Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney Dies at the Age of 84

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistApril 13, 2017

Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney is seen on the field prior to an NFL football game between the Buffalo Bills and the Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)
Bill Wippert/Associated Press

Pittsburgh Steelers chairman and former United States ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney died Thursday, the team announced on Twitter:

He was 84.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell praised Rooney in a statement:

Few men have contributed as much to the National Football League as Dan Rooney. 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 owners, and so many in and out of the NFL. A voice of reason on a wide range of topics, including diversity and labor relations, Dan always had the league's best interest at heart. For my part, Dan's friendship and counsel were inspiring and irreplaceable. My heart goes out to Patricia, Art and the entire Rooney family on the loss of this extraordinary man.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Pro Football Hall of Fame CEO David Baker said the hall will fly its flag at half-staff on Friday "in honor of one of the greatest men to ever serve this game."

The son of Steelers founder Art Rooney, Dan has been part-owner of the franchise since it transferred to the family following Art's death in 1988. He has been involved in the organization in some capacity since 1960 after graduating from Duquesne University. 

Rooney was the team's general manager from 1975 to 2003, when he ceded control to his son, Art Rooney II. 

His stewardship of the Steelers is one of the most successful in NFL history. Instrumental to the team-building efforts of Pittsburgh's four championships in the 1970s, Rooney also became one of the most influential deal brokers behind the scenes.

Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue commended those skills in Rooney’s autobiography, per Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

He was deeply involved in resolving disputes and reaching agreements with the NFL Players Association from the 1970s into the present. His integrity and understanding of both football and team economics made him invaluable in negotiations on the college draft, the need for competitive balance on the football field, free agency, and player safety matters.

His work on both sides of the aisle in 1982 helped end the player strike, and he helped keep Steelers players together during a 1987 strike by giving them keys to the facility. As labor strife continued into the early 1990s, Rooney helped craft free agency policies and a salary cap that served as a stabilizing force in the league.

He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

"I was not anti-player," Rooney said in 2000. "So the players gained a little bit of confidence in me and were able to say things to me. I was able to say things that might not have been said by other people."

Many, including Steelers players, took to social media to react to Rooney's passing:

Rooney was also a voice for minority head coaching candidates, helping craft a rule that requires all NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate for vacancies. The rule, dubbed the "Rooney Rule," has expanded to other facets of NFL management, and some other sports leagues have adopted similar guidelines.

"There were some people who said, 'I want to hire whoever I want to hire. You can't be telling us who to hire.' That is your decision," Rooney told reporters in 2007. "But we say you must give an opportunity to an African-American or a minority. That sort of took hold. And when we went through that, it worked."

In total, the Steelers won six Super Bowls and become arguably the NFL's most successful franchise with Rooney at the helm. He was also vital to keeping the team in the family in the late 2000s, as he ensured he and Art II would have no less than a 30-percent controlling interest.

President Barack Obama also appointed Rooney as an ambassador to Ireland in 2009. He held that post until stepping down in 2013.