Steeler fan knows the story or how Art Rooney, the founder of their
great team, funded the purchase of his football franchise in 1932 by
a win on the horses. It was suggested that he won $250,000 - which is
a lot of money today, let alone all those years ago. Fortunately for
Steeler fans, Mr. Rooney decided to invest his winnings in a pro football
Rooney was born in Coultersville, Pennsylvania, east of Pittsburgh on
January 27, 1901. "My mother's people were all coal miners and my father's
people were all steel workers," Mr. Rooney remarked. "They all worked
in the mills."
Rooney's roots were always important to him, and he did not stray far
from them. "We lived on the second floor of my father's saloon - Dan
Rooney's saloon," he said. "He owned it for years and years. It was
a rough neighbourhood, in a way, but in those days kids were on the
playground from the time the sun came up to the time it came down. We
played baseball and football and boxed." Mr. Rooney's boyhood home above
the bar was on a site where Three Rivers Stadium now stands.
was Art Rooney's first love and when he founded his pro football team
he called them the Pirates. He changed their name in 1941 because his
club was getting confused with the baseball team. "We figured Steelers
was the proper name because Pittsburgh is the steel capital of the world."
It was back then anyway.
all knew and loved the Chief," said Sophie Masloff, the mayor of Pittsburgh.
"He stopped to talk to everyone. To Art Rooney, everyone he met was
someone special. He made you feel important."
Lambert, "My fondest memory of playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers was
the twinkle in Arthur J. Rooney's eyes. When we pass the statue, we
will be forever reminded of that twinkle."
Harris, "This remarkable and grand man has made a lot of special times
for all of us. He was always there to help and to give. And this feeling
filtered down to the players. I think the Steelers' players give more
to their community than any other team in professional sport."
Art Rooney died ten years ago aged 87, County Commissioner Tom Foerster
said, "Normally, you introduce the mayor of any city as that city's
number one citizen. But everyone knew Mr. Rooney was our number one
fully convinced he did more for this city than R.K. Mellon did for the
business community and David Lawrence and any of the mayors who followed
him, including Richard Caliguiri, did politically." Nothing has happened
since to change the perception.
anything, Mr. Rooney is remembered more fondly. He represented a kinder,
gentler Pittsburgh, certainly a more innocent time in the professional
sports world. He came long before talk of Plan B, PNC Park, personal
seat licenses, $17.6 billion television contracts, $25 million contracts
for players and $2 million salaries for coaches.
don't think he's be too thrilled about what's going on today," said
Dan Rooney who has run the Steelers since his father's death. "I can
remember him telling me, 'You'll rue the day you take all the money
from the networks. It won't be our game as much anymore. It'll be their
game. He even told us late in his life that it would be OK if we ever
decided to sell the team. He reminded us we weren't big money people."
isn't well known, but towards the end of his life, one of his great
desires was to own a minor league baseball team. He thought it would
be neat to be involved with young, hungry kids on their way up." That's
one of the few wishes Art Rooney failed to realise.
did it all his life, from his days as a rough, tough - yes even brawling
- rogue in the 1920s to his final years as a kind, saintly beloved figure.
He loved his family, was loyal to his Catholic faith and cherished his
friends. He won big at the race track and even bigger with the Steelers,
at least in the glorious 1970s. He liked politics - his family says
he probably rolled in his grave when his grandson, Art II, turned down
a chance to be a U.S. senator in 1991 - and loved his cigars. He even
had a fondness for newspaper people.
the voice of the man in the street," the late Cardinal John L. Wright
once said of Mr. Rooney, who went to his grave considering that one
of his greatest compliments. There are tributes to Mr. Rooney everywhere.
There's the Art Rooney Statue, built with donations of more than $371,000
raised in nine months at gate D of Three Rivers Stadium. There's the
Rooney Dormitory at St. Vincent College, the Rooney Hall at Indiana
University of Pennsylvania and Rooney Field at Duquesne University.
the Rooney Middle School on the North Side, and the Rooney Scholarship
for North Side students, the Rooney Catholic Youth Association Award,
the Rooney 5K race and the Rooney Pace at Yonkers racetrack. And coming
to the North Side in 2001, almost certainly will be the Art Rooney Stadium.
if you ask the Rooney family members how Art Rooney would like to be
remembered, they'll mention the famous NFL United Way television commercial.
He was filmed late in his life surrounded by children at Three Rivers
Stadium. He thought that represented the best of not just the Steelers
and the league, but also Pittsburgh.
was always proud to call himself " a Pittsburgher" because, as
he once said, "If you ask a Pittsburgher where some place is, he'll
stop and tell you, and if he has nothing to do, he will take you there."
family also talks about the memorial plaque in the vestibule at St.
Peter Roman Catholic Church on the North Side, Mr. Rooney's parish for
almost 80 years. "A man of unfeigned charity," the tribute reads.
postcards from Mr. Rooney were considered treasures. Billy Sullivan,
the late owner of the New England Patriots, recalled receiving one in
1984 concerning former Steelers running back Greg Hawthorne, who had
joined the Patriots.
got to know the young man," Mr. Rooney wrote. "He's a fine human being
who can contribute to the success of any team." "I went into the locker
room and showed it to Greg," Sullivan said. "Tears came to his face."
Bay's coach Tony Dungy, who played for the Steelers from 1977-78, has
a similar memory. "When I got traded to San Francisco, Mr. Rooney sent
a letter to my mom saying how proud he was to have had me on the team.
I was only a backup there for a short time, but that letter was thrill
for my parents. He did that kind of stuff all the time."
Ford once pushed through a crowd to meet Mr. Rooney. Tip O'Neill was
a friend. Lawrence Foerster was a friend and politician James J. Coyne
were among his closest confidants. Frank Sinatra used to send him cigars
you didn't have to be powerful or rich to be Mr. Rooney's pal. "He always
used to remind us that he wasn't a big shot and we weren't either,"
said Dan Rooney, the eldest of Mr. Rooney's five sons.
before Mr. Rooney Sr. died, a black man approached Dan and Art Jr. at
Mercy Hospital, claiming to be their father's "best friend." The sons
didn't know him, but they listened raptly as he explained he was a porter
at the airport. It turned out he used to handle Rooney Sr.'s luggage.
"He really thought he was my dad's best friend," Rooney Jr. said. "That's
how The Chief made him feel. He always had the knack with people."
Giampaolo, a long time member of the Three Rivers Stadium ground crew
who died in 1990, used to tell a wonderful Rooney story. He was hospitalised
for three months in 1987 after a kidney transplant. Rooney offered to
help with the medical bills. He visited once a week and regularly sent
fruit baskets. He made sure Giampaolo's widowed mother had a ride to
and from the hospital.
it was a chance meeting at Rooney's dog track in Palm Beach that Giampaolo
always remembered. Mr. Rooney found out he was there and invited him
up to his box, where he and his wife Kathleen, were having dinner with
sportscaster Curt Gowdy and his wife. "I'll never forget the way he
introduced me," Giampaolo recalled. "'This is Ralph Giampaolo, a member
of our organisation.' Not a member of our ground crew. Not some rinky-dink
bum. But a member of our organisation. As far as Gowdy knew, I was vice
president of the team. Mr. Rooney made me feel 10 feet tall."
Rooney laughed when he heard that story. "He loved the ground crew guys.
He used to yell at me for not taking the free little bottles of whiskey
when I flew first class. He mad me bring them back for [head groundskeeper]
Dirt DiNardo to give to his men." Dan Rooney said he hears new
stories about his father all the time.
he attended the funeral of Mary Roseboro, his dad's long time housekeeper,
he was cornered by Evans Baker Jr., the funeral director at Jones Funeral
Homes in the Hill District. He's the nephew of Cum Posey, who ran the
Homestead Grays," Dan Rooney said. "He just wanted to tell me how the
Chief helped keep the team going financially. I had heard bits and pieces
about that over the years, but to hear it in such detail was amazing.
My father really was a man of the people."
Bennett Williams once told me my father was friends with every hoodlum
in America," Dan Rooney said. "The Chief wouldn't have been insulted.
People were people to him. He always said he wasn't a saint, that he
touched all the bases in life."
Rooney's love for the race track - he took his wife to Belmont Park
for their honeymoon - is legendary. Not so well known was his willingness
to use his fists for a good cause. According to family lore, Rooney
was dining one night in the late 1920s at Luchow's in New York City
when he and the other patrons were disturbed by a very big and very
loud drunk. Rooney quieted him, befriended him, even brought him several
drinks. Finally when the man was good and soused, Rooney taught him
a lesson about manners by giving him a thorough whipping.
just want to thank you for what you did because that lout had been bothering
people in here for too long," another patron told Rooney before shaking
his hand and introducing himself. It was Al Smith, the governor of New
York and later a presidential candidate. "My father could be so tough,"
Dan Rooney said. "He always taught us, 'Treat people the way you want
to be treated.' But then he would add, 'But never ever allow them to
mistake your kindness for weakness.'"
Regan was Art Rooney's secretary from 1952 until he died on August 25th,
1988. She said, that like Dan Rooney, a day doesn't go by when she doesn't
think of Mr. Rooney. She still visits his statue at least twice a week.
Her desk at Steelers headquarters is just outside his old office, which
has been converted into the team library.
day when she sits down and looks up, she sees him staring back at her
from a huge portrait, a big smile on his face, a cigar in his hand.
She figures she's the luckiest person in the place. "People say to me
that he sounded too good to be true," Mrs. Regan said. "But he was the
genuine thing. He wasn't a saint on earth or anything like. He was just
a good, wonderful man." Even if he slept in occasionally.