|Date of birth
|January 27 1901
|Place of birth
|Date of death
|August 25, 1988 (age 87)
|Place of death
|Founding Owner, Pittsburgh Steelers
|1980 Super Bowl XIV
1979 Super Bowl XIII
1976 Super Bowl X
1975 Super Bowl IX
|1979 AFC Championship
1978 AFC Championship
1975 AFC Championship
1974 AFC Championship
|Team(s) as a coach/administrator
|Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1964
Arthur Joseph Rooney Sr. (January 27, 1901 - August 25, 1988) was the founding owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise in the National Football League. Rooney began his life and career as a marginal player in the history of Pittsburgh, but by the time of his death, he was one the city's most beloved residents.
Not only did Rooney devote his life to Pittsburgh and football, but he also actively endorsed rising sports such as boxing and horse racing and was instrumental in taking them to new heights. More than anything, Art Rooney was fondly remembered for his jovial nature, his Catholic family values, and his ability to make the city of Pittsburgh, and its people, feel like they were all a part of the Steelers family.
Rooney suffered for 40 years without an NFL championship, but when the Steelers won four Super Bowls in the 1970s and were acclaimed the greatest professional football team to that time, sports columnists nationwide said Rooney's good fortune was proof that nice guys don't always finish last.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1964. In 2000 his son and successor, Dan, was also inducted into the Hall of Fame to form only the second father-son tandem to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The son of Irish Catholic immigrants, Daniel and Margaret Rooney, from Newry in County Down, Art Rooney was a lifelong resident of the Pittsburgh area. He was born in Coulterville, Pennsylvania and raised on the North Side of Pittsburgh with his eight siblings. Rooney graduated from Duquesne Prep (later Duquesne High School, which closed in 2007). He then went on to Duquesne University. Since then, many members of the Rooney family have graduated from Duquesne and have made many endowments to the university.
Sports had been an integral part of Rooney's youth as he starred on the college baseball team and played halfback on the football team at Duquesne University. He was also an amateur boxing champion in his youth, which lead to his investment in the sport of boxing during his later life. Growing up, Rooney and his brother Dan were both well-known local athletes. Rooney attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania, which was then known as Indiana Normal School, for two years, graduating in 1920. He was twice offered a football scholarship to Notre Dame by Knute Rockne but did not accept.
By the mid-1920s, Rooney had been offered baseball contracts by the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox. He played for a while in the minors, and in 1925 was player-manager of the Wheeling team in the Mid-Atlantic League, but an arm injury ended his major-league hopes.
Rooney also made one venture into politics in the mid-30s when the Republican Party persuaded him to run for Allegheny County register of wills. In his only speech, he said "I don't know anything about running the office, but if I win, I'll hire somebody who does." He was not elected, but his unique speech drew mention in Time.
The legend of Art Rooney began in 1933 on the Saratoga Race Course in New York. It is said that Rooney won a large sum of money, but exactly how much is myth. What is known is that Rooney pocketed at least $2,500 which he then decided to invest into paying the required National Football League franchise entrance fee for a club based in the city of Pittsburgh. Once established, he named the team the Pittsburgh Pirates after his favorite Major League Baseball team. Since the league's existence in 1920, the NFL had wanted a team in Pittsburgh due to the city's rich history with football as well as the popularity of the Pittsburgh Panthers football team, a perennial NCAA national championship contender during this period. The league was finally able to move forward when Pennsylvania relaxed their blue laws in 1933. Those laws had previously prohibited sporting events from taking place on Sundays, when most NFL games took place.
After founding the Pirates in 1933, Art Rooney watched his club struggle through its first seven seasons with just 22 wins and five different head coaches. In 1938 Rooney signed Colorado All-America Byron “Whizzer” White to a $15,800 contract, making White the first “big money” player in the NFL. White led the league in rushing that year and became one of the NFL’s most illustrious alumni. He served 31 years as a Justice of the United States Supreme Court before retiring in 1993. White, however, left the team for the Detroit Lions the following year. The club did not have a season above .500 until 1942, the year after they were renamed the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The first winning record in the organization’s history came in 1942 when head coach Walt Kiesling led the Steelers to a 7-4 finish with the league-leading rushing of rookie Bill Dudley. But the next year Dudley joined the Armed Forces along with many other NFL players as the nation went to war. With rosters depleted, Rooney merged the Steelers with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1943 (Phil-Pitt “Steagles”) and with the Chicago Cardinals (Card-Pitt) in 1944.
Aftermath of the War
Rooney hired legendary Pitt coach Jock Sutherland in 1946, and Dudley returned from the war to earn NFL MVP honors, leading the league in rushing, interceptions, and punt returns. Today, Dudley is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Sutherland led the 1947 Steelers to an 8-4 record and a share of the Eastern division title, but they lost their first-ever postseason game, 21-0, to Philadelphia.
After the War, Rooney became team president. He longed to bring an NFL title to Pittsburgh but was never able to beat the powerhouse teams, like the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers. Although the Steelers were reasonably popular in the city during this time, they would remain second-fiddle to the Pittsburgh Pirates until the 1970's and were known in the NFL as the "lovable losers." The team also made some questionable personnel calls, cutting a then-unknown Pittsburgh native named Johnny Unitas in training camp (Unitas would go on to a Hall of Fame career with the Baltimore Colts) and trading their first round pick in the 1965 draft to the Chicago Bears (the Bears would draft another future Hall of Famer, Dick Butkus, with the pick), among others.
Rooney was always popular with owners as a mediator, which would carry over to his son Dan Rooney. He was the only owner to vote against moving the rights of the New York Yanks to Dallas, Texas after the 1951 season due to concerns of racism in the South. Ultimately, the Dallas Texans failed after one year, and the rights were moved to Baltimore, Maryland, and later the team became the Indianapolis Colts.)
In 1963, along with Bears owner George Halas, Rooney was one of two owners to vote for the 1925 NFL Championship to be reinstated to the long-defunct Pottsville Maroons.
Decade of Dominance
Things started to turn around when 37-year-old Chuck Noll was hired on January 27, 1969. Noll began to rebuild the Steelers through the draft, starting with the defense when he selected defensive tackle Joe Greene with his first choice in 1969. Today Greene is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
A 1-13 record in 1969 gave the Steelers the first overall choice in the 1970 draft, with which Noll addressed the offense by selecting quarterback Terry Bradshaw, another future Hall of Famer, after the Steelers won the first selection by winning a coin toss with the Chicago Bears. Cornerback Mel Blount was added in the third round that year, followed by linebacker Jack Ham in 1971 and running back Franco Harris in 1972. In all, Noll drafted nine players who are now enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Following the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the Steelers agreed to leave the NFL Eastern Conference and joined the AFC Central Division.
The Steelers finally became a power when, in 1972, they began a remarkable eight year run of playoff appearances. The Steelers finally came to dominate professional football with a vengeance.
In Rooney's 41st season as owner, the club won their first Super Bowl in 1975. They followed up with Super Bowl victories in 1976, 1979 and 1980. During the 1976 season, the team allowed only a staggering 28 total points in the final nine games of the season, including five shutouts.
The Steelers’ streak of 13 consecutive non-losing seasons would came to an end in 1985 with a 7-9 finish, followed by 6-10 in 1986. Playoff hopes remained alive in 1987 until the Steelers lost their last two games to finish 8-7 during the strike-shortened season. In 1988 the team suffered through its worst campaign in 19 years with a 5-11 record.
The team suffered its greatest loss that year when, Art Rooney Sr., who maintained an office at Three Rivers Stadium and showed up for work everyday, suffered a stroke in that office at age 87.
The Steelers began a new era in team history in 2001 with the opening of their new stadium, Heinz Field. The Steelers posted an AFC-best 13-3 regular-season record, including a 7-1 mark at home. However, they suffered a disappointing, 24-17, loss at home in the AFC Championship game to the eventual Super Bowl-champion New England Patriots.
In 2006 the Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks, 21–10, to join the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers as the only franchises to win five Super Bowls.
In the summer of 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney and his son, team president Art Rooney II, announced they wanted to buy other family members' shares to assure that one of the NFL's most storied franchises does not leave Rooney control.
"I have spent my entire life devoted to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the National Football League," said Dan Rooney, one of the most influential owners in NFL history. "I will do everything possible to work out a solution to ensure my father's legacy of keeping the Steelers in the Rooney family and in Pittsburgh for at least another 75 years."
Passing the Reins: Rooney's Family
"By the late 1960s, Rooney had turned over day-to-day operation of his sports enterprises to his five sons." After the 1974 season, Rooney relinquished the day-to-day operation of the club to his eldest son Dan. He remained Chairman of the Board of the club until his death in Pittsburgh in 1988.
After his death, Dan Rooney became team president and chairman while younger brother Art Jr. was appointed vice president of the team. Third son Tim manages Yonkers Raceway, the family harness track in New York. Pat operates Palm Beach Kennel Club, the dog-racing track in Florida, and Green Mountain Kennel Club in Vermont. Pat's twin brother John also was involved with the family track operations for years and now handles family oil, gas and real estate interests. The family also operates Shamrock Stables, a farm in Woodbine, Maryland, and once owned Liberty Bell thoroughbred track in Philadelphia. Rooney's wife of 51 years, the former Kathleen McNulty, died in November 1982 at the age of 78. He had 34 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren."
At a tribute in 2006 Bishop Donald Wuerl said, "Art Rooney, ‘the Chief,’ was a legendary figure, a dedicated Catholic whose acts of charity defined the man."
The Rooney family was loved not just for their contribution to football lore but for their long time support of local Catholic education. Father Kris Stubna, diocesan secretary for education, said of Dan Rooney, "He loves children and youth and has been for them a model of everything that is good about being a person of faith. He models for all he meets his love for the church, especially the Eucharist, and his desire to serve the needs of others in whatever way he can. Dan Rooney is a man of tremendous faith and great compassion, and it is always a joy to interact with him."
Thirty-six years after Art's induction into the Football Hall of Fame his son Dan was inducted into it in 2000.
Dan's son, Tom Rooney, in 2008 was running as a Catholic pro-life candidate for the Republican nomination in Florida's 16th Congressional District. In addition to his father, Dan, and mother, Sandy, Rooney has four uncles, four brothers, two sisters, and 35 first cousins. Almost all of them have pitched in to help his campaign.
In memory of "The Chief," Steelers wore a patch on the left shoulder of their uniforms with Rooney's initials AJR for the entire season. The team ended up finishing 5-11, their worst record since a 1-13 showing in 1969.
Art Rooney received many awards during his career. In 1964, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Duquesne University named their football field in his honor in 1993. In 1999, The Sporting News named him one of the 100 most powerful sports figures of the 20th century.
A statue of his likeness graces the entrance to the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Heinz Field. He also has a street named in his honor on Pittsburgh's north side.
There's also the Rooney Dormitory at St. Vincent College, the Rooney Hall at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. There's the Rooney Middle School on the North Side, and the Rooney Scholarship for North Side students, the Rooney Catholic Youth Association Award, the Rooney 5K race and the Rooney Pace at Yonkers racetrack.
Art Rooney is the subject of, and the only character in, the one-man play The Chief, written by Gene Collier and Rob Zellers. The play debuted at the Pittsburgh Public Theater in 2003, and has been revived on three occasions since then. All productions have starred Tom Atkins as Rooney.
Today, Rooney is probably the city's most beloved figure. Few are spoken of with as much reverence as Rooney. At Steeler games, particularly during the Super Bowl XL season a sign was spotted that showed a picture of Rooney with his beloved cigar and under it read the word "Believe."
- Gary Tuma. 1988. Steelers' Art Rooney in Retrospect Post-gazette.com. Retrieved June 25, 2008.
- Steeler's History News.steelers.com. Retrieved July 9, 2008.
- Arthur J. Rooney Explorepahistory.com. Retrieved July 23, 2008.
- Gary Tuma. 1988. From the PG Archives: Steelers' Art Rooney in retrospect Post-gazette.com. Retrieved July 24, 2008.
- Arthur J. Rooney in 1983 Pittsburghsteelers.co.uk. Retrieved June 25, 2008.
- Steelers looking to restructure team ownership Timesleader.com. Retrieved July 9, 2008.
- Bill Hill. 2006. Dan Rooney and family applauded for strong Catholic roots Pittsburghcatholic.org. Retrieved July 9, 2008.
- A John Paul II Catholic Runs for Office in Florida Catholic.org. Retrieved July 9, 2008.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- O'Brien, Jim. 2001. The Chief: Art Rooney and his Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh, PA : James P. O'Brien Pub. ISBN 1886348065
- Rooney, Art Jr., and McHugh, Roy. 2008. Runaidh: the story of Art Rooney and his clan. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. ISBN 0981476023
- Sahadi, Lou. 1980. Super Steelers: the making of a dynasty. New York : Times Books. ISBN 081290950X
All links retrieved August 16, 2023.
- Pro Football Hall of Fame: Member profile.
- Ruanaidh - The Story of Art Rooney and His Clan.
- Arthur J. Rooney.
- Steelers' Art Rooney in retrospect
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