There are a few professional sports franchises that have a one-name association with them.
New York Giants: Mara. New York Yankees: Steinbrenner. Oakland Raiders: Davis. Los Angeles Lakers: Showtime. Dallas Cowboys: “Jerry-world”.
One of those biggest names passed earlier today. Rooney – as in Dan, the chairman of my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers.
Before I become too depressed, let me go into the reasons why Mr. Rooney was so beloved in all of professional sports.
First, we all know how successful of an owner he was.
After Mr. Rooney took over as team president, my Steelers won four championships in six years — Super Bowls IX, X, XIII and XIV. He also played a large role in assembling the 1974 draft class, considered the greatest class in NFL history, in which the Steelers picked four future Hall of Famers — Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster.
In 2003, Mr. Rooney took on the role of chairman and his son, Art Rooney II, took over the presidency. Since then, my Steelers won two more championships in four years — Super Bowls XL and XLIII.
Here are more accomplishments my Steelers had under Rooney’s stewardship:
- Eight conference championships: 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1995, 2005, 2008, 2010
- 22 Division championships
- AFC Central: 1972, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1983, 1984, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2001
- AFC North: 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2014, 2016
Given all of the success the Steelers had on the field under Mr. Rooney’s leadership, he made a bigger impact off the field.
Mr. Rooney was a fixture around Pittsburgh, constantly giving back to the community and sponsoring programs for those in need. He also strongly encouraged his players to do the same.
But if there is one thing that REALLY made his legacy to me, it was the “Rooney Rule”. The rule was created in 2003 and requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation positions. It was named in honor of Mr. Rooney, who had served as chairman of the league’s diversity committee.
As a result, more minorities have been given opportunities to become head coaches in the NFL. In fact, one could argue that Mr. Rooney is the biggest beneficiary of that rule. It netted them Mike Tomlin.
Oh, and there’s that U.S. ambassador to Ireland gig given by President Barack Obama in 2009.
Yet if you ever had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Rooney, you would never know of all of those accolades. He was said to be one of the most unassuming, humble human beings in professional sports.
In a world that is overly-populated with dudes with massive egos and minimal integrity, I felt lucky to pull for an NFL team owned by a classy individual such as Mr. Rooney.
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