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Old 08-19-2009, 08:13 PM   #1
A Son of Martha

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Default Give Me Rooneys, You Take the Rest

Give Me Rooneys, You Take the Rest
Posted Aug 19, 2009 6:15PM By Terence Moore (RSS feed)

It's ego. It's jealousy. It's a little of both, or maybe folks just aren't paying attention. Whatever the case, all owners in professional sports should swallow their pride, study the Pittsburgh Steelers over the past four decades and implement the ways of the Rooneys.

I'll excuse the Steinbrenners. They have enough shiny stuff in their trophy case from past and recent years to prove they get it. The same goes for Bob Kraft of the New England Patriots and Jerry Buss of the Los Angeles Lakers.

As for most of the others, not so much -- or not at all.

You have those who keep switching coaches and managers more than they do the oil in their cars. You have those who don't understand that paranoia isn't a prerequisite for owning a team, and neither is high visibility. Still, you have everybody from eternal sideline walkers Jerry Jones and Arthur Blank to the omnipresent Mark Cuban to the clueless Donald Sterling to the overmatched Fred Wilpon.

Then you have the Rooneys, the highly effective, mostly invisible, yet frequently accommodating natives of Pittsburgh . They get it. They've always gotten it -- whether it was the grandfather (Art Rooney) or the father (Dan Rooney) of current Steelers boss Art Rooney II.

He gets it, too.

Said Art Rooney II, relaxing in his office at Heinz Field, which is home to the Steelers, the defending Super Bowl champs for a record sixth time: "My grandfather always recognized that it's about the players. It's not about the owners. It's not really about the coaches. The game on the field is the most important thing we have, and that's something that my father felt, and he carried on that tradition and, certainly, that is the way I hope we will continue to look at things."

The Steelers will, because Art Rooney II quietly ended eight years as the team's president within the last few weeks to succeed his father as the Steelers' grand poobah. And get this: Art Rooney II is equal parts Art Rooney Sr., the deceased founder, president and chairman of the franchise from 1933 through 1988, and Dan Rooney, who evolved into the league's most respected and influential owner.

Dan Rooney, at age 77, now has an "emeritus" title with the Steelers after he moved to Ireland this summer with his wife. He did so when he became the ambassador to that country after he was offered the position by President Obama, the guy he fervently worked to get elected.

That left the Steelers' overall power to Art Rooney II, Dan's oldest son, who was Dan's 19-year-old son during the "immaculate" moment when the Steelers made the switch from perennial losers to frequent champions.

Let's return to December 23, 1972. There was Art Rooney II serving as a ballboy on the Steelers' sidelines at old Three Rivers Stadium. With his team trailing the Oakland Raiders in the fleeting seconds of a rare playoff game for those Steelers, there was a desperation pass from Terry Bradshaw. Then there was the ball ricocheting off somebody to come within inches of dropping to the ground to end the game.

Then there was the blur in black and gold that was Franco Harris, sprinting near Art Rooney II, toward the end zone for a Pittsburgh miracle.

"I had one of those plastic water bottles in my hand, and I threw it up in the air, and it seemed like it came down about an hour later," said Rooney, chuckling, who was on the verge of screaming back then -- and not only because of The Pass, The Deflection, The Catch and The Run.

There also was The Hug. Said Rooney, still chuckling, "All of these people came rushing onto the field from the stands, including one of our ex-players named Brady Keys. He came right up to me, got me in one of those tight bear hugs, and he was jumping up and down with me. I almost passed out."

Dan Rooney currently serves as the United States' ambassador to Ireland.

Instead, Art Rooney II survived to witness many things involving the post-Immaculate Reception Steelers. First, there was the Steel Curtain that carried those Hall of Fame-laden teams of Mean Joe Greene, Bradshaw and Harris to four world championships during the 1970s. Then came a lull for the Steelers during the 1980s, but there was their second coming to prominence during the 1990s, with Bill Cowher and his face turning the Steelers into frequent visitors again to the postseason. That included victories in one of two Super Bowl trips.

You know the rest. With Pittsburgh ownership and management continuing their philosophy from those Steel Curtain days of building from the draft, the Steelers have their third coming to prominence with the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu. It is a trio that has helped the Steelers capture two world championships during the past four years.

In addition, the second and third comings to prominence for the Steelers have featured something just as impressive: Dan Rooney's legacy of soothing tensions between owners and players during labor negotiations, and his pushing the NFL toward its current realignment, and his inventing the Rooney Rule.

Definitely the Rooney Rule.

Courtesy of Dan Rooney's persuasive power with his peers, NFL owners approved a rule in 2003 that requires all teams to interview at least one minority candidate for any coaching vacancy. The rule was such a success that it was expanded this year to include all management openings. In fact, the Oregon House of Representatives passed a bill earlier this year to force state universities to interview minority candidates for openings in coaching and athletic director openings.

"Well, you know, I think my dad always approaches things in a way that he doesn't allow preconceived notions about somebody else's position on something to influence him, and he's willing to sit down and talk through a problem with anybody," said Art Rooney II, describing not only his father, but his grandfather and himself. They are noted listeners, and they also practice what they preach.

So this made sense: The Rooneys needed to hire only their third head coach since 1969 after Cowher resigned on January 5, 2007, and they used the Rooney Rule. Seventeen days later, they fulfilled the ultimate dream of the Rooney Rule by hiring Mike Tomlin, who just happens to be African-American.

To many, this was stunning. The leading candidates supposedly were Steelers assistant coaches Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm, both established and both white. Tomlin had little NFL coaching experience and no connection with the Steelers organization.

Art Rooney II nodded as he pointed to a room across the way that once featured his father, Tomlin and himself. "To be perfectly honest, we didn't know what to expect, and we certainly didn't know Mike Tomlin at all until he walked in there for that first interview," Art Rooney II said. "But it was clear after we all talked that he was somebody we would have to interview again, at least.

"So you keep talking to people, and the more we talked to [former NFL coach] Tony Dungy, who came out of our organization and who is somebody we obviously have a lot of respect for, the stronger the feeling was for Mike."

Tomlin was just 34 at the time. Cowher was that same age when he was first signed by the Rooneys, and Chuck Noll, the architect of the Steel Curtain, was 37. All Tomlin has done is proven that the Rooneys were omniscient after he became the youngest guy ever to coach and win a Super Bowl last season.

Since then, the Rooneys have done what they always do. They've let everybody else associated with the Steelers' latest Lombardi Trophy receive most of the credit, and they've slid into the shadows. Here's what the Rooneys are saying: It's about world championships, not about us.

What a wonderfully strange concept. Strange, because they are among the elite of the elite of their peers who understand as much.
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Old 08-19-2009, 08:19 PM   #2
Water Boy

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Default Re: Give Me Rooneys, You Take the Rest

I love stories about the Rooney's. So much history and no matter the story, it makes you feel like you were somehow there.
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