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Old 03-28-2006, 12:40 AM   #1
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Default Rooney NFL executive of year

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The name Art Rooney has graced the Steelers franchise since it was founded and, 18 years after the team's founder's death, it's making a comeback. Art Rooney II, the eldest grandson of the Chief, has quickly made a name for himself as the third president of the Steelers and today will be named the NFL executive of the year.

Rooney, who succeeded his father Dan and grandfather Art Sr. before him as team president, will receive the honor from The Sporting News at a ceremony this morning at the NFL meetings.

Since he became club president after the 2002 season, the Steelers became the first team in the AFC to win 15 regular-season games, in 2004, and won their first Super Bowl in 26 years. Rooney also continued his father's philosophy in the free agency era by working first to re-sign his own players, by searching for value rather than pizzazz in the free-agent market and by using the draft as the primary source of building and maintaining his team.

His opinions weighed heavily when the Steelers decided to not only keep coach Bill Cowher in 2000 after three non-playoff seasons but also to offer him a contract extension.

In the fall, the NFL gave Rooney a key job with a spot on the nine-man management council executive committee, the most powerful committee in the NFL that includes such owners as Denver's Pat Bowlen, New England's Bob Kraft, Carolina's Jerry Richardson, the New York Giants' John Mara, Cincinnati's Mike Brown and Jerry Jones of Dallas.

Two weeks ago, when the NFL collective bargaining agreement seemed headed toward the trash can, Art Rooney was among those who helped save it by offering a proposal that became one of the conduits for the owners to agree to revenue sharing among themselves.

His name was even floated as a possible candidate to succeed the retiring Paul Tagliabue as commissioner, although he said Sunday that, basically, he's not interested.

Rooney, 53, graduated from Pitt and then Duquesne University School of Law in 1982. He was chairman of the board of the Downtown law firm of Klett Rooney Lieber and Schorling and also served as the Steelers' counsel before succeeding his father as president of the ballclub.

Governor Robert Casey had offered him the seat of U.S. Senator to fulfill the term of the late John Heinz in the early '90s, but he declined. Rooney became more involved with the Steelers through the years, taking on more duties, including the job of gaining the financial support to build Heinz Field.

"I think being involved in the stadium situation certainly took my level of responsibility and commitment of time much more in the direction of the football business," Rooney said. "Since then it's continued. I think my father got to the point where he was comfortable starting to make a transition. That's when I was made president three years ago. It's kind of evolved in that direction. Now I'm full time in the football business and I enjoy it."
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