Rooney's return pleases league
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Dan Rooney turns 80 years old July 20. His football team embarks on its 80th season shortly thereafter. And around that time the U.S. ambassador to Ireland should again be back at his former job as chairman of the Steelers.
Rooney, who bid a sentimental farewell to the NFL three years ago at their annual March meetings after President Barack Obama appointed him ambassador to Ireland, reappeared at their meetings for the first time since 2009.
He said not to read anything into it, but he has been active, even speaking out on an issue during the first meeting of owners Monday morning.
"It's great to have him back," said Jeffrey Lurie, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles. "He has such a sense of history of the league, he puts things in perspective. I'm just happy to see him."
"I'm not back," Rooney protested after stepping out of an afternoon meeting for a few moments. "Don't say that. I'm not back. I don't even have a date that I'm going to be back."
It looks as if that will be July, when he will trade in his ambassador's job for a chairman's in time for training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe.
"I don't want to talk about what I'm going to do and things like that," Rooney said. "I have a job. I have to do that job. It's a challenging job. It's a good one. There are many facets to it."
His son, Art Rooney II, succeeded him as the team president and when Rooney left for Ireland, the Steelers changed Dan's title to chairman emeritus. He has seen a number of games over the past three seasons, sometimes making the round-trip from Dublin for the weekend only. Last year, he flew from Ireland to Pittsburgh on Saturday and then took the team flight Sunday to San Francisco, eight time zones away. He returned to Dublin on Tuesday.
He said this trip to the NFL meetings with his wife, Patricia, was part of one that brought him to the United States for a diplomatic meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- his boss -- and St. Patrick's Day celebrations in Pittsburgh with Vice President Joe Biden and in Washington with President Obama. He and Patricia, who recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, will return to Ireland this week.
It's a job Dan Rooney said he enjoys and not one of the cliched diplomat playing rounds of golf with politicians.
"It's been very rewarding," Rooney said, sitting on a seaside bench this side of the Atlantic, a Dublin-like wind howling. "It's work, not an easy thing but enjoyable. I find it as a real challenge."
He has learned some things for a man wrapping up his eighth decade. He praised the sacrifices that many people in foreign services make, and challenges those who think the United States is in decline. Among his closer friends in the diplomatic corps during his stay in Dublin was China's ambassador to Ireland.
Rooney would not confirm it, but those around him say he plans to campaign for Obama in the presidential election once his ambassadorship is over and he returns to the United States, as he did four years ago.
"I think he's a tremendous person," Rooney said of the president. "One of the things I found talking to ambassadors from other countries, they think that Barack Obama is the most important person in the world, that he has a chance to bring peace to the world."
His return to the NFL, official or not, was greeted with affection by fellow owners.
"It's great because he represents so much what's special about the NFL," New England's Robert Kraft said. "He has that special glow, like the elder statesman that you respect, just the classic guy. He always has had the league's best interest at heart. It's a treat to see him. I chatted with him, I have a deep affection for him."
Dan Rooney can protest all he wants, but even Kraft said it: "It's really nice to see him back."