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Old 12-15-2006, 05:24 AM   #1
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Default Rooney and Hunt bridged gap

Rooney and Hunt bridged gap
Friday, December 15, 2006

They were two of pro football's grandest old lions, born within two weeks of each other in 1932, Dan Rooney just across the river on Pittsburgh's North Side, Lamar Hunt just across the Louisiana state line in El Dorado, Ark.

Now they are one, if that makes sense, if anything makes sense when random lives become so substantially and portentously parallel.

Cancer claimed Hunt after a multiyear struggle the other night in Dallas; Rooney was in his office yesterday, having released the prescribed and respectful formal statement on his friend's death and life, glowing and eloquent.

It was, of course, about one one-thousandth of the story.

You'd have a hard time cherry-picking any two names from anywhere in the NFL's thick history of influences who have had more to do with what the modern game looks and feels like and with what it means to the broader American culture than Dan Rooney and Lamar Hunt.

"We had grown to be pretty close; he was somebody I'd grown to have confidence in, grown to like, even though when he first came around there was some animosity because of the two leagues," Rooney said.

"There was some of that between us, but it was not strong."

Just as the NFL was finally getting its cultural footing at the close of the 1950s, Hunt, by then the son of a wildly successful Texas oil man, was conceiving and founding the American Football League with seven other prospective team owners known as The Foolish Club.

By the time Hunt's Dallas Texans moved to Kansas City to become the Chiefs and the AFL put itself into position that it could compete financially for players with the older league, what Rooney described yesterday as "collision tension" was fully palpable.

"It was basically about players," said the Steelers' chairman.

"They sued [in an antitrust case], and I remember at the trial going over and sitting down next to him. The other owners didn't like that very much. 'What are you doin'?!' All that. I was trying to maybe do a bridge."

An accomplished bridge-builder from here to Ireland and back, Rooney probably didn't know at that moment he had linked with the right architect, and the series of political bridges he and Hunt began building remain as the game's competitive infrastructure.

The merger of the NFL and the AFL was completed in 1966, and the event that would eventually be known as the Super Bowl was first played the following January. The name Super Bowl was adapted by Hunt from his daughter's toy Super Ball.

The merger, of course, would not have been possible without the shift of the Steelers, Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore Colts from the old league (the new NFC) to the new (the AFC), which Rooney acquiesced to in large part because of another noted bridge-builder, his father, the late Art Rooney Sr.

"It was just the biggest thing because the NFL went from being a 12-team league to a 24-team league, and everything became more national in scope," Rooney remembered. "That was really the start of I guess what they call America's passion for the game. I thought Lamar Hunt brought a certain class to the whole business."

For most of the next four decades, their influences rolled through the sport, rippling improvements from expansion, labor relations, rules, etc. Hunt persisted until the league finally adopted the two-point conversion in 1994. The number of NFL story lines linking Rooney and Hunt can't be counted. Hunt's Chiefs helped train Rooney's coach, Bill Cowher, who, until January, carried as his personal albatross a chronic inability to win the Lamar Hunt trophy, the bauble that goes to the champions of the AFC. Cowher's only other AFC title, and Hunt trophy, was in 1995.

As recently as this summer, both men served on the search committee to find a replacement for NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Both have sons who grew up in the game and into the game, with Art Rooney II becoming president of the Steelers three years ago, and Clark Hunt ascending to a similar role in Kansas City.

As Hunt began to grow ill this year, Rooney told him it would be fine if he had Clark represent him at some meetings of the search committee.

"Clark became very good on that committee," Rooney said.

The NFL has been blessed by families like these. The other sports, not so much.

When one of the old lions falls, the others get an inevitable, sometimes frightful brush with mortality.

"Bah," Rooney said. "I'm not going anywhere next week."

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Old 12-15-2006, 09:16 AM   #2

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Default Re: Rooney and Hunt bridged gap

Dan Rooney epitomizes class. What big shoes he had to fill, following the chief..... well done Dan.
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