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Daniel M. Rooney
Pittsburgh Steelers' president Dan Rooney grew up around sports. The eldest son of Steelers founder Art Rooney, Dan worked at every level with the team, starting as a ball boy and finally succeeding his father as chief executive in 1975.
Rooney continued to run the tam with the same warmth and personal touch that always characterized the Rooney family. Now one of the NFL's most influential owners, Rooney is the tenth recipient of the Maxwell Football Club's Reds Bagnell Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Game of Football.
"The Rooney family was the key to our success," says Jack Lambert, the Hall of Fame linebacker who played on all four Steelers Super Bowl championship teams. "Yes, we had great talent. Yes, we had great coaching. But I really think it was the feeling that started at the top, the family feeling, that made the difference."
"It started with Art and the way he treated his players. He treated us all alike, whether we were great or small, black, white, Catholic, Protestant. It made no difference. We had respect for each other as people because of that. There were no divisions within the team, no jealousy. Again, it started at the top."
Everything Mr. Rooney established, he passed on to Dan," said Lynn Swann, the Steelers great wide receiver. "Dan took the reins, put together a strong team and kept it strong. It's hard to have continuity in the NFL today with free agency and players moving around, but the Rooneys give the Steelers continuity which is one reason why they're so successful."
Like his father, Dan Rooney was a talented athlete in his youth. He was a high school football quarterback and excelled in other sports, as well. But his long-term future was in sports management and he learned the business by working with his father from an early age, selling tickets and answering phones in the office.
"I remember, as a kid, helping out when my father promoted fights in the old Hickory Park," Rooney said. "I'd be setting up chairs, putting up the ring, putting up the lights. That how I learned about the business and everything that was involved. It was a great education. I learned pro football the same way, from the bottom up."
For 40 years, the Steelers were a struggling franchise, unable to win even one division championship. They turned it around in the 1970s with the hiring of coach Chuck Noll and drafting players such as Lambert, Swann, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Greene and Franco Harris. The Steelers won four Super Bowls in six seasons. Eight players from that era are in the Pro Football hall of Fame.
In 1992, Dan Rooney made the decision to hire Bill Cowher as head coach and that started another run of Steelers success. Under Cowher, the team went to the post-season six consecutive years and won its fifth AFC Championship in 1995-96.
"This is an honest, hard-working town with a lot of pride and we've tried to give the people a football team that reflects that," Dan Rooney said. "The Steelers bring all the different communities, all the ethnic groups together. People say the psyche of the whole town depends on whether we win or lose on Sunday. Having lived here all my life, I'd say that is true."
Asked if that was sometimes a burden, Rooney said no.
"It's a privilege," he replied.
The Maxwell Football Club thanks Ray Didinger of NFL Films for contributing this article on Dan Rooney.