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Art Rooney

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Art Rooney

Art Rooney
Iconic image of Rooney from "BELIEVE" posters
Personal information
Date of birth (1901-01-27)January 27, 1901
Place of birth Coulterville, Pennsylvania,
United States
Date of death August 25, 1988(1988-08-25) (aged 87)
Place of death Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
United States
Career information
Position(s) Pittsburgh Steelers-Founder & Owner
J.P. Rooneys-Founder & Player/Owner
Yonkers Raceway-owner
Palm Beach Kennel Club-owner
Green Mountain Kennel Club-owner
Shamrock Stables-owner
Liberty Bell Park Racetrack-owner
Wheeling Stogies-Player/Manager
Pittsburgh Penguins-minority owner
Homestead Grays-minority owner
College Duquesne (prep school)
Indiana (Pa.)
Georgetown (degree)
Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1964

Arthur Joseph "Art" Rooney, Sr. (January 27, 1901 – August 25, 1988), often referred to as "The Chief", was the founding owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers American football franchise in the National Football League from 1933 until his death, a member of the NFL Hall of Fame since 1964, an Olympic qualifying boxer and part or whole owner in several track sport venues and Pittsburgh area pro-teams.

Family history

Rooney's great-grandparents, James and Mary Rooney, were Irish Catholics who immigrated from Newry in County Down, Ireland to Canada during the Irish potato famine in the 1840s. While living in Montreal, the Rooneys had a son, Arthur (who would become Art Rooney's grandfather). James and Mary later moved to Ebbw Vale, Wales, where the iron industry was flourishing, taking their son Arthur, then 21, with them. This Arthur Rooney married Catherine Regan (who was also Irish Catholic), in Wales, and they had a son, Dan. Two years after Dan Rooney was born, the family moved back to Canada and eventually ended up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1884. Along the way the family grew to include nine children of which Dan was the second.[1]

Dan Rooney remained in the Pittsburgh area, and eventually opened a saloon in the Monongahela Valley coal town of Coulter, Pennsylvania (or Coultersville). This is where Dan Rooney met and wed Margaret "Maggie" Murray, who was the daughter of a coal miner, and where the couple's first son, Arthur Joseph Rooney, was born. Dan and Maggie would eventually settle their family in Pittsburgh's North Side in 1913, where they bought a three story building at the corner of Corey Street and General Robinson Street. Dan operated a cafe and saloon out of the first floor with the family living above. The building was located just a block from Exposition Park, which had been home to the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team until 1909.[1]

A little known fact from one of the neighborhood boys that grew up with Dan Rooney and his brothers; Art Sr. would freeze the back yard in the winter so his boys and their friends could play ice hockey. Also this friend of Art's sons said he took a group of the neighborhood boys to his race horse farm in Maryland for a two week "summer getaway". The young fellows were NOT allowed to mess with the horses. They were there to "work on fences", but apparently the young lads didn't do a whole lot of work; they just had a memorable time being boys.

Education and athletics

Rooney attended St. Peter's Catholic School in Pittsburgh, [2] After graduation he dedicated himself to sports, winning the AAU welterweight belt in 1918 and tried out for the 1920 Olympic Team.,[3] he played minor league baseball for both the Flint, Michigan "Vehicles" and the Wheeling, West Virginia "Stogies".[4] In 1925 he served as Wheeling's player-manager and led the Middle Atlantic League in games, hits, runs, stolen bases and finished 2nd in batting average as his brother Dan Rooney (Wheelings catcher that year) finished 3rd in BA. Art also played halfback for the semi-pro Pittsburgh "Hope Harvey" and "Majestic Radio" clubs which he later took over and renamed the J.P. Rooneys before purchasing an NFL franchise for $2,500 in 1933.[2]

Pittsburgh Steelers

Art Rooney on the good ole days

The biggest thrill wasn't in winning on Sunday but in meeting the payroll on Monday.

1983 Steelers yearbook [5]

Rooney's affiliation with the National Football League (NFL) began in 1933 when he paid a $2,500 franchise fee to found a club based in the city of Pittsburgh. He had named his new team the "Pirates" which was also the name of the city's long-established Major League Baseball club of which Rooney was a fan since a childhood spent in the shadow of the team's stadium.

Since the league's inception in 1920, the NFL had wanted a team in Pittsburgh due to the city's already-long history with football as well as the popularity of the Pittsburgh Panthers football team, an NCAA national championship contender during this period. The league was finally able to take advantage of Pennsylvania relaxing their blue laws that prior to 1933 prohibited sporting events from taking place on Sundays, when most NFL games take place.

In 1936, Rooney won a parlay at Saratoga Race Course, which netted him about $160,000. He used the winnings to hire a coach, Joe Bach, give contracts to his players and almost win a championship. The winnings funded the team until 1941 when he sold the franchise to NY playboy Alex Thompson. Thompson wanted to move the franchise to Boston so he could be within a five-hour train ride of his club. At the same time, the Philadelphia Eagles ran into financial problems. Rooney used the funds from the sale of franchise to get a 70% interest in the Eagles, the other 30% held by Rooney friend and future NFL commissioner, Bert Bell. Bell and Rooney agreed to trade places with Thompson. Bell took the role of President of the Steelers that he relinquished to Rooney in 1946 when Bell became Commissioner. Rooney got his good friend and his sister's father in law, Barney McGinley, to buy Bell's shares. Barney's son Jack, Art's brother in law, retained the McGinley interest that passed to his heirs when he died in 2006. (from Screamer: The Forgotten Voice of the Pittsburgh Steelers by Murray Tucker)

Howard Cosell on the Rooneys

The Rooneys are the finest people, the people I most respect in American sports ownership. I've always felt that way. And there's no reason to change. They are people of integrity and character. The way they put the Steelers together, to hire a man like Chuck Noll, to emphasize the team concept. I have a whole transcendental feeling for the Steelers and the Rooneys and Pittsburgh.

— Howard Cosell, October 1982[6]

Rooney sent shock waves through the NFL by signing Byron "Whizzer" White to a record-breaking $15,000 contract in 1938. This move, however, did not bring the Pirates a winning season, and White 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.

During World War II, the Steelers had some financial difficulties and were merged with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1943 and the Chicago Cardinals in 1944.

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 1970s and were known in the NFL as the "lovable losers". The team also made some questionable personnel calls at the time such as cutting a then-unknown 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 (who would draft Dick Butkus with the pick), among others.

Art Rooney statue outside of Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The "Gate D" sign behind the statue is the last surviving relic from the Steelers former home, Three Rivers Stadium.
Nevertheless, Rooney was popular with owners as a mediator, which would carry over to his son 1925 NFL Championship to be reinstated to the long-defunct Pottsville Maroons.

Pittsburgh Penguins

As a pillar of the community in many aspects, Rooney was asked to lend his considerable influence in the city's bid to reclaim a NHL franchise during the league's first ever expansion in 1967. Although Pittsburgh enjoyed championship hockey with the professional but "minor league" Pittsburgh Hornets since its NHL franchise (the Pirates hockey team) disbanded in 1930 from the effects of the Great Depression, many city leaders were pushing for the region to become more "major league" suggesting that Mr. Rooney use his influence in the sports industry to have the league award Pittsburgh a franchise. Rooney proved his worth and from 1967 until the early 1970s was a part owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins.[8][9]

Homestead Grays

In a 1981 interview by the Pittsburgh Press Rooney related that "from time to time he had helped financially support the Negro League team, the Homestead Grays, and . . . was a better baseball fan than football fan." [10]

Track sports

Rooney also acquired the Yonkers Raceway in 1972, the Palm Beach Kennel Club, Green Mountain Kennel Club in Vermont, Shamrock Stables in Maryland and owned the Liberty Bell Park Racetrack outside Philadelphia.[11]

Later life

Following the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the Steelers agreed to leave the NFL Eastern Conference and joined the AFC Central Division.

Everyone knew Mr. Rooney was our number one citizen...he did more for this city than R.K. Mellon did for the business community and David Lawrence and any of the mayors who followed him, including Richard Caliguiri, did politically.

Through expert scouting, the Steelers became a power. In 1972, they began a remarkable 8–year run of playoff appearances, and thirteen straight years of winning seasons, including three additional playoff berths. In Rooney's 41st season as owner, the club won the Super Bowl. They followed up with Super Bowl victories following the 1975, 1978 and 1979 seasons. They have also won the 2005 and 2008 Super Bowls. Making the Steelers the first team following the AFL-NFL merger, to win six Super Bowls.

I'll never forget the way he introduced me, 'This is Ralph Giampaolo, a member of our organization.' Not a member of our ground crew. Not some rinky-dink bum. But a member of 'our organization'. As far as [Curt] Gowdy knew, I was vice president of the team. Mr. Rooney made me feel 10 feet tall.

Inviting a groundskeeper up to the owner's box for dinner. [13]

After the 1974 season, Rooney relinquished the day-to-day operation of the club to his son Dan. He remained Chairman of the Board of the club until his death in Pittsburgh in 1988. An August 1987 Pittsburgh Press story stated that Rooney never missed a Hall of Fame induction ceremony in all 25 years, and that he was asked to present his third inductee, John Henry Johnson that month.[14] 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. He is buried at the North Side Catholic Cemetery in Pittsburgh.[15]


Gravesite of Art and Kathleen at North Side Catholic Cemetery.

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 Rooney ranked 81st on the Sporting News' "100 Most Powerful Sports Figures of the 20th Century" list. A statue of his likeness graces the entrance to the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Heinz Field. The street that runs adjacent to Heinz Field on Pittsburgh's North Side is named "Art Rooney Avenue" in his honor.[16][17] In 2000, he was inducted as a "pioneer" into the American Football Association's Semi-Pro Football Hall of Fame.[18]

During Rooney's life, the Steelers would often use a late-round draft pick on a player from a local college like Pitt, West Virginia or Penn State. Though these players rarely made the team, this practice was intended to appeal to local fans and players. The team has occasionally employed this practice after Rooney's death, however, they now focus more on talent than geography throughout the entire draft. Rooney also supposedly liked players from Notre Dame due to his Irish Catholic background, which some say explains why he allegedly had the team keep Notre Dame alumnus and wounded Vietnam veteran Rocky Bleier. Bleier would go on to become one of the key members of the team's success in the 1970s.

Art Rooney's North Side Golden Rule

My father always used to tell us boys, "Treat everybody the way you'd like to be treated. Give them the benefit of the doubt. But never let anyone mistake kindness for weakness." He took the Golden Rule and put a little bit of the North Side in it.

— Art Rooney, Jr. on his father[19]

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 one of the city's most beloved figures. Few are talked about with as much reverence as Rooney. At Steeler games, there is a sign that shows a picture of Rooney with his characteristic cigar and under the photo, the word "Believe."

Art J. Rooney was for 51 years, until her 1982 death, married to Kathleen Rooney née McNulty (1904 – 1982). Kathleen was the mother of Art's five sons, who are Dan Rooney, the chairman of the board of directors of the Pittsburgh Steelers and a former United States Ambassador to Ireland, Art Rooney, Jr., Timothy Rooney, Patrick Rooney and John Rooney (all also directors of the Pittsburgh Steelers). She is also grandmother of the couple's 32 grandchildren, including current Steelers president Art Rooney II and U.S. Representative Thomas J. Rooney (R, FL-16). This sole marriage of either partner also has descended some 75 great grandchildren, including the actresses Kate Mara and Rooney Mara.[20] [21] [22] [23] [24] [25]



Klavon, Jacqueline E. "Rooney, Arthur Joseph (The Chief) bio". Pennsylvania Center for the Book. Retrieved May 4, 2011. 

  1. ^ a b Rooney, Arthur J. (Jr.); McHugh, Roy (2008). Ruanaidh:The Story of Art Rooney and his clan. Art Rooney, Jr. pp. 2–5.  
  2. ^ a b Johnson, Vince (September 30, 2007). "From the PG Archives: Rooney Unique in Pro Football Hall of Fame - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ 75 Seasons: The Complete Story of the National Football League, pg. 103
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ [3]
  11. ^ Tuma, Gary (October 14, 2007). "From the PG Archives: Steelers' Art Rooney in retrospect - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ [4]
  15. ^ Arthur "Art" Rooney (1901-1988) - Find A Grave Memorial
  16. ^ "Map of Art Rooney Avenue".  
  17. ^ Barnes, Tom (August 1, 2001). "There has been development near the new stadiums, but no one is sure what will happen between them".  
  18. ^ "2010 Hall of Fame listing" (PDF). American Football Association. Archived from the original on December 16, 2011. Retrieved December 16, 2011. 
  19. ^ Mendelson, Abby (1996). The Pittsburgh Steelers: The Official Team History.  
  20. ^ The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Vol. 2 (1986-1990), pp. 741-742, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999
  21. ^ [5] IMBd biography for Art Rooney
  22. ^ [6] Post-Gazette article “Rooneys: A Fight for Future Generations”
  23. ^ [7] 1988 NY Times obituary for Art Rooney
  24. ^ [8] Find a Grave, Kathleen McNulty Rooney
  25. ^ The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' is ... Rooney Mara"'". The Washington Post. 

Further reading

  • O'Brien, Jim (2001). The Chief: Art Rooney and his Pittsburgh Steelers.  

External links

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