Dan Rooney

My 75 Years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL


By Dan Rooney

With Andrew E. Masich

With David F. Halaas

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Legendary chairman of the five-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, Dan Rooney, tells his life story for the first time. From growing up on Pittsburgh's notorious North Side, to vying with Johnny Unitas for top high school quarterback honors in Western Pennsylvania, from learning how to run a major sports franchise from his father, Art Rooney (“the Chief”), to helping shape the modern NFL, Rooney serves up a fascinating account of personal and professional achievement.

He also discusses his relationships with players, coaches, NFL commissioners, his beloved family, and the devoted fans known as “Steelers Nation.”

Whether advocating hiring more minority head coaches through creation of the Rooney Rule or helping pave the way for the merger of the AFL and NFL, Rooney reveals the dynamics that have made him such a respected force in pro football.


To all the Steelers who played or coached, the support staff,
and those who managed the team—for 75 years.
And to our fans—the Steelers Nation—
the best in the National Football League.

PREFACE By Commissioner Roger Goodell
The story of Dan Rooney is the story of the National Football League.
When Dan was born in 1932, the NFL was still in its formative stages, a struggling league of eight teams that was considered a minor attraction on the American sports scene. The following year, Art Rooney, Dan’s father, took a leap of faith based on his love of football and bought one of three new franchises in the NFL. He called his team the Pittsburgh Pirates and later changed it to the Steelers to better reflect the city.
Dan Rooney, the Steelers, and the NFL grew up together. There were the normal growing pains, but as they flowered into maturity over the past seventy-five years, all three became unparalleled stories of inspirational success.
Football was my passion as a kid growing up in the 1960s and 1970s in Washington, DC, and the New York City area. But I had no real appreciation for the Steelers until I attended Washington and Jefferson College in Western Pennsylvania in the late seventies. That’s when I experienced the tremendous influence that the game of football, the Steelers, and the remarkable Rooney family have on the entire region.
The Steelers were in the process of winning an unprecedented four Super Bowls in the seventies, with Chuck Noll, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Greene, and many other supremely talented contributors leading the charge. It was an amazing phenomenon—the region’s passion for football, the way the Steelers united the community, and the love and respect that the fans had for Art, Dan, and the rest of the Rooney family. It was clear that it was all very special.
A few years later in 1982, I had the good fortune to land an internship with the NFL commissioner’s office in New York. It didn’t take long to figure out that Dan Rooney held a unique place among the NFL’s leaders.
Dan was an owner who was active in league affairs. He was a man of integrity and dignity who was always willing to be involved and helpful. He was deeply immersed in the NFL’s labor negotiations, playing a key role for decades. He was seen as a voice of reason during many difficult discussions because he had a strong sense of the best interests of the game; he was practical; and he knew how to forge a consensus.
At league meetings, you could see how the other owners and the commissioner valued Dan’s opinion. He knew the game and league as well as anyone. He had good football and business sense. He understood the complex partnership aspects of a sports league. He was a good listener. He gave sound advice and fought for his beliefs, but he was always supportive when decisions were made. You could see how Commissioner Rozelle and then Commissioner Tagliabue relied on Dan.
Now Dan Rooney is the patriarch of the league. He has been there longer than anyone else. He knew the NFL’s pioneers and listened to their stories. He is like a father figure to many of us in the NFL. He praises us when we do something good. More important, he lets us know when he disagrees with a decision and always offers alternatives. He is the conscience of the league. He reminds us of the special values that the NFL and the game of football represent.
I have been so privileged to have Dan as a mentor. As he has done for so many others, he helped bring me along with his support and his wisdom. When he became co-chairman of the search committee to find a new commissioner to succeed Paul Tagliabue, I knew that Dan would not do me any favors. I knew he would simply do what was best for the NFL by managing a fair and thorough process for all of the NFL owners.
At the end of that process, I was sitting in my hotel room in Chicago where the league owners were meeting to choose the new commissioner. There was a knock at the door. I opened it and there was Dan Rooney. He said, “Commissioner.” It is a moment we shared that I will never forget.
What a journey it has been for Dan Rooney, his wonderful family, the Steelers, and the NFL. This is a story that captures the rich history of America’s passion for football, the importance of family, and the unique success of the National Football League. Enjoy the ride and thanks for the memories, Dan. Let’s keep them coming.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
August 13, 2007

PREFACE By Paul Tagliabue
Dan Rooney’s life has been dedicated to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the National Football League—first observing league affairs as a wide-eyed youngster and then actively participating for decades as an owner, team executive, and league committee member.
In the mid-1940s, Dan watched his father, Art, and other league owners select Bert Bell as the league’s first post-World War II commissioner. Last year, Dan co-chaired, with Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, the league committee that recommended Roger Goodell to be the NFL’s current commissioner.
Between these events, Dan worked inexhaustibly with his father, his fellow owners, and with commissioners Bell, Rozelle, and me for six decades to help shape NFL football into America’s sports passion. He and his family will continue to do so with Commissioner Goodell.
Dan and the Rooney family have also lead the Steelers through decades of great black and gold football, creating legends (e.g., the “Immaculate Reception”) and legendary players (too many to name) along the way.
Over the decades, Dan’s leadership has extended to an extraordinary array of subjects, initiatives, and changes as the NFL evolved and became the globe’s strongest sports league.
When I first met Dan Rooney in the early 1970s, the Steelers had just begun play in the American Football Conference. They had switched conferences along with the Baltimore Colts and Cleveland Browns to join the ten teams of the former American Football League in the AFC, rather than stay in the NFC. The Steelers’ alignment in the AFC was not entirely popular with Steelers fans or within the Rooney family. But Dan saw that while it involved unsettling change, it reflected the NFL’s growth and was critical for fan interest nationwide. So he worked intensely to make a success of the Steelers’ new AFC divisional alignment.
Dan’s leadership did not stop there, however. He was deeply involved in resolving disputes and reaching agreements with the NFL Players Association from the 1970s into the present decade. His integrity and understanding of both football and team economics made him invaluable in negotiations on the college draft, the need for competitive balance on the football field, free agency, and player safety matters.
Dan often served as a spokesman for the league, locally and nationally. Dan’s personal qualities, wide experience in and out of football, and commitment to Pittsburgh’s people, neighborhoods, and community organizations prepared him well for this role. When the league faced congressional issues in the 1970s and 1980s, for example, Dan was usually the first person to be called by Commissioner Rozelle to join him in Washington to explain the league’s position. And Dan would frequently bring not just himself or other Rooneys, but allies and supporters of the Steelers from across the political spectrum—Pittsburgh’s leading companies, not-for-profit organizations, and labor unions.
New stadiums were another of Dan’s longtime priorities. Understanding what Three Rivers Stadium had meant to the Steelers, Dan pushed in the eighties and nineties for league policies that could help all teams build state-of-the-art stadiums. As an increasing number of NFL teams became frustrated in the nineties with difficult new stadium issues, Dan offered bold ideas. I’ll never forget Dan telling me, “We can’t have the Patriots leaving Boston and their fans just because some local politicians are creating trouble. All of us in the NFL need to put up some money to help all clubs build new stadiums and stay where they belong.” Shortly thereafter, the league’s membership endorsed an innovative program for leaguewide financial support of new stadium construction.
But Dan Rooney is not just an innovator, consensus builder, and peacemaker. He is a fighter who relishes a good argument or—when his convictions or core interests are challenged—even a tough lawsuit. For Dan, his right to fight to defend his principles, his Steelers, or his NFL in a courtroom is as crucial as a Steelers Super Bowl victory. Many pretenders and adversaries have learned this, including the USFL, the NFL Players Association, and others both inside and outside the NFL.
Dan Rooney’s love of the Steelers and the NFL grows out of his love for football, especially Pennsylvania football. “Do you know,” he would ask me, “that Pennsylvania leads all states in having the most Pro Football Hall of Famers?” “So what,” I would counter, “they didn’t all play for the Steelers.”
It didn’t matter to Dan. Often the objects of his admiration are athletes or coaches, especially those with ties to the Steelers, Pittsburgh, or Pennsylvania. Mention Unitas, Noll, or Dungy; Joe Paterno, Roberto Clemente, Mel Blount or Joe Greene; Tony Dorsett, Dan Marino, or Joe Namath—and Dan Rooney will recall a story or incident featuring their talents on the playing field or leadership in the community.
But Dan’s serious heroes are patriots, explorers, revolutionaries, poets, and men and women of faith. Mention Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, Michael Collins, Yeats, or Mother Teresa and you will have begun an illuminating conversation with Dan Rooney.
For Dan, these are the visionaries and achievers who inspire his leadership, not just in Pittsburgh or in the NFL, but in other lands and walks of life—such as with the American Ireland Fund and the Rooney Prize awarded annually to outstanding young Irish poets and fiction writers.
For Dan, these are the visionaries and achievers who provide the inspiration, values, and example that he believes we should all strive to display, whether in the NFL or in other aspects of our lives. These individuals understand history and tradition but are not irrationally bound by it. They combine conviction with openness to new ideas. And they have understood that the right course sometimes requires peacemaking—and sometimes fighting.
The story of Dan Rooney’s life focuses on the Rooney family, football, the Steelers, and the NFL. But it is a story that teaches much more. Whatever our career or interests, it is a story that offers invaluable lessons not just for our time but for generations to come.
Paul Tagliabue
NFL Commissioner (1989-2006)
August 15, 2007

By Andrew E. Masich and David F. Halaas
All of us wonder, at one time or another, about our purpose in life. Some people are lucky enough to discover their life’s work, while others struggle to find meaning. This is the story of a man who has a clear sense of himself, and his purpose. Dan Rooney is a man of family, faith, and football. The clarity of his vision attracted us to this project. We are honored and privileged to work with a man who has been at the very center of building the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the most beloved and successful sports franchises in history. At the same time, he has been an integral part of the growth of the National Football League as football evolved into America’s game.
When Dan first mentioned to us that friends and colleagues had suggested his story should be told in a biography, we encouraged him to pursue the project, not as a traditional biography but as an autobiography. We thought the story should be told from his point of view. At first he resisted the idea. He is a genuinely humble man and said, “That’s just not me.” But we at the History Center, his family, and his friends persisted. His story is important. He has made history.
Over the course of the last two years, we spent thousands of hours interviewing him, traveling with him, and just plain getting to know him. We talked to his family, who shared their experiences and insights as well. In addition we met with players, coaches, colleagues, and friends. We pored over archives, old newspapers, and scrapbooks to fill in missing pieces and confirm Dan’s recollections. All in all, his memories are remarkably accurate and vivid, considering they span seventy-five years—years of great change filled with a bewildering array of people and events. We found a man devoted to his family and friends, a man of abiding faith, and a man of uncompromising dedication to football. Football to him is more than a game. In many ways, it symbolizes the strength and vitality of the people and place he loves—Pittsburgh. You can’t really separate Dan Rooney from Pittsburgh any more than you can separate him from football. It’s in his blood; it’s part of his character. As we worked with the Steelers organization—at the South Side complex, at Heinz Field, on the road—we saw his mark everywhere. The closeness of the organization, from the team and coaches and secretaries to the front office and grounds crew, feels more like a family than a corporation. Steelers center Jeff Hartings said it best: “We honestly love each other. I honestly felt that I would rather lose a game like this with this team than win a Super Bowl with a team I didn’t enjoy playing with.”
We found this attitude remarkable, considering this is a five-time Super Bowl championship team with the best record in the NFL over the past twenty years. It’s also a very successful business. This didn’t just happen. Dan likes to say there are four things that make a winning football team—talent, coaching, closeness, and management. He doesn’t talk much about the management part. But make no mistake. From top to bottom, the Pittsburgh Steelers organization reflects Dan Rooney’s business acumen, values, integrity, and character. And perhaps most important, it reflects his determination to win. You can see it in the Steelers mission statement: “The mission of the Pittsburgh Steelers Football Club is to represent Pittsburgh in the National Football League, primarily by winning the Championship of Professional Football.”
Consider: Five Super Bowl championships. Six conference titles. And twenty Steelers elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Dan has been named NFL Executive of the Year, Dapper Dan’s Sportsman of the Year, and he’s been inducted into the Football Hall of Fame.
He leads off the field as well, serving on the boards of the United Way of America, the American Diabetes Association, Senator John Heinz History Center, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Dan has assisted American Indian nations in education and youth recreation programs. He was the driving force behind the American Ireland Fund, now the world’s largest private organization funding constructive change in Ireland.
Tony O’Reilly, former Heinz Company chairman and co-founder of the American Ireland Fund, described Dan Rooney as “a singular man. The level gaze, the humorous yet watchful eyes, the quiet authority that he exudes are products of many tough battles, many triumphs, and some failures.”
This is the man we have come to know.
Andrew E. Masich
David F. Halaas
Senator John Heinz History Center and
Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum,
Pittsburgh, PA

By Dan Rooney
George Halas and the founders of the NFL were there at the Hupmobile dealership in Canton, Ohio, when the league was founded in 1920. Then Tim Mara, Charley Bidwill, George Marshall, Curly Lambeau, Bert Bell, Ole Haugsrud, and of course Art Rooney joined the league and brought organization and entertainment values with them. Besides these pioneer owners, the NFL was blessed with outstanding commissioners who joined the league at times of need, when their unique talents provided leadership.
I urged the league to record and preserve the history of the NFL for posterity. But now we have lost them all—the first generation who knew how it happened and put it all together. The story as I know it hasn’t been recorded. This led to my purpose in writing this book—to tell the history of the NFL, the Steelers, and me, as I know it from being there and listening to my father and other men who were there from the beginning—the men who started the league, who worked, scraped, spent their money, and hammered it into reality.
So as the last man standing, the last to know from hearing, witnessing, and experiencing that history, I guess its up to me to tell the story as best I can. Recently the league and sports world lost a key man from the past. He provided the way, the integrity, the motivation, and criticism—a giant of a man—Wellington Mara.
The Steelers of Pittsburgh, the Eagles of Philadelphia, and the Redskins, who began in Boston and then moved to Washington in 1936, all came in 1933. Their entrance was significant because it put the league in premiere cities in the east—the big market cities with not only the most people and resources, but the most knowledgeable operators who could manage the league and its teams. This story tells or recalls the difficulties the teams and owners faced to keep going, even meeting the payroll. They helped each other, and they guided those who followed later, particularly the commissioners. That first generation did what had to be done—you will see and hear what they did.
About the Steelers. How they were special. How Pittsburgh was the birthplace of professional football. Immigrants from Europe came to Pittsburgh and located along the river valley towns. Their sons became excellent football players with great high school teams. The mills and mines had teams and paid the best players so they could win. It began in Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio. They forged modern football and made rules so everyone played the same game.
They began on a shoestring. John Brown, a Steelers offensive tackle in the 1960s and early 1970s, told me he began to play on cinders and finished on a carpet.
Pittsburgh grew, and football was its passion. Every young man who could play, did play. They learned the game as boys. They became the most knowledgeable fans in the National Football League.
Steelers football is special. Here’s a letter I received following the Steelers-Chargers game in 1995:
January 15, 1995
Dear Steelers:
I watched as the last few moments of the AFC Championship game drew down to one play. The Chargers deflected the pass, the game was over. And as I watched the players leave the field I saw the pain in their eyes. I am a Charger fan, I’m elated that the team I love most is going to the bowl of bowls. But I’ll tell you what. The city of Pittsburgh should be proud to have such a team. The players and their young coach are young, enthusiastic, talented, focused, spirited, and together. And the hospitality that poured out to the visitors—to the ENEMY was nothing short of awe inspiring. Championship is not measured by the wins or losses. True championship in pro ball requires talent, heart, courage, teamwork, and professional conductance. I could not believe what I was seeing on that field today. I saw a team that even in defeat would not let go of their championship heart. As I watched the players leave the field I said a prayer for your team. You guys are true professionals. No one can say that the Pittsburgh Steelers are anything other than a truly class A football team.
In the short term there is no remedy for the pain of a loss other than time. But as time goes by, you will realize that what I’m saying to you all today is the absolute truth. Today, in my opinion, the real champions of the AFC lost the football game, but they did not lose the championship. You have broken my heart, and you have a new fan in San Diego. Give me a towel.
Patrick J. Morris
San Diego, CA
The Steelers stood together in the steel mills ready to fight World War II. They played together those weekends. After working a full shift, they practiced. They all wanted to win.
The league continued to grow. In 1960 Lamar Hunt put together the AFL. In 1966 the two leagues merged, forming a unified National Football League. In 1970 the merged league played as one. The Steelers, the Browns, the Bengals, and the Ravens joined in a division in the AFC North. You will read how this happened.
I respect all the owners and the people on the thirty-two teams. They are all friends who want the league to thrive. Jerry Richardson always says, “Protect the shield,” the NFL logo. The commissioners have been vital. The players are special. They are the game. They make it. Fans love them—at least in Pittsburgh they do.
I will tell about growing up with my brothers, sometimes our arguments, but mostly our love.
Our mother was a wonderful lady. Our father was the “Chief.” He directed us. He gave his advice. He sure didn’t spoil me.
I’ll give you some thoughts on my family. My wife, Patricia, our nine children and sixteen grandchildren. My nieces and nephews, my grandparents, uncles and aunts. It’s a lot, but they were fun to be with.
In the end, I’ll try to sum it up—give a view of the future NFL. Roger Goodell will probably be the last commissioner I will know. He will provide the leadership to carry on. I hope I can help him. With God’s blessing, maybe.
Dan Rooney

Chapter 1
DECEMBER 23, 1972, dawned cold and gray, but today no one seemed to care about the weather. It had been a long time coming, the kind of day I dreamed about all my life—the first NFL postseason game to be played in Pittsburgh since 1947.
Before the kickoff, thousands of fans gathered downtown under the banners of their heroes—Dobre Shunka (Good Ham) for linebacker Jack Ham, Gerela’s Gorillas for kicker Roy Gerela, and Franco’s Italian Army for rookie running back Franco Harris. Other fans—those who couldn’t get tickets, and there were only 50,350 who did—packed themselves in cars and buses in search of televisions outside the seventy-five-mile blackout radius. They crammed into motel rooms in East Liverpool, Ohio, and Meadville, Pennsylvania, or chartered buses and drove to Erie and jammed local American Legion and VFW halls. Anywhere with a television set. In some places, people were selling seats in their own living rooms to frantic Steelers fans desperate to see us in the playoffs.
Now, as the big game against the Oakland Raiders began, the built-up emotion and excitement spilled out of Three Rivers Stadium with a volume and intensity that could be heard all the way across the Allegheny River into downtown.
“Here we go, Steelers, here we go!
Here we go, Steelers, here we go!”
Inside the stadium the noise was deafening. The concrete deck heaved so violently with every stomp of the crowd, I worried the structure might give way. For most of the game it seemed we were going to win. It had been a fierce defensive struggle; first downs were difficult to come by and both teams punted a lot. Daryle Lamonica had started as quarterback for the Raiders, but we intercepted him twice and beat him up so badly they took him out and replaced him with their young backup, Ken Stabler. Gerela’s two field goals had given us a 6-0 lead when late in the fourth quarter Stabler dropped back to pass, couldn’t find a receiver, and so slipped outside and ran 30 yards for a touchdown. With the extra point, the Raiders had a one-point lead.
Now the packed stands were hushed. The scoreboard told everything: Raiders 7, Steelers 6, fourth-and-10 . . . 22 seconds on the clock. It looked like we didn’t have a chance. What a shame—the best season we ever had, and our first playoff game. I really wanted to beat Al Davis’s Raiders.
As Terry Bradshaw and the Steelers offense broke huddle, I knew this was the last play. But when our players lined up on our 40-yard line, they didn’t look like a beaten team. Bradshaw still had his swagger, still seemed as confident and fearless as ever. Turning his head from side to side, he begins the count, then takes the snap. Bradshaw’s


On Sale
Sep 2, 2008
Page Count
400 pages
Da Capo Press

Dan Rooney

About the Author

Andrew E. Masich and David F. Halaas are, respectively, the President and Director of Library & Archives of Pittsburgh’s Smithsonian-affiliated Senator John Heinz History Center and Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum.

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