|Rooney considers himself "last man standing" among NFL pioneers|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 05 November 2007 11:39|
By ALAN ROBINSON
AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) -Dan Rooney turned 75 this year, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing their 75th season.
Good thing Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr.'s first son came along at nearly the same time the elder Rooney was buying his football team, because neither Dan Rooney nor the franchise would have seemed the same without the other.
Dan Rooney, the son of an NFL pioneer and a Pro Football Hall of Famer like his dad, considers himself the last link to the league's early days when college football was king and pro football was an afterthought. Players were paid next to nothing, yet the gate receipts sometimes didn't meet the payroll.
The Steelers weren't one of the NFL's original franchises in the early 1920s, but they've been a member since 1933, when Portsmouth, Ohio, still had an NFL team. Dan Rooney was barely out of diapers when he first met NFL trailblazers such as George Halas, George Preston Marshall, Curley Lambeau and Wellington Mara, and he became friends with all of them.
``I really consider myself the last man standing,'' said Rooney, whose Steelers celebrated their 75th season with ceremonies during Monday night's game against Baltimore. ``Obviously I wasn't there in 1920, but I knew the people that were. I was able to talk to them and experience them.''
Rooney officially took over the Steelers' front office in 1975, but, in reality, had been in charge since 1965. His son, Art II, is now Steelers president, but Dan is the chairman and remains heavily involved in league affairs. When Roger Goodell was chosen as the NFL commissioner in 2006, Rooney and Carolina's Jerry Richardson were the hiring committee co-chairmen.
Dan Rooney can remember the long-ago days before Goodell and Paul Tagliabue and Pete Rozelle before him - when Elmer Layden and Bert Bell were NFL commissioners, network TV coverage was only a dream, and, later, when games were always blacked out in the home team market.
Rooney helped reshape the league when he and his father agreed to move the Steelers from what now is the NFC, composed mostly of pre-1967 NFL members, into the newly formed AFC, made up mostly of former AFL clubs. Cleveland and Baltimore also went along.
``I was for giving it no thought. We fought with those guys (the AFL) for years,'' said Rooney, whose thinking was swayed by his father and Rozelle.
In honor of the twin anniversaries, Rooney has written a book called ``Dan Rooney, My 75 Years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL'' in which he offers considerable insight into league and team affairs.
He wanted to include more, he said, but his publishers ``told me I'd better watch what I'm saying because I don't want to get sued.''
Among his memories, which began during his days as a Steelers water boy in the early 1940s:
-Halas and Marshall pushed to install former FBI official Austin Gunsel as commissioner in 1960 rather than Rozelle, who is credited with building NFL football into the nation's most popular sport.
-Unwilling to repeat the errors made when the Steelers released Johnny Unitas and failed to draft Dan Marino, Rooney strongly pushed coach Bill Cowher and director of football operations Kevin Colbert to draft quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.
Unitas, coincidentally, once was the first-team quarterback on the Pittsburgh Catholic all-star high school football team. Dan Rooney was the second team QB.
-Hall of Fame quarterback Bobby Layne's contract negotiations were so easy, he once signed a blank contract and told the Rooneys to fill in the amount.
-Once Dan Rooney began running the Steelers' front office, his father told him, ``Do it your way, but don't make any mistakes.''
-One of his biggest regrets was allowing Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris' 1984 contract stalemate to end with Harris' release.
-Art Rooney once sent a then-6-year-old Dan Rooney to break into a Bears team meeting and ask Halas to take it easy on the Steelers.
-Dan is among the many NFL owners who dislikes Raiders boss Al Davis, and not only because the Steelers-Raiders rivalry was so intense in the 1970s that it spilled into federal court.
Rooney said Vince Lombardi was so unhappy that Davis was fighting the AFL-NFL alignment plan drawn up by Rozelle, the Packers coach backed Davis against a wall and grabbed his collar.
``If you're going to cause people trouble, you'll be run out of here,'' Rooney quotes Lombardi as saying to Davis.