Today marks the 21st anniversary of the death of Art Rooney, Sr., the founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The folks over at Behind the Steel Curtain have posted this poignant essay about the man who most knew as “The Chief”:
As a humanitarian, Art Rooney had few equals. When a Pittsburgh Steeler was ever in the hospital, Rooney would visit every morning and bring a newspaper and fresh coffee. Rooney’s wife, Kathleen, would stop in later with home-baked muffins. When boarding the plane after road games, each player was handed a couple beers while Art Rooney passed out cigars to all who wanted them. No wonder the players loved him, so much so that one year the players walked to his house and sang Christmas carols.
One day at a racetrack, Rooney and a friend were approached by a little old lady. She was sobbing loudly, telling Rooney how she just lost her last dollar. Her family was hungry and her grandson needed medicine. She bet what little money she had in order to make enough to buy food and medicine. Rooney pulled $100 out of his pocket and gave it to her. His friend quickly pointed out that the lady was an impostor. She was a regular phony at the racetrack. “I know that,” said Rooney, “but did you see that performance? She earned it.”
Another day at the track, a good one for the Chief, ended with him driving home with heavy pockets. He saw a priest waiting for a bus and, with his affinity for priests, stopped and offered the clergyman a ride. During conversation the priest revealed that his church needed a new roof. Rooney asked if the priest knew how much that would cost and was told $7,500. The Chief reached into his bulging pocket, peeled off $7,500 and handed it to the priest. Astonished, the priest politely indicated he couldn’t accept money that was not legit. After Rooney identified the track he came from that day, the priest took the cash with dropped-jaw and looked to the heavens. “That’s OK,” the Chief laughed, “just say a prayer for me.”
It’s a really great piece, and worth a read for any football fan. It almost makes me kind of sad that people like Jerry Jones can be NFL owners while there were once people like The Chief running things.