Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney dies at 84

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Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney dies at 84

Dan Rooney, the powerful and popular Pittsburgh Steelers chairman whose name is attached to the NFL's landmark initiative in minority hiring, died Thursday. He was 84.

The team announced his death but details were not immediately available.

Rooney took over operation of the team in the 1960s from his father, Art, who founded the franchise. From there, Dan Rooney oversaw NFL championships for a team that had never even played in a league title game. Over the decades he became one of the most powerful and innovative forces within the game, developing the Rooney Rule under which NFL teams are required to interview minority candidates for coaching and front-office positions. He was a key figure in labor negotiations and league expansion.

In 2000, Rooney was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, joining his father. Dan Rooney's son, Art II, has been the Steelers president since 2003, with Dan Rooney becoming chairman.

"My job is to do what's best for the organization and to make that decision regardless of what the consequences are to me personally," Dan Rooney once said. "I take my position very seriously. What I want is an organization that can be together, one where everybody in the place has the same goal, and that is to win."

And win the Steelers did. With superb drafts that led to the building of the Steel Curtain defense and a potent offense, Pittsburgh eventually saw nine mainstays from the 1970s dynasty, plus coach Chuck Noll, make the Hall of Fame.

Under Rooney, two stadiums were built in Pittsburgh, securing their place in a small market where they are sporting kings. Rooney's ability to reach across status, class, race and gender made him beloved in a city that identifies itself with its teams with a passion few others can match.

"My father meant so much to all of us, and so much to so many past and present members of the Steelers organization," Art Rooney II said. "He gave his heart and soul to the Steelers, the National Football League and the city of Pittsburgh. We will celebrate his life and the many ways he left us in a better place."

A confidant of three commissioners, he played a major role in negotiations with the players' union and in league expansion in 1976 to Seattle and Tampa. He also was involved in scheduling and realignment decisions.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called Rooney "one of the finest men in the history of our game," adding Rooney's "dedication to the game, to the players and the coaches, to his beloved Pittsburgh, and to Steelers fans everywhere was unparalleled."

Perhaps Rooney's most lasting contribution to the NFL -- and to sports in general -- came with the Rooney Rule.

Then-Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and league lawyers recognized the need for a hiring policy that was fair and transparent; the NFL had many critics over the lack of minorities in high-profile jobs, particularly as head coaches.

Rooney brought new employment requirements to his fellow owners and got the measure passed.

Why Rooney? As so many of his players said through the years, he saw no color, only talent.

Rooney was such a fixture in the Steel City that he regularly walked to home games. He mingled with fans, much as his father did before him, and made his players feel supremely comfortable in his presence. He would frequently have lunch with members of the staff, players and even the media, stopping to say hello or chat up whomever he came across.

"He's just down to earth, humble, regardless of his stature," said former cornerback Ike Taylor, an African-American who grew up in Louisiana but developed a close bond with Rooney during his 12-year career.

Few in the history of the modern NFL have loomed larger.

Born July 20, 1932, in Pittsburgh, Rooney was a high school quarterback, then attended Duquesne, receiving a degree in accounting. The family business was his calling, and he soon became involved in every area of the Steelers.

The team hired Noll in 1969 and he promptly went 1-13, somehow fitting for the sad sack Steelers. But the Rooneys didn't panic, and Pittsburgh drafted quarterback Terry Bradshaw with the top overall pick in 1970.

Add in the likes of Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Franco Harris, Mel Blount, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, L.C. Greenwood and Mike Webster -- all draftees. Soon, the Steelers were dominating pro football.

"Dan has always lead with humility," said Greene when he introduced Rooney before his Hall of Fame induction. "When things go as planned, Dan is in the background. When things don't go as planned, he's in the forefront."

Pittsburgh has had a mere three head coaches since `69. Noll won four Super Bowls. Bill Cowher won one and Mike Tomlin has won one. Rooney spearheaded the team's commitment to continuity and stability.

When the franchise briefly stumbled during the turn of the millennium, missing the playoffs each year from 1998-2000, the Steelers signed Cowher to an extension. In 2001 they were back in the AFC championship game and Super Bowl champions again after the 2005 season.

As the team searched for Cowher's replacement following his retirement after the 2006 season, they settled on Tomlin, an energetic 34-year-old largely unknown defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings. Over the last decade

Rooney also served as the U.S. ambassador to Ireland from 2009-2012, becoming the first ambassador from the U.S. to visit each of Ireland's 32 counties.

"Dan Rooney was a great friend of mine, but more importantly, he was a great friend to the people of Pittsburgh, a model citizen, and someone who represented the United States with dignity and grace on the world stage," former President Barack Obama said in a statement. "I knew he'd do a wonderful job when I named him as our United States Ambassador to Ireland, but naturally, he surpassed my high expectations, and I know the people of Ireland think fondly of him today."

Rooney returned in 2012 and went right back to work in the family business, becoming a fixture at the team's headquarters well into his 80s. He is survived by Patricia, his wife of 65 years, as well as seven children, 20 grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and four brothers.

"Dan represented the very best of the NFL and our country. He was always humble and kind with a total dedication to his team and his community of Pittsburgh," Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said. "I will really miss his friendship and the advice that he so willingly shared with me over the last two decades. On behalf of the Eagles organization, Tina and I send our thoughts and prayers to the Rooney family and all of Steelers nation."

"He shaped the league with instincts, wisdom and a soft-spoken velvet touch," Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "He was a steward and a guardian for the growth and popularity of the NFL, because he loved the game so much."

While Jones likened the Rooneys to NFL royalty, Rooney's personal touch and irrepressible good nature never made it seem that way even as turned the Steelers from also-rans to champions. He watched firsthand as the league his father bought into for $2,500 in 1933 became a multi-billion dollar, year-round business. Yet he never lost sight of its roots and made sure the focus remained on the people and the game itself.

"The National Football League, the game is your legacy," Rooney said during his Hall of Fame speech. "Protect it. Don't let anyone tarnish it."

NFL Notes: Darrelle Revis' assault and robbery charges dismissed

NFL Notes: Darrelle Revis' assault and robbery charges dismissed

PITTSBURGH -- A judge has dismissed all charges against former New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis stemming from a fight last month in Pittsburgh.

Revis had been charged with aggravated assault and other counts in a fight Feb. 12 in which two men were punched and knocked out.

A witness testified Wednesday that he came to Revis' aid during the fight and was responsible for the knockout punches.

Police said the incident began when a man started recording a video of Revis and Revis grabbed his phone and tried to delete it.

The Jets released Revis shortly after the incident and he's yet to sign with another team.

He starred at the University of Pittsburgh before the Jets drafted him 2007.

Patriots: Pro Bowl LB Hightower re-signed
BOSTON -- The Patriots have re-signed Pro Bowl linebacker Dont'a Hightower.

Hightower's agency, SportsTrust Advisors, tweeted the agreement on Wednesday and his agent Pat Dye, Jr confirmed it. The new pact is for four years and $43.5 million.

It brings back one of the Patriots' biggest free agents, who has helped New England win two Super Bowls in his five NFL seasons. He has 372 tackles and 17 sacks since being a first-round pick out of Alabama in 2012.

He also had one of the biggest plays in last month's Super Bowl. He forced a fumble on a sack on Atlanta's Matt Ryan in the fourth quarter, helping swing the momentum New England's way in its comeback 34-28 overtime victory.

Hightower, 27, took free agent visits with both the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers, but will return to captain a defense that allowed a league-low 15.6 points per game during the regular-season in 2016.

Steelers: WR Justin Hunter gets 1-year deal
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have added depth at wide receiver, signing free agent Justin Hunter on Wednesday to a one-year deal.

Financial details were not disclosed. The 25-year-old Hunter split time between Buffalo and Miami in 2016, catching 10 passes for 189 yards and four touchdowns. Hunter has 78 receptions for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns while playing for the Titans, the Bills and the Dolphins.

Pittsburgh is searching for quality behind star wide receiver Antonio Brown. The 6-foot-4 Hunter provides a red zone target the Steelers missed last season with Martavis Bryant serving a drug suspension. Pittsburgh is hopeful Bryant will return in 2017. Hunter joins a mix at receiver that includes Brown, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Sammie Coates, Eli Rogers and Demarcus Ayers.

NFL Notes: Steelers sign Antonio Brown, franchise tag Le'Veon Bell

NFL Notes: Steelers sign Antonio Brown, franchise tag Le'Veon Bell

PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers have signed Antonio Brown to a five-year deal that will reportedly make him the highest paid wide receiver in the league.

The Steelers did not release terms of the contract, but multiple media outlets reported that it is technically a four-year extension worth $68 million.

The contract takes Brown, who earned first-team All-Pro honors for the third consecutive year in 2016, through the 2021 season.

Steelers place franchise tag on running back Le'Veon Bell
The Pittsburgh Steelers have placed an exclusive rights franchise tag on Pro Bowl running back Le'Veon Bell, ensuring he'll remain with the team in 2017.

The tag gives the Steelers time to work out a long-term deal with Bell, who could have become a free agent next month. The 25-year-old led the NFL in average yards from scrimmage last season and became the first player in NFL history to average at least 100 yards rushing and 50 yards receiving per game.

Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert said earlier this month the Steelers want to keep Bell with the organization "for life." The team has until July 15 to reach an agreement with Bell on a new contract. If not, he will make the average salary of the top five running backs in the league in 2017 (see full story).

Browns release veteran WR Andrew Hawkins
The Cleveland Browns have released wide receiver Andrew Hawkins after three seasons.

The team terminated Hawkins' contract on Monday, cutting ties with one of its most respected players.

Hawkins had 33 catches for 324 yards and three touchdowns last season for the 1-15 Browns. But his contributions went beyond the field, as Hawkins helped mentor Cleveland's young receiving corps. He was also heavily involved in community activities.

Browns coach Hue Jackson says it's "tough to say goodbye to men like Hawk, that have done everything you've asked of them and gone above and beyond when it comes to leadership." Jackson says Hawkins "was a rock for us last season."

Hawkins signed with the Browns as a free agent in 2014 after three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. The 30-year-old, who played college ball at Toledo, played in 39 games with Cleveland, recording 123 catches for 1,424 yards and five TDs.

Cardinals: Chandler Jones receives franchise tag
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals have placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on outside linebacker Chandler Jones after failing to reach a long-term deal with the player.

The "non-exclusive" tag allows the Cardinals to continue negotiating with Jones through July 15. If another team makes him an offer, Arizona can either match it or receive two first-round draft picks.

Under the franchise tag, Jones would receive about $15 million for the coming season.

Acquired in a trade with New England a year ago, Jones had 11 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 15 tackles for loss last season

Jones has 25 1-2 sacks over the past two seasons, third-most in the NFL over that span.

Panthers: Horton re-signed
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Panthers are trying their best to keep their defensive line intact, re-signing defensive end Wes Horton to a two-year contract.

Financial terms were not released Monday.

The move comes less than 24 hours after the Panthers re-signed defensive end Mario Addison to a three-year contract on Sunday night. Addison was set to become an unrestricted free agent, while Horton would have been a restricted free agent.

Carolina is likely to use the franchise tag to keep Kawann Short if they can't reach a long-term deal with the defensive tackle before Wednesday's deadline.

The 27-year-old Horton started 10 games last season and had 11 tackles with 2 sacks. Horton has started 27 games since joining the Panthers in 2013 as an undrafted rookie and has 8 career sacks.