Dan Rooney, the chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, died Thursday, April 13, 2017, according to the team. He was 84.
The son of Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr., Rooney had worked with the team since 1955, filling roles from director of personnel to president to chairman. It was in 1975 that he took on the role of president, which he held until he became chairman in 2002, transferring the presidency to his son.
“Few men have contributed as much to the National Football League as Dan Rooney,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he was one of the finest men in the history of our game, and it was a privilege to work alongside him for so many years. Dan’s dedication to the game, to the players, and coaches, to his beloved Pittsburgh, and to Steelers fans everywhere was unparalleled. He was a role model and trusted colleague to commissioners since Bert Bell, countless NFL owners, and so many others in and out of the NFL.”
When Rooney began with the team, their greatest years were yet to come. Founded in 1933, they had made one playoff appearance – in 1947 – and their lean years continued for decades. But as the 1970s began, a new golden age was in store for a revitalized team that would become full of Hall of Famers.
Rooney guided the Steelers through the 1970s when they won four Super Bowls over the course of six years – in 1974, 1975, 1978, and 1979. It was an era of successes for the Steelers, and Rooney played a part in the drafting of the team’s superstars, including Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Mike Webster, and Jack Lambert.
The Steelers would win further Super Bowls with Rooney as chairman, in 2005 and 2008.
As chairman of the NFL’s diversity committee, Rooney was responsible for establishing the 2003 Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview minorities for head coaching and senior football operation jobs.
Rooney was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.
Outside of football, Rooney was appointed U.S. ambassador to Ireland in 2009 by President Barack Obama. He served as ambassador until 2012. In 2016, the Jackie Robinson Foundation honored Rooney with its award honoring lifetime achievement.
Rooney played quarterback for North Catholic High school and was named to the 1949 all-Catholic League second team. He lost his starting job to future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas, who ended up being signed by the Steelers.
Former Steelers head coach and current CBS NFL analyst Bill Cowher paid tribute to Rooney on social media: “RIP Dan. My Mentor & friend. Thank you for your Guidance & Wisdom. I came a Young Coach & left a Better Man. Your spirit will live forever.”