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Pittsburgh And Steelers Remember Rooney's 'Immeasurable' Impact

Matt Rourke
Dan Rooney pictured here during an pre-season game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles in 2016. Rooney was 84 when he died, after more than 50 years with the Steelers.

Outpourings of grief and sympathy are flooding in to Pittsburgh from around the world, marking the death of NFL icon, Dan Rooney.

Rooney, who was 84 when he died, was active as the chairman of the Steelers and in the community up until a few weeks ago, when he took ill and moved into a local nursing facility.

Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese Bishop David Zubik had an opportunity to bless Rooney and meet with his family before his passing Thursday afternoon.

“One of the very important realities in Dan’s life was his faith,” Zubik said. “He was a very active Catholic. As a matter of fact, he came to mass every single day. I think that carried through in the way he lived his life.”

One of the ways that faith was evident in Rooney’s life was the way he treated his players off the field.

Rocky Bleier came into the NFL in 1968, but left when he was drafted into the Army. While serving in Vietnam, he was wounded. He returned to the Steelers in 1970, only to be cut by Coach Chuck Noll. Bleier said Rooney stood up for him and provided him with a second chance.

“It was really Dan that did all that for me, specifically, and he did a lot of things for his players that people don’t know about,” Bleier said.

After his recovery, Bleier played for nine seasons with the Steelers. He has gone on to write books and launch organizations supporting vets having a hard time reentering civilian life. He said Rooney supported him through all of that, as well.

Hall of Famer Lynn Swann said Rooney’s willingness to help others, almost at any cost, made him someone that other NFL owners would turn to for advice.

“Did he want to have a team that was always competitive and vying for a championship? Absolutely,” Swann said. “But at the heart of what Dan was doing, and what Dan thought was important, was that the league did well and did the right things. So he was a guy that would give you that advice and you would understand it was coming from the right place.”

Rooney made be best remembered for his role in implementing the “Rooney Rule,” which requires that a team interview at least one minority candidate for every head coach and senior operations job opening.

An NFL team is a multi-million dollar operation, but former player Dwayne Woodruff, remembered it differently under Rooney’s leadership.

Credit Jae. C. Hong / AP
Former President Barack Obama walks with Steelers owner Dan Rooney in 2008, near the David Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. Rooney was ambassador to Ireland under Obama from 2009-2012.

“He kept that family atmosphere and treated you like he would treat family, as well,” Woodruff said.

Rooney’s impact extended far outside of football and the church. Remembrances have come in from a slew of politicians, including former President Barack Obama, who named Rooney an ambassador to Ireland in 2009.

At the time of his passing Thursday, Obama called him “a model citizen, and someone who represented the United States with dignity and grace on the world stage.”

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has called for flags in the commonwealth to be flown at half-staff, calling Rooney, “one of our most revered citizens, civic leaders and public servants.”

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald called Rooney’s impact on the region "immeasurable."

Dan Rooney will be laid to rest Tuesday. Cardinal Donald Wuerl will preside over the ceremony at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Oakland.

90.5 WESA's Katie Blackley and Kevin Gavin contributed to this report.