously. What I want is an organization that can be together, one where everybody in the place has the same goal, and that is to win."

Rooney, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000, garnered respect throughout the Steelers organization, from players to coaches to scouts. Key Steelers players routinely reference Rooney's impact on the team.

"I have played with guys that have come from other teams. They look shocked when they see our owners, whether it's Mr. Dan Rooney or Mr. Art Rooney II, walking around the locker room and walking around practice," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said in January. "They don't ever see their owners. We see our owners every single day. I think it's just a blessing to know that they care about us, and that's one of the reasons we want to go win."

Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, currently an NFL analyst with CBS, paid tribute to Dan Rooney with a tweet Thursday.

Rooney remained a fixture in the Steelers facility over the last few years. He had an affinity for St. Vincent College, which has hosted 51 training camps for the Steelers.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones called it "a sad day for anyone who has had an association with the NFL," noting that Rooney "made all of our lives better."

"He shaped the league with instincts, wisdom and a soft-spoken velvet touch," Jones said. "He was a steward and a guardian for the growth and popularity of the NFL, because he loved the game so much."

A confidant of three commissioners, Rooney played a major role in negotiations with the players' union and in league expansion in 1976 to Seattle and Tampa, Florida. He also was involved in scheduling and realignment decisions.

Former commissioner Paul Tagliabue called Rooney "an extraordinary man of faith, conviction, reason and peace."

"He loved his family, his Steelers and his Pittsburgh," Tagliabue said in a statement. "His values were of America, Ireland and his Church. He was an inspiration to millions throughout America, and in many other lands. He was at home on mean streets, in locker rooms and chapels, with presidents, popes, poets and visionaries. Few have served so many so well. Dan was my mentor, role model, indispensable supporter and great friend during five decades. In the NFL, he is irreplaceable. Our thoughts and prayers are with Patricia and his exceptional family."

Rooney is survived by Patricia, his wife of 65 years, as well as seven children, 20 grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and four brothers.

A viewing for family and friends will be held Monday at Heinz Field, followed by Rooney's funeral Tuesday.

Dan Rooney walking the sideline before his Pittsburgh Steelers played the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl in 2009. Credit Amy Sancetta/Associated Press



Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney, an N.F.L. Force and Link to Football’s Past, Dies at 84

Dan Rooney, the longtime Pittsburgh Steelers chairman who helped shape the modern National Football League and was one of the last surviving links to its founders, died on Thursday in Pittsburgh. He was 84.

The Steelers announced his death on their website.

“My father meant so much to all of us, and so much to so many past and present members of the Steelers organization,” said Mr. Rooney’s son, the team president Arthur Rooney II. “He gave his heart and soul to the Steelers, the National Football League and the City of Pittsburgh.”

Mr. Rooney’s health had deteriorated in recent weeks, and he had uncharacteristically missed the league’s annual meeting in Phoenix in late March. In a speech there to the other team owners, Commissioner Roger Goodell praised Mr. Rooney for his decades of service, and flew to Pittsburgh to see him soon after the meeting concluded.

Except for a stint as ambassador to Ireland in the Obama administration, Mr. Rooney was part of the Steelers almost from birth, having been born the year before his father, Art, bought the team in 1933.

Mr. Rooney started out as a water boy and held nearly every job in the team’s front office, eventually becoming chairman. During his nearly eight decades with the team, the Steelers became one of the league’s most successful franchises, winning six Super Bowl titles — more than any other team.

Mr. Rooney was also a powerful force in the N.F.L. and a confidant of commissioners going back to Bert Bell, who was himself once an owner of the Steelers. Mr. Rooney worked to settle the often-tumultuous labor disputes of the 1970s and ’80s. Without the bombast that characterized some other owners, he was a consensus builder who could work with players to hammer out differences.

Among his many roles, Mr. Rooney was on the expansion committee that helped put teams in Seattle and Tampa, and he helped engineer the merger between the N.F.L. and the American Football League, in part by persuading his father to let the Steelers join the new conference that would be home to many A.F.L. teams.

Mr. Rooney also played a central role in selecting new commissioners, including Mr. Goodell. It was Mr. Rooney who was chosen to go to Mr. Goodell’s hotel room in August 2006 to tell him that he had been elected.

Long a supporter of progressive causes, Mr. Rooney recruited the league’s first black executive and pushed for the adoption of what has become known as the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for a head coach or general manager opening. The rule has since been expanded to include the consideration of women for front-office positions.

Mr. Rooney, however, rarely sought the spotlight. In 1989, when he helped lead the search for a successor to Commissioner Pete Rozelle, several owners pushed Mr. Rooney’s name forward as an alternative to Jim Finks and Paul Tagliabue, two other candidates. Asked about the odds of his seeking the job, Mr. Rooney was blunt.

“Slim and none,” he told reporters. “No, make that none.”

Mr. Tagliabue got the job.

In a league filled with billionaires and outsize personalities, Mr. Rooney was more interested in deflecting attention than receiving it, particularly when he turned into an elder statesman surrounded by owners who had made their money outside of football.

Like other second- and third-generation owners, including John Mara of the Giants and Michael Bidwill of the Arizona Cardinals, Mr. Rooney’s primary concern was the health of his team and the league, not an outside business.

Few owners wore as many hats or were as universally admired as Mr. Rooney. Nor have many of them spanned as many generations as Mr. Rooney, who worked with some of the original architects of the league, including George Halas in Chicago and Curly Lambeau in Green Bay, Wis.

“In some ways I think of myself as the Last Steeler, the last of the founding generation of the N.F.L.,” Rooney wrote in “Dan Rooney: My 75 years With the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL” (2007).

Daniel Milton Rooney was born in Pittsburgh on July 20, 1932, a year before the Steelers entered the still-fledgling N.F.L. His home on the North Side of Pittsburgh, he would note, was just three blocks from where the first professional football game is thought to have been played, 40 years before he was born.

“I guess you could say the game is in my blood,” he wrote.

The oldest of five sons of Art Rooney and the former Kathleen McNulty, Mr. Rooney lived almost his entire life in Pittsburgh. In his memoir, he recalled playing football with friends and his brothers — Art Jr., Tim, Pat and John — in the shadows of the steel mills that powered Pittsburgh’s economy.

“Family, faith, football — those are my priorities,” Mr. Rooney wrote.

A year after he was born, his father, a boxing promoter who hoped to own a baseball team, paid $2,500 for the Steelers, who were then named the Pirates. The N.F.L. was struggling to survive during the Depression, but Art Rooney saw potential for the team in western Pennsylvania, a football hotbed.

Most years, the Steelers were little match for the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers. But Dan Rooney was hooked. When he was 9 years old he became the Steelers’ water boy. He ran errands, cleaned the locker room and painted the team’s helmets.

“I loved being out there, loafing with the players and working with the team,” he wrote. “I did whatever needed to be done and didn’t get paid much to do it, but I felt part of the team — I was a Steeler.”

Mr. Rooney played quarterback and halfback at North Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, and thought seriously about becoming a Roman Catholic priest.

Instead, he earned a degree in accounting from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. In short order, he was handling the team’s logistics and negotiating contracts.

In 1955, he pushed the team to draft Johnny Unitas, another western Pennsylvania native. To Mr. Rooney’s lasting regret, the Steelers’ coaches released him before the season. Unitas went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Baltimore Colts.

During the Steelers’ playoff drought, from 1948 to 1971, Mr. Rooney and his wife, Patricia, built a family, with nine children.

His survivors include his wife; his brothers; his daughters, Joan Clancy, Patricia Gerrero and Mary Duffy; his sons, Arthur II, John, Jim and Dan Jr.; 20 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. His daughter Kathleen died in 1987, and his daughter Rita died in 2012.

The Rooney family has been inextricably linked to the Mara family, which owns half of the Giants. Dan Rooney and Wellington Mara continued the friendship of their fathers, Art Sr. and Tim, and members of the families have also married.

The Steelers’ fortunes began to turn around in the late 1960s. The Steelers became the first N.F.L. club to hire an African-American executive when Bill Nunn, the sports editor of The Pittsburgh Courier and an expert at scouting talented players from traditionally black colleges, began working part time for the team in 1967. (Mr. Nunn died in 2014.)

Not long after, the team hired Chuck Noll as its coach after interviewing the Penn State coach Joe Paterno. Mr. Rooney and the Steelers then drafted players who became the nucleus of their championship teams of the 1970s: Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Jack Lambert and many others.

Mr. Rooney took over the Steelers after his father died in 1988, although he owned only 16 percent of the team, the same amount as each of his four brothers. In 2008, Mr. Rooney bought out his brothers’ shares to comply with N.F.L. rules mandating that one person own at least 30 percent of a club, and that no owner be directly involved in a gambling enterprise. (The Rooney family owns stakes in horse and dog racing tracks.)

Mr. Rooney received his pilot’s license in 1975 and earned the nickname Crash after an accident in 2000, the same year he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (He and his father, who was inducted in 1964, were the second father-son pair to be enshrined; Tim and Wellington Mara were the first.) Three years later, Mr. Rooney handed the job of club president to his son Arthur II.

President Barack Obama appointed Mr. Rooney ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, in part because he had raised millions of dollars for the American Ireland Fund, an educational and philanthropic organization, and helped establish the Rooney Prize, which is given to young Irish poets and writers. He served from July 2009 to December 2012, but he frequently returned to the Steelers and the N.F.L.

“Football and the Steelers have taught me lessons about perseverance,” he said, “the belief in possibilities, the expansion of boundaries, the kindness of people and the unpredictability of life.”


Dan Rooney, former US ambassador to Ireland, dies aged 84

Dan Rooney, a former US ambassador to Ireland and co-founder of the Ireland Funds charity, has died aged 84.
He helped to set up the charity in 1976 and since then it has raised more than $500,000 (£400,000) for thousands of Irish organisations around the world.

Irish President Michael D Higgins led tributes, saying his contributions to peace and reconciliation had left a "real and tangible legacy".

He said he was "deeply committed to Ireland and the Irish people".

Mr Higgins added that Mr Rooney - whose grandfather was originally from Newry, County Down - was "always conscious of his Irish roots".

'Thousands have benefited'
Mr Rooney was born in Pittsburgh in 1932, into a family which helped to found the American Football team, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

He later became chairman of the side which has won more Super Bowl titles than any other National Football League (NFL) team.

Between 2009 and 2012, the Irish American served as the United States' ambassador to Ireland.

He was appointed to the role by then US president Barack Obama, who described him as "an unwavering supporter of Irish peace, culture and education".

He co-founded his charity with Irish businessman, Sir Anthony O'Reilly, in 1976, with the aim of supporting and promoting peace efforts and Irish culture.

In 1987, their organisation merged with the American Irish Foundation and today, it is known as the Ireland Funds.

John Fitzpatrick, chairman of the fund, said that he was an "utter gentleman and utterly selfless".

"The work of the Ireland Funds is his legacy and Ireland is a better place because of him.

"Thousands have benefited from his care and concern."

Mr Rooney's grandfather, also called Daniel, emigrated from County Down to the US in the 19th Century and opened a saloon in Pittsburgh.

The Newry man's son, Arthur, founded the team that would become the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1933.

In 2008, Dan Rooney was awarded an honorary CBE for contributions to peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

He was also known as the man behind the NFL's 'Rooney Rule', which requires teams to interview at least one black or ethnic minority candidate for a head coach vacancy.

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