ARTHUR J. ROONEY
Every 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 team. Franco 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."
Mr. 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."
Mr. 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.
Baseball 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.
"We 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."
Jack 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."
When 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 citizen.
I'm 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.
If 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.
"I 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."
"This 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.
He 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.
"He's 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.
There's 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.
But 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.
He 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."
The 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.
Handwritten 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.
"I 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."
Tampa 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."
Gerald 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 regularly.
But 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.
Shortly 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."
Ralph 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.
But 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."
Dan 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.
When 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."
"Edward 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."
Art 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.
"I 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.'"
Mary 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.
Each 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.