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Steelers Owner, Former Ambassador To Ireland Dan Rooney Dies At 84

AP, file
In this Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2008 file photo, Pittsburgh Steelers Art Rooney, right, looks on as his father Dan Rooney talks with reporters after the NFL owners meeting in Irving, Texas.

Former U.S. ambassador to Ireland and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney has died at the age of 84.

Steelers spokesman Burt Lauten said Rooney died Thursday. No further details were 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 an NFL title game.

He was a powerful force within the league. He helped develop 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.

He made the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000 and also served as the U.S. ambassador to Ireland from 2009-2012.

As reports, Rooney was a Pittsburgh institution: 

The house where Dan Rooney grew up and lived to his final days is just two stories high with a small porch, located on a modest block on Pittsburgh's north side not far from a fast food restaurant and some empty lots. You can almost see it from Heinz Field, and for years, Rooney would walk the cracked sidewalks down the hill to get to Steelers home games, one of the most influential people in NFL history remaining firmly a part of the city where he resided -- save for one very celebrated interruption -- all his life.

Reporter Judy Battista explains how Rooney was a celebrated figure in the NFL. 

Rooney will be remembered by fans for the extraordinary stamp he left on the game and so much more. But for those who knew him well or worked for him, their affection spawned from the fact that he still ate in the team cafeteria with the secretaries, went to each player in the locker room after every game to shake his hand, stopped by the press room and press box to chat with reporters -- even minutes before one of the Steelers' Super Bowls was about to kick off -- and once took a visiting reporter on a tour of his neighborhood, driving his own Buick. One six-week stretch in 2009 summed up the breadth of his experiences: The Steelers won their sixth Super Bowl in February and Rooney was nominated, on St. Patrick's Day, to be the United States Ambassador to Ireland.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, in a statement, commended Rooney's service. 

"Pittsburgh, and our nation, owes immeasurable gratitude to Ambassador Rooney. Thank you for your service to our country. Thank you for your devotion to your family and the Steeler nation. Thank you for all you have done for Pittsburgh."

Tony Dungy, who played and coached for the Steelers, said that Rooney was a special man. "He had such a positive impact on so many people, not just in the in the sport of football but in life," Dungy said. "I was truly blessed to have been around him for the ten years I played and worked for the Steelers and Dan played a major role in my development as a coach and a man. We will miss him but his impact on the NFL, and on the city of Pittsburgh will continue to be felt for years to come."

Former Steelers wide receiver and Hall of Famer Lynn Swann, who won four Super Bowls with the team, said Rooney's ultimate goal was the success of his team and of the league.

"Was he a competitor? Yes. Did he want to win? Yes. Did he want to have  team that was always competitive and vying for a championship? Absolutely," Swann said. "But at the heart of what Dan was doing, what Dan felt was important, was that the league did well and did the right things."

Common court judge and former Steelers cornerback Dwayne Woodruff, who spent 11 seasons with the team, said despite the business-like nature of the NFL, Rooney was always “friendly and approachable.”

“He kept that family atmosphere and treated you like he would treat family, as well,” Woodruff said. “It was a blessing for me to be a part of that time with him.”

Woodruff said he was also aware that Rooney had been “very ill.”

“I know just this past weekend, Joe Greene and Mel Blount and I talked about him and Joe and Mel had the opportunity to go out and visit him,” Woodruff said. “I, at the time, was out campaigning in another part of the state, I regret that I didn’t have the opportunity to visit with him recently.” 

The Associated Press contributed to this story.