A Steelers' Tradition

Hall of Famers Published on : 1/1/2005

Class of 2000 Enshrinee: DAN ROONEY

Since its inception in 1933, the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise has been under the watchful leadership of just two men. The first was team founder Art Rooney, who was a guiding light during the early years of the National Football League when teams struggled just to survive. His selfless dedication to the Steelers and the NFL for more than four decades earned him pro football's highest honor, election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

However, despite Rooney's never-ending dedication to his team, the Steelers during that period, except for brief respites, suffered through repeated losing seasons. It wasn't until January, 1975 that the team won its first league title, and by that time, "The Chief," as Rooney was respectfully known, had passed the leadership torch on to his eldest son, Dan.

Dan Rooney, who literally grew up with the Pittsburgh Steelers, blended his father's vision and loyalty with a smart and effective management style. The result was a transformation of the Steelers from perennial basement dwellers to a model organization and 35-plus years of unprecedented prosperity that continues today.

Dan Rooney and father Art are
synonymous with Pittsburgh and
the NFL (NFL Photos)

Considered one of the most influential voices in team and league operations, Dan Rooney, like his father before him, has been recognized for his lifetime of dedication and unparalleled successes with election to the Hall of Fame in 2000.

The oldest of five boys, Dan was born in Pittsburgh on July 20, 1932 and grew up on the city's North Side. A good athlete, Rooney played quarterback for North Catholic High School. In his senior year he was chosen as the second-team quarterback for the city's Catholic All-Star team, an honor that at the time left him feeling somewhat slighted.

"Some of my teammates told me I was better than that quarterback from St. Justin's who was chosen the first string quarterback on the All-Star team, " he recalled. In retrospect, however, he admits with a smile that the junior from St. Justin's - Johnny Unitas - may have been better.

Dan's entire life, it seems, has been involved with the Steelers. Coincidentally, the playground where he and his brothers once played football is now a parking lot at Three Rivers Stadium, home of the Steelers. He began attending training camps when he was five years old and by the time he was 13 was handing out equipment and running errands. For several years he served as the team's water boy. His first serious job was as training camp manager.

Rooney went on to attend Duquesne, graduating in 1955 with a degree in accounting. Following his graduation, he returned to work full-time with the Steelers. Although the son of the owner, Dan did not start out as a senior executive as one might have expected.

"When I graduated from college, the first thing I got into was player personnel. But then in 1957, we hired Buddy Parker as our coach. It was a big break for me because Parker didn't want anything to do with the front office," Rooney said. "Because I was in the office every day, the league people would call for me. If they wanted something done, they knew I'd be there, so I got to know the people in the league office and with the other teams. So I just grew into doing more and more things because of the contacts I made."

If there was a single event that marks when Rooney truly ascended to the position of the day-to-day manager of the Steelers it was a day in 1965 that he accepted Parker's resignation as head coach. "That put me on a new basis," he recalled. "Parker often used to say he was going to quit. I had talked to my father and said that we couldn't be cutting players because Parker was upset with one game's performance, or couldn't be trading players because he was angry with them. We had to deal with some kind of continuity and with a basis of reason."

So, when Parker called Rooney after a preseason loss to the San Francisco 49ers, to inform him of a less-than-sensible trade he wanted to make, Rooney drew his line in the sand. He told Parker to calm down and that he would talk to him in the morning about his proposed trade. Parker upset by Rooney's challenge to his authority, threatened to quit, to which Dan replied that he would also discuss that the next morning.

"I called my father and told him that we were going to accept Parker's resignation if he gave it the next morning, and my father agreed. And the next morning, Parker stuck with it." After Parker left, Dan continued to run the front office. Although Art Rooney still retained veto power, the younger Rooney was clearly the man in charge.