SBJ/March 31-April 6, 2014/People and Pop Culture

Award to honor Rooney’s leadership role

Dan Rooney, the Steelers and the NFL grew up together.

That’s how NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell began the preface he wrote for Rooney’s autobiography.

Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney
Photo by: NEWSCOM
It’s easy to see why he phrased it that way.

Dan Rooney was born in 1932, the year before his father, Art Rooney, bought a slot in the fledgling National Football League for $2,500. He started working Steelers training camps as a teen, picking up sweat-soaked uniforms after practice, then joined the front office staff after college. By the time he was 32 he was running day-to-day operations of the team. At 43, he became its president.

While he passed daily oversight responsibilities over to his son, Art II, in 2003 — just as his father had passed that role over to him 39 years earlier — Dan Rooney has remained an integral fixture of both the Steelers, and the league, other than from 2009 to 2012, when he served as U.S. ambassador to Ireland.

For all that he has done to protect and advance the game, and with it the legacy of his family, during his lifelong association with the NFL —

SBJ Podcast:
Executive Editor Abraham Madkour and senior writer Bill King discuss Dan Rooney's selection as our Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, as well as what he has meant to the Steelers, the NFL and the city of Pittsburgh.

through his leadership among owners; strong and lasting relationship with players, coaches and staff; vision for innovation across the league on matters such as expansion, realignment and stadium improvement; willingness to mentor future leaders of both team and league; and understanding of the role sports can play in the larger society — Rooney is the recipient of SportsBusiness Journal’s 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award.

He will be honored during the seventh annual Sports Business Awards May 21 at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square.

Dan Rooney’s impact on the Steelers franchise came almost as soon as he began making decisions. It was Rooney who hired Chuck Noll, an offensive line coach recommended by Paul Brown, setting in place a philosophy committed to consistency and to building through the draft. Since the NFL/AFL merger, no NFL franchise has won more games (437, including playoffs), division championships (20), conference championships (8) or Super Bowls (6).

At the league level, Rooney has provided a strong voice, a steady hand and an unwavering conscience, blending a sense for football and for business in a way that few others could. From his willingness to move the Steelers to the AFC during the merger, to his tempered approach during watershed labor negotiations that incorporated free agency, to his patient, tireless navigation of expansion and then divisional realignment, Rooney has led when the league needed him most.

When teams considered leaving prime markets because they couldn’t land public funding for new stadiums, Rooney pushed the league to develop its own fund to help finance them. When others repeatedly passed over African-Americans for head coaching jobs, Rooney pressed for a policy that required teams to interview minority candidates.

Rooney mentored players who became coaches, coaches who became executives and an intern who became commissioner of the NFL. It was Rooney who taught that intern, Roger Goodell, the inner workings of the game, as well as the business; Rooney who co-chaired the committee that eventually chose him to succeed Paul Tagliabue.

For all those accomplishments and contributions, his greatest challenge may have been the one he met as the Rooney family faced its first transition of ownership, when the equal division of the Steelers among the five brothers ran afoul of NFL rules. By taking on new minority partners and refinancing the team, Rooney and son Art were able to buy the shares held by the rest of the family.

Born within a year of each other, Dan Rooney and the Steelers would not part.

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