Remembering Dan Rooney: A look back at the life of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ owner
PITTSBURGH — Just hours after Pitt’s spring game ended on Saturday, the crew at Heinz Field got to work.
Some of them lugged a plastic stencil out to midfield, starting the transformation from Pitt script to the Steelers logo. In the end zone, others began changing the painted ‘Pittsburgh’ from blue and gold to black and gold. Later on, they would cover the Pitt banners with their Steelers counterparts, erasing nearly any evidence the Panthers had an event that afternoon.
Workers at Heinz Field prepping stadium for Monday night’s gathering to honor life of #steelers Dan Rooney pic.twitter.com/RYwqxsAjNP
— Will Graves (@WillGravesAP) April 15, 2017
On Monday, a public memorial was scheduled for Steelers’ owner Dan Rooney, who died last Thursday at the age of 84.
The workers made sure Heinz Field was ready for him.
The quick turnover wasn’t the only nod to Rooney on Saturday. Pitt’s players wore the Steelers’ logos on their helmets. The coaches wore Steelers’ logo pins. Before the game, there was an extended moment of silence.
Afterward, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi touched on what Rooney meant to Pittsburgh, to football and to him.
“I’m going to miss him walking down the balcony there by my window,” Narduzzi said. “One of the nicest guys in the world. He’ll be dearly missed.”
Our players will wear this helmet in tomorrow’s Spring Game to pay our respects to a great man, Mr. Dan Rooney. #PittsburghLegend pic.twitter.com/yFNFT56ZaI
— Pat Narduzzi (@CoachDuzzPittFB) April 14, 2017
‘You made me feel welcome’
Rooney spent almost his entire professional life working with the Steelers. His father, Art Rooney, founded the team in 1933, the year after Rooney’s birth. Dan served as team president from 1975-2012 and chairman from 2003 until his death.
Rooney took over operation of the team from Art in the 1960s. The Steelers went on to win six NFL championships, including four Super Bowls in six years (Super Bowls IX, X, XIII and XIV).
Rooney was well-known for his close relationship with his players and his down-to-earth attitude and humble spirit. Many current and former Steelers reacted on social media to the news of his death, including wide receiver Antonio Brown.
“One of the most genuine and humble human beings I’ve had the pleasure of knowing,” Brown wrote on Instragram. “You motivated me not only to excel on the field but also in life.”
Dear Mr. Rooney, When we first met in 2010 you embraced me with open arms. You made me feel welcome. You looked at me as more than just another jersey number. One of the most genuine, and humble human beings I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. You motivated me not only to excel on the field but also in life. This season, the number 84 on my uniform will represent the 84 years you spent on this earth making an impact on the lives of others. I’ll miss you my friend. Thank you for everything [?] -AB
Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010, Rooney is known for championing what has become known as the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview minority candidates for vacant head coaching and senior football operation positions.
In 2002, the NFL faced criticism for its subpar record of hiring minority coaches. The league started 2003 with just two black coaches. Then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue called Rooney, who was the chairman of the league’s diversity committee. Rooney provided his support.
Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph released a statement on Rooney’s impact.
“I know he was a champion for diversity,” Joseph said, “not only around the NFL but also within his team. I believe the opportunity he gave coach Tomlin many years ago opened up a lot of doors for minority coaches around the league, including myself.
“When you talk about the Rooney Rule, and giving everyone a chance to interview for these jobs, that’s a credit to Mr. Rooney and his incredible legacy.”
‘Eternally grateful for everything you have done’
For as much as Rooney accomplished around the football field, his impact stretched far beyond it.
He graduated from North Catholic — now known as Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic — in 1950 and was a strong supporter of the school throughout this life. In 2016, he provided funding to upgrade the athletic complex and library. CW North Catholic dubbed the practice complex the Ambassador Dan Rooney Athletic Complex and the library the Patricia Rooney Library, after his wife.
“North Catholic & the Burgh are eternally grateful for everything you have done,” the North Catholic football team said on Twitter after Rooney’s death.
Thoughts & prayers to friends & family of Mr. Dan Rooney. North Catholic & the Burgh are eternally grateful for everything you have done. pic.twitter.com/wMPUVVtCAb
— Trojan Football (@CWNCtrojans) April 13, 2017
After graduating from North Catholic, Rooney attended college at Duquesne. He helped develop the football stadium, which is named Arthur J. Rooney Field.
“The ways in which Dan Rooney has helped to lift up the people of Western Pennsylvania, his alma mater and those fortunate enough to have known him are far too great to enumerate,” Duquesne President Ken Gormley said in a statement.
Rooney also threw his support behind the WPIAL, particularly when it meant offering football programs the chance to play their championships at Three Rivers Stadium and then Heinz Field.
“He was totally committed to providing the kids an opportunity to play in the best venue in Pittsburgh,” WPIAL executive director Tim O’Malley said in a statement. “He thought so highly of the sport and the kids who played it. We’re so very appreciate for what he provided to us.”
From 2009-12, Rooney served under former president Barack Obama as the United States’ ambassador to the Republic of Ireland. Obama released a statement after his death, calling him a “great friend” to him and Pittsburgh.
“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 of him fondly today,” Obama said in the statement. “And I know the people of Pittsburgh, who loved him not only for the Super Bowl championships he brought as the owner of the Steelers, but for his generosity of spirit, mourn his passing today.”