Sometimes, the weight of a successful parent is too heavy for a child to bear. Their deeds were too great, their shadow too long. Sometimes though, the child is able to become that which their parents would no doubt have wished they would. Dan Rooney is one such example.
Rooney, the chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers who died on April 13th, was the son of Art “The Chief” Rooney, who famously founded a pro football team in Pittsburgh thanks to winnings he had made at Saratoga Race Track. The Chief stood down from the day to day running of the team he had founded after they won their first Super Bowl, following the 1974 season, handing the reigns to Dan. But the offspring hadn’t been totally idle whilst waiting to assume the mantle. He had been responsible for the search for a head coach after Bill Austin was fired following the 1968 season. Rooney first attempted to woo Joe Paterno away from Penn State, but when he decided to remain in the college ranks Rooney followed up on a recommendation from Don Shula and appointed Shula’s defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Colts as his head coach. That man was Chuck Noll, and the Steelers would not have to worry about hiring another head coach until 1991. In that time, the Steelers won another three Vince Lombardi trophies (after their 1974 success), and during the coaching stints of Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin the Black and Gold have won two more.
Ensuring the Steelers became one of the more prominent dynasties in pro football would be enough for most to be satisfied with the career of Rooney, but he was a lot more than just a mere one team man. The NFL rule that bears his name, initially brought in to ensure that African-American coaching candidates would be given the opportunity to interview for head coaching jobs after years of being ignored, now encompasses all ethnic minorities, and also applies to senior front office positions too. Rooney and Noll were in particular fed up of seeing one of their guys, Tony Dungy, continually passed over for head coaching jobs, which in part inspired Rooney to push for the Rooney Rule. The Steelers were to benefit from the rule themselves when, following the 2008 season, they won their sixth Super Bowl under the stewardship of Mike Tomlin.
In the year 2000, as recognition for his work as an administrator and owner of the Steelers, Rooney was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He entered the hall alongside Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Howie Long and Dave Wilcox, men of great deeds in whose company Rooney was worthy of being.
In the age of trigger happy owners, as quick to hire and fire as they are to dress and eat breakfast, Rooney’s patience was a shining beacon. The NFL is a fast moving animal, but men like Rooney were able to get the game to slow down for a minute from time to time. It is unlikely we shall see his like again.