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Pittsburgh Says Goodbye To Former Steelers Owner Dan Rooney

Gene J. Puskar
A scoreboard at Heinz Field, site of a public viewing Monday, April 17, 2017, honors Pittsburgh Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney, in Pittsburgh, Monday, April 17, 2017.

Former President Barack Obama will be among the mourners attending the funeral of Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney.

Tuesday's Mass will be celebrated at St. Paul Cathedral in the city's Oakland section.

Rooney served as ambassador to Ireland in the Obama administration.

There was a public viewing for family and fans on Monday at the PNC Champions Club at Heinz Field.

Rooney, who died Thursday at the age of 84, was a man admired as much off the gridiron as he was in the world of professional football.

To say he was beloved by the people of southwestern Pennsylvania would be putting it lightly. Although famous in Pittsburgh -- having been born into the crown jewel of the region's sports universe -- most who met him at some point during his more than eight decades in the city would say he was always approachable and kind.

Speaking to WQED in 2013, Rooney said that ease with strangers was a trait instilled in him by his father, Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr.

“The thing that he did, and I hope I gained a lot from it, is he really enjoyed people,” Rooney said. “He just related to people so much and he’d talk to everybody. We’d go to airports and I’d say, ‘Dad, we’ve got to make the plane.’ And he’d say, ‘You, go ahead; tell ‘em I’m on my way.’”

Rooney was a devout Catholic, which had a strong impact on how he lived his life, according to Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik.

“He was such a humble man,” Zubik said. “And humility really meant that, despite whatever successes he had, and he had many, the focus was always, always, always on the other person. It was never on Dan Rooney.”

But there was another aspect of Rooney’s character that gave him credibility with people throughout the region, according to former Gov. Ed Rendell.

“Integrity,” Rendell said. “One hundred percent integrity, 100 percent caring and sensitivity about the plight of ordinary people.”

Rendell said that concern shined through in 2008 when Rooney campaigned hard in the state for then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

“Because he was, one, so widely respected. And, two, because he spoke clearly,” Rendell said. “He spoke from the heart. And I think we carried the state in 2008 by 11 points, but I think Dan was very responsible for how well we did in western Pennsylvania.”

Once elected, former President Obama paid Rooney back, tapping him to be ambassador to Ireland--a position he held for four years.

Some argue, though, that foreign diplomacy was a skill Rooney had prepared for his whole life. Because, as Zubik said, Dan Rooney was among the best ambassadors the City of Pittsburgh ever had.

“I think it's just important for everybody to be able, whether they knew him directly or saw him from afar, just to kind of cherish the beautiful lesson that he taught all of us,” Zubik said. “Especially as he, I think, casts even a brighter light on the beauty of what it means to be a southwestern Pennsylvanian.”

After all, Rooney was a Pittsburgher - or, as he would put it himself in an interview made available by the Steelers:

“I believe in going with the people,” he said. “Talking to them. And I think it’s important that they see I’m the same as them. I’m a fan. I’m not trying to be a big shot or anything like that. Just to let them know. I’m with them.”

Tuesday’s funeral mass will be celebrated at St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland. Pittsburgh-native and longtime Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. will preside.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. 

Christopher started listening to public radio shortly after he picked up the keys to that '98 Chevy Cavalier back in 2004. He no longer has that car (it's kind of a funny story), but he still listens to — and now has a hand in creating — public radio programming everyday.