NFL loses a true giant with passing of Steelers' Dan Rooney


Dan Rooney died Thursday morning at 84, but as so often is the case with people of consequence, their death isn't the news; their lives are, how the world was just a little better place for their having walked upon it.

The Dan Rooney footprint that is perhaps most notable is the Rooney Rule, an attempt to legislate a little fairness into hiring practices in the NFL by requiring minority candidates to be given meaningful interviews for head-coaching and senior football management positions. How effective the rule has been isn't really the point, so much as a man just trying, making the effort to do what's right.

When the Bears went to Ireland in 1997, they were a big deal around Dublin, like any NFL team would be. But they were decided understudies to the Steelers, because of Rooney, who was absolute royalty in Ireland. No surprise, really, that Dan Rooney was named U.S. ambassador to Ireland in 2009 by President Barack Obama. No better purveyor of good will ever represent this country.

John Fox got his coaching break with Rooney and the Steelers, and when he talks about Rooney, Chuck Noll and the Steelers, the feelings are obvious in a sport that doesn't usually have a lot of time or place for feelings.

"I am proud to have started my NFL coaching career with (Dan's) beloved Steelers in 1986, and I will always be thankful for that opportunity," Fox said. "He was a first class gentleman and a gold standard as a Hall of Fame owner."

Growing up in Pittsburgh, the Steelers were my first NFL team allegiance, and "Rooney" and "Steelers" sometimes were interchangeable. And that was before all the championships started rolling in the 1970s and beyond. Before that, the Steelers brought in a Bobby Layne, John Henry Johnson, Big Daddy Lipscomb, Buddy Parker, all way, way past their primes, but you knew the Rooneys were at least trying to make it happen.

Sometimes prepared statements don't do justice to people they're intending to honor. But if you'd had the good fortune to meet Dan Rooney at owners meetings and see his effect on people who don't impress easily, George McCaskey's comments hit it just about right:

"Ambassador Rooney was one of the giants of our game," McCaskey said. "His quiet counsel to league commissioners going back to Bert Bell was invaluable to the success of the NFL.

"When Dan Rooney spoke at a league meeting, the entire room became quiet, because everybody wanted to hear what he had to say. That's the kind of respect he commanded from our group. He has also the conscience of the NFL, always stressing what was best for the game, the players and the fans. Everything he did was done with class, dignity and humility. He was, quite simply, a great man. Our condolences to his wife, Pat, his son, Art, the Steelers organization and Steelers Nation. May the road rise up to meet him."

Those in my line of work are fortunate enough to cover and witness "history." Dan Rooney was history.

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