In 1969 the Steelers won one game but it was that year Mr. Rooney made two significant decisions. He hired Chuck Noll as head coach and drafted Joe Greene. In 1972 they won their first division title as they beat the Oakland Raiders on, what might be, the most talked about play ever – “The Immaculate Reception”. Pittsburgh was trailing with :22 remaining and as the pass left Terry Bradshaw’s hand, Art Rooney was nowhere to be seen. He felt so bad for his team he left his seats early so he could be in the locker room when they returned. As he got off the elevator he could not understand why everyone was cheering. He had no clue what just took place. That’s the type of man Art Rooney was, he cared about all of his players. Later in his life he said there was never a player on the team that he disliked. During training camp he made it a point to learn each players name regardless if they were stars or players just trying to find a spot on the team. At home in Pittsburgh he was no different, he would talk to everyone. He did not mind getting stopped on the street. Mr. Rooney made time for everyone.
In 1974 the likes of Lynn Swan, John Stallworth, Mike Webster and Jack Lambert were drafted. The offense had fire power and the Steel Curtain was born. In their first ever Super Bowl (IX) they defeated the Minnesota Vikings 16-6. Following the victory, coach Noll handed a ball to linebacker Andy Russell who was to hand out the game ball in the locker room. The ball was to be given to Joe Greene. At the last minute he looked over and saw Mr. Rooney (The Chief) and decided to give it to him. The team adored this man and everything he did for them and the organization. It was after this season Mr. Rooney relinquished the day-to-day operation of the team to his son, Dan. The same man who the team was purchased for back in 1933 at the age of one. Mr. Rooney stayed on as the Chairman of the Board until his death.
The Steelers would go on to win three more Super Bowls in the 1970’s, which ensured they would not only be the team of the decade but also a dynasty. The Steelers were competitive in 1980’s; however did not make it back to the Super Bowl. On August 25, 1988, The Chief passed away at the age of 87 in Pittsburgh. To this day, Mr. Rooney is not forgotten and the fans still embrace him. Visitors to Heinz Field can view a statue of Mr. Rooney located right outside of Heinz Field.
Following the 1991 season, Chuck Noll stepped down as head coach, which paved the way for Dan Rooney to name his first head coach. Mr. Rooney wasted no time in bringing someone in who grew up in Pittsburgh and appreciated the blue collar city, Bill Cowher. Coach Cowher continued the winning traditions of the Steelers, taking the team to two Super Bowls and winning one. When coach Cowher was on the podium accepting the Lombardi trophy he immediately turned to Dan Rooney and said “this is for you” and handed him the trophy.
It is unheard of these days for an organization to have only two head coaches in a span of 37 years. That is part of what makes the Rooney’s and the Steelers such a model organization. They believe in continuity and not acting harshly when their team has a poor year. When most organizations would fire their head coach following a poor year, the Rooney’s offer their support and work with the coach to get the team back on the winning track. They truly are a team and realistic with their work.
In 2002, Dan Rooney followed in his fathers foot-steps and handed over day-to-day operations of the team to his son, Art Rooney, II. Mr. Rooney is still involved but not as much as he once was. Once again, the team stayed in the family, now in its third generation of owners.
On Janaury 22, 2007, Mike Tomlin was named the teams 16th head coach following Bill Cowher’s retirement. In just a short time at the helm, Tomlin has already taken the Steelers to two Super Bowls, winning one. This gives the Steelers six Lombardi trophies, the most of any NFL franchise. This makes Steelers fans proud to call Pittsburgh – “Sixburgh”.
Since Dan Rooney stepped down in 2002 not much has changed for the storied organization. The same is not true for Dan. On July 3, 2009, President Obama named him the United States Ambassador to Ireland. Rooney now spends his time between Pittsburgh and Ireland.
While things rarely change in the Steelers organization there is one thing that never changes… the love the coaches, players and the city of Pittsburgh has for the Rooney family. Art Rooney was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1964 and Dan Rooney was elected in 2000. Former coaches and players are quick to offer the owners praise, many doing so at their Hall of Fame inductions in Canton, Ohio. Regardless of who is in charge, Art, Dan and now Art II, they never miss a beat and understand the importance the Steelers have in the city of Pittsburgh.
The Steelers are entering their 80th season in professional football. I find it very appropriate they gave their Head Coach, Mike Tomlin, an extension through 2016 just before the start of training camp.
We at The Good In Sports salute the Rooney family. Thank you for your hard work and dedication to the fans and the city of Pittsburgh.