Reflections of Dan Rooney

 

DAN ROONEY MAKES THE STEELERS TICK PART ONE

Dan RooneyHe’s the Chiefs’ son and that ever present shadow hangs over him. But Dan Rooney has carved out his own, more private lifestyle as the man who makes the Steelers tick.

Art Rooney Sr. is the elder stateman of the Steelers. He owns the football club, gives it character, a homey favour. He hobnobs with the right politicians, surrounds himself with priests and counts newsmen among his legion of friends.

He built an image as a down to earth, generous, loveable man. Everyone agreed that he deserved a championship after suffering 42 years without one.

It was his eldest son Dan who gave it to him.

The 42-year-old Steeler vice president and general manager, like his father deeply religious, streamlined a paternal organisation into an efficient business enterprise. In 1975, some eight years after he took the reins, the Steelers won their first Super Bowl.

“I believe in being business-like,” says Dan. “I think a person has to do his job, hold up his own end. My father always worried about everyone’s feelings constantly. Sometimes it infuriated me. But that’s just the type of person he is. He worries about people.”

Dan rooted out much of the organisation’s dead wood. He and his brother, Art, set up a scouting system other NFL clubs envy, and personnel, publicity and ticket departments which he says he’s proud of.
Dan hired Chuck Noll as coach in 1969 and it’s no surprise that Noll’s cool, efficient approach to the job is much like his own.

Dan Rooney, greying, limps from nagging arthritis which makes getting out of bed in the morning difficult and thwarts his skiing and tennis. But Dan Rooney is a perfectionist.

In a soft-spoken way, he demands perfection, not only of those around him, but also of himself. He takes it personally when the stadium scoreboard fails to work, when something goes wrong with the game program, when the Steelers lose.

Atmosphere is an integral part of his purpose. Create a proper kind, he believes, and athletes will assimilate to it, think positive and reduce the chances for failure.

“In sports, you’ve got to get athletes to believe it, they have to believe they can do it,” Rooney said in his office in Three Rivers Stadium.

“You can never give an athlete an excuse to lose. You can never say ‘you have to win on the road’ or ‘the officials were to blame.’”

“Sooner or later, it gets down to the fact that you beat yourself. When something goes wrong, it’s a temporary setback. We had setbacks this year, but we overcame them.”

“Chuck put things on that basis in the playoffs, and that’s how I believe it’s got to be done.”

“He said, ‘We’re going out, we’re going to win the playoffs. We’re not going to let Oakland stop us, we’re not going to let bad officiating stop us, we’re not going to let visiting crowds stop us. Nothing, nothing is going to interfere. We’re not going to let the press interfere with us in New Orleans. We’re just going to make the most of it.’”

That’s what the Steelers did. They won the Central division, defeated Buffalo and Oakland in the playoffs before burying the Minnesota Vikings for the Super Bowl title.

At the Super Bowl festivities however, Dan Rooney was in the background.

Once he was standing in the lobby of the Steelers hotel watching two busloads of reporters herd past him and into the interview room. A couple of them nodded to Dan. Someone asked him if any of the writers knew him. “The Pittsburgh writers do,” he said smiling. “Most of them walk by. It doesn’t bother me. Honestly.”

During Super Bowl week, he had two brief television interviews while his father was constantly in demand and on stage with reporters.

“I prefer it that way. I like to keep my equilibrium. This is my father’s week. He’s been waiting 42 years for this. I’m not jealous.”

“The organisation can run better with me in the background. Everybody that has to know me knows me. I don’t feel like I’ve been in my father’s shadow. I’ve operated pretty much as I wanted to. I wanted to be someone who got things going and I think I have.”

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