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Thread: Dan Rooney could save the 2011 season, but he's not going to

  1. #1

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    Dan Rooney could save the 2011 season, but he's not going to

    The salary cap that ushered in 18 years of employer-employee contentment, not to mention doubled and tripled revenues? He and the late Gene Upshaw hammered out that landmark agreement.

    The 3½-week strike of 1987? He helped to bring the sides to resolution.

    The 7½-week strike of 1982? Yep, him again.

    This time around, though, Dan Rooney is merely a spectator.

    The Closer is shut down for NFL labor business. So he says.

    "He's the one person who could bring everyone together," offered one front-office type, who preferred anonymity. "There are nothing but lawyers and businessmen around the table now."

    "We sorely, sorely miss Dan Rooney ... someone who has equity in the game," said Ralph Cindrich, a former linebacker for the Oilers, Patriots and Broncos and a longtime sports agent and part-time university professor based in Pittsburgh. "But I don't see him getting involved."

    Rooney, 78, is Steelers chairman emeritus, but is otherwise removed from the club's operation. As he reiterated since Super Bowl XLV in Dallas, he already has a day job as the U.S. ambassador to Ireland and two bosses with more worldwide influence than the NFL: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama. Same as he replaced his father before him, the late Art Sr., Dan Rooney's spot on the NFL owner's executive committee has been taken by his son, Art II.

    "Nope," the elder Rooney answered Friday, after a Heinz Field screening of the Steelers' 2010 highlight film, when local media asked him if he planned to enter these talks. "Art's involved. He knows what to do."

    Rooney, who recently underwent surgery on a balky back, added that he planned to remain ambassador for another year. He left open the possibility he could step down and campaign for Obama in 2012, but "I'm not allowed to say that nor is he."

    Such a scenario could make for an interesting circumstance. What if the NFL owners and players were to go deep in 2012 without a collective bargaining agreement? Might Rooney perform a service for the president's campaign if he came in from the bullpen and resolved a lengthy labor unrest?

    "You look at the breadth and swath of Dan Rooney's impact, and it covers many decades of influence over the National Football League -- not just the [history of] labor unrest," said George Martin, a former Giants defensive end and current executive director/president of NFL Alumni.

    Such long-standing ownership families as the Rooneys and the Giants' Maras "carved and constructed what we see of the league today," Martin added. "Of course, you see [late commissioner] Pete Rozelle's fingerprints, but ... they were the ones who crafted the organization.

    "I think Roger Goodell has been noted of late saying this: It's a shame when you get attorneys involved. That's the great thing of the past, when you had Rooneys and other established heads of families involved. A handshake and an agreement meant something in those days -- not memorialized documents like today. They were not only men of power, but men of impeccable substance as well."

    Ernie Accorsi, retired after general-managing stints with the Colts, Browns and Giants, remembers a "mystery" Pittsburgher coming to the rescue in the 1982 strike. That was Paul Martha, a lawyer working in management for the DeBartolo family that owned the 49ers and the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins ... and a former Steeler under the Rooneys.

    "I was involved in five strikes," Accorsi continued, "so I got so much exposure to collective bargaining and labor law. The big problem -- I don't care who it is, whether it's steelworkers and owners -- is trust. That's what Dan has. People trust him. He was such a critical component [in the 1980s labor division]. He never loses composure, he was always conciliatory, he has an attitude of 'Let's find a way.'

    "One thing about Dan Rooney: However he decides and votes, he's going to make a fair decision. That's what he exudes. It's his character."

    Tunch Ilkin served as the Steelers' player rep for most of the period between the 1987 strike and the 1993 agreement. He echoed the sentiments of many in and around the NFL back then: Rooney and Upshaw, the former NFL Players Association chief, were singularly responsible for a generation-long accord.

    "Mr. Rooney and Gene, they became partners," recalled Ilkin, a Steelers broadcaster nowadays. "It was the two of them. Dan and Gene trusted each other, and they influenced [everybody else]. And you kept labor peace from '93 until now."

    Added Cindrich, the agent-professor, "I don't think there's any question from everybody involved, from Upshaw to [former commissioner Paul] Tagliabue, that Dan Rooney was the catalyst. I know there were some owner-hawks at the time who wanted more. I don't believe anybody, even the men putting it together, knew what was on the horizon. It's grown like an octopus. ... The last deal they were doing well, but franchises weren't valued at $1 billion."

    Art Rooney II, a lawyer by training and trade, isn't an exact duplicate of his father, who, by the way, started out as an accountant. Yet even those who have worked under both Steelers bosses agree each follows the Rooney Way, retaining the family's core values.

    Yet the son isn't ready to broker peace the same way as his father, Cindrich said.

    "Not at this time, in my opinion," Cindrich continued. "He hasn't earned enough stripes with the owners. ... They've elected to put this [labor situation] in the hands of some very successful businessmen who have been known to be ruthless. I don't think there's any question that that type of [Dan Rooney-esque] person is missing, someone who really gives a crap about the people and the fabric of the people."

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  2. #2

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    Re: Dan Rooney could save the 2011 season, but he's not goin

    Think this lockout is strange? Wait until you hear about '87

    By Chuck Finder
    Special to
    June 2, 2011

    PITTSBURGH -- Mention the previous period of labor strife to a Steelers player of that day, and from deep inside veterans and replacements alike arises a chortle.

    Then it grows into a guffaw.

    1987? Ha-ha-how could they forget?

    It all started with Steelers replacement camp in Johnstown, the central Pennsylvania city that floods, the inspiration for the Charlestown Chiefs a decade earlier in the film Slap Shot. This time, it was closer to slapstick.

    "We went to the bar across the street, had a few beers after practice, and walked back to the hotel," recalled quarterback Steve Bono, a late cut in the club's training camp two months earlier. "To think, we went to camp for six weeks in Latrobe, then went to camp for two more weeks in Johnstown. What were we, nuts?"

    Center Mike Webster mooned his striking veteran teammates when they came to picket practice at Johnstown's Point Stadium. "He bent over and started patting his butt. We were howling," tackle and player rep Tunch Ilkin remembered of the future Hall of Famer.

    Receiver John Stallworth caught his 500th career pass amid giddy replacement mates whose names he barely remembered by their third and final game together. The pass came on a trap audible, advised by Webster at the line and thrown by Bono, confounded by the post-reception fuss. Bono, by the way, roomed with former UCLA teammate Lupe Sanchez, a Steelers veteran safety walking a line outside Three Rivers Stadium at the time.

    Oh, and both replacements and strikers shared the same grass field outside the Pittsburgh stadium, practicing one group after the other because team president Dan Rooney made sure that the vets had a key and a football mission.

    Those were a convoluted 24 strike days, to be sure.

    "It was interesting," said Rodney Carter, a rookie third-down back enabled by the strike to earn two more seasons to follow. "It was a different time."

    "It was," Ilkin added, "a crazy time."

    True, parallels exist with today's NFL lockout and nearly 3-month-old labor unrest: decertification of the players association; a Rooney (Art II, not Dan) and a Mara (John, not Wellington) in key positions for the owners; and a lawsuit in front of U.S. District Court Judge David S. Doty in Minnesota (the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear oral arguments Friday in St. Louis).

    Yet, at least for these Steelers, nobody expects to relive those '87 days.

    Except in the case where history bears repeating for purely educational and entertainment reasons.

    "We got our butts kicked so bad in the strike," Ilkin, now a Steelers radio broadcaster, was saying this week.

    Added Craig Wolfley, his assistant rep at the time and a fellow Steelers radio broadcaster today: "We were like the Iraqi Army looking to give itself up to the CNN camera crew."

    Under the leadership of Gene Upshaw, the players association membership agreed to strike after the '87 season's second week.

    Their stance, in hindsight, was a mite shaky.

    They didn't believe owners would stage replacement games. "We were 0 for 1," Ilkin scored it.

    They didn't believe the NFL's television partners would air such games. "0 for 2."

    They didn't believe fans would pay to watch. "0 for 3."

    The Steelers' franchise as a whole was starting to whiff at the plate. As the decade after the Super Bowl 1970s unfolded, with only Webster, Stallworth and safety Donnie Shell remaining among their four-ring crowd, the franchise started to lapse into a sub.-500 state for the first time since coach Chuck Noll's third season, 1971. The two years before 1987, they went 7-9 and 6-10.

    So their front office tried to plan ahead for the eventuality of labor trouble, especially five years after a 57-day strike in 1982 that began -- yet again -- after Week 2. Released players such as Bono hung around Pittsburgh, living with Sanchez. Carter, a two-time cut after being a 1986 seventh-rounder, fretted through the dilemma of a financial incentive.

    "It might have been, like, [a walk-away offer of] $1,000," said Carter, who works in pharmaceutical sales near Bethlehem, Pa. "If there was a strike, you would come back and play. If there wasn't, you could keep the money. I was one of the last cuts on the final cut day, and I was coming off a knee injury. I didn't take [the money]."

    Carter drove directly from his native New Jersey to Johnstown for replacement camp. There he joined a running-back pal who was signed by his hometown Steelers the season before, Chuck Sanders of Slippery Rock. They sat in their hotel Jacuzzi soaking up a new sensation: Free of making-the-roster stress.

    "We felt like the stars, me and Rodney Carter," recalled Sanders, the founder and CEO of a settlement-services firm in Pittsburgh.

    Carter remembered that night they repaired to their chain hotel room and ordered room service -- most likely burgers, he said -- "and Chuck looked at me: 'This is how the kings live.'"

    Paupers abounded among the replacements. One unidentified player wore headphones to the inaugural Johnstown practice until kicker Dave Trout, six years earlier a Steeler, warned him about facing Noll's music. Wannabes came and went in a single day.

    "I remember one guy, we were supposed to be in shorts, and he was trying to return punts," Sanders began. "And the ball kept hitting him in the face. Coaches said, 'We got to get you a helmet.'"

    "It was a cast of characters," said Bono, who works in financial investments in Menlo Park, Calif. "Even though the movie The Replacements was Hollywood, I always felt the casting of the characters was really good. We had all those types."

    Most of any tension was focused on the veterans, starting with a 14-year veteran earning $18,000-plus per game -- the first of four Steelers captains to cross.

    "Webby called me up," Ilkin explained. "He was in tears. He said, '... I don't know if I'm going to do this again.' I said, 'Go ahead, man.' But some guys were upset because he was the captain."

    "Actually, I was not going to play," said Bono, whose replacement stint sent him on a 15-year career arc that included a Pro Bowl and 13-3 season with the 1995 Chiefs. "I grew up in a union family. My dad was a tool-and-die maker, in the International Machinists Union. But my dad, who was on strike at that time, said: 'You need to play, and these are the reasons why.' He's the one who talked me into it. And thank goodness he did.

    "We had a pretty good team., too. Thank goodness for the Mike Websters and Earnest Jacksons and John Stallworths ... and guys who crossed. Plus, guys like me who were not on rosters and came to play. We had for sure a few guys who ended up sticking around for several more years" such as Bono, Carter, guard Brian Blankenship, cornerbacks Larry Griffin and Cornell Gowdy plus linebacker Tyronne Stowe.

    The city that floods actually provided a safe haven, far from what Sanders described as "ugly" behavior befalling friends in such places as Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.: "We were better off going to Johnstown, which was smart by the Rooneys."

    When the Steelers veterans showed Oct. 2 to picket, the atmosphere was jovial. The vets stood on a bridge overlooking Point Stadium, home mostly to high school sports and a famed Babe Ruth baseball tournament. Each side teased the other, the butt of jokes, a la Webster.

    Two days later, the Steelers replacements opened play that resulted in a 2-1 strike record, winning in Atlanta, losing in Los Angeles to a Rams defense with most of its veteran starters and beating the Colts in that Stallworth moment at home. The vets worked out at the downtown YMCA courtesy of then-director Bill Parise, who so happens to represent Steelers linebacker James Harrison nowadays. They practiced at their usual Three Rivers field thanks to Rooney -- "Dan calls up and says, 'There's a key on [this secretary's] desk. You didn't get it from me,'" Ilkin recollected.

    After that third replacement game, with an end imminent, Ilkin and Wolfley gathered the veterans at Three Rivers to await word whether to strike or report. Ilkin spoke to Upshaw over a mobile telephone -- before cell phones, remember -- installed in the foreign-made luxury sedan of second-round draftee Delton Hall, the starting cornerback opposite Rod Woodson.

    "I thought, if anybody got a picture of that, it wouldn't look good: 'Players on strike, and he's in a Mercedes?!'" Ilkin said.

    "That whole strike really, wow, was a mess," Carter continued.

    Later on, due mostly to a decertified union and the lawsuit before Doty, the veterans received free agency and the NFL entered a salary-cap era that helped to transform it into a $9 billion business.

    "Wow.. ., wow... ," Bono said, struggling to describe it. "People in general have been asking me about the current strike, what's going on. That one [in '87] was a little different."


  3. #3
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    Re: Dan Rooney could save the 2011 season, but he's not goin

    It is Art's turn. Dan is older and done. And no Art hasn't earned enough stripes yet as the article mentions, but by the end, I imagine he will earn some. He is very capable, probably more than his father at this point. Dan took over for his old man and now Art will do so for his father. But it will take time and some of the business men in the league will have to welcome him into the talks a bit more. It will happen most likely at a later date. Its WAAAYY too early to mediate frankly. Both sides have too much wiggle room. When days roll by, the noose tightens a bit more and both sides will be flexible. The players WILL buckle and the Rooneys will get the owners to give 'a little bit' at the end, so to make it a reasonable situation.

  4. #4

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    Re: Dan Rooney could save the 2011 season, but he's not goin

    Well, Art II was included in the "secret" talks outside of Chicago (along with John Mara, Jerry Jones, Robert Kraft, and Jerry Richardson) while some other owners weren't even aware such talks were taking place. That shows that he has a solid amount of respect from his fellow owners at this point.

  5. #5

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    Re: Dan Rooney could save the 2011 season, but he's not goin

    The fundamental problem in this situation that has not existed in the past is the new school, cutthroat, profit first, profit last, profit at all costs nobody can tell me no because I'm a freaking billionaire ownership set. The influence of that group is represented in that ownership committee by Robert Kraft (who, remember, is The Rog's puppeteer) and Jerry Jones. Think about this one - Jerry bought a franchise that went 1 - 15 in his first year of ownership. His hand picked coach led them to back to back Super Bowls, and the cusp of being (the sacrilege!) equal or superior to our teams of the '70's in terms of legacy. But Jerry couldn't leave well enough alone. He fires the successful head coach, hires a succession of yes men, wins one more title on the fumes, then drives the franchise into the ground. Now he's doing the same with the entire league.

    In 2006 the CBA negotiations went to the 11th hour and beyond before getting done, and it wasn't owners vs. players that caused the issues, it was owners vs. owners - big market vs. small. Jerry vs. Mike Brown. Daniel Snyder vs. Ralph Wilson. Now, the owners want to reboot so that the SMALLEST market turns a significant profit while Jerry gets obscenely wealthy, and they want it at the expense of the players. And we know that Jerry won't hesitate to slash and burn anything that gets in the way of his colossal ego regardless of the result... if he'd destroy his OWN franchise (HOW many playoff wins in the last 15 years?) why in the world would he care about the rest of the league or its fans?

    Offered as support for my conjecture, lest we forget the reason the players left negotiations and decertified in the first place... I got this from PFT, but it was widely cited at a number of sources.

    Jerry Jones’ gesture may have set the stage for decertification
    Posted by Mike Florio on March 15, 2011, 7:04 PM EDT
    At the outset of a summary of last week’s collapse of negotiation sessions between the NFL and the players’ union, Jim Trotter of Sports Illustrated paints a picture of the kind of disrespect that likely helped the drive players toward the decertification-and-litigation option.

    Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, not a bit humbler after last month’s Super Bowl seating fiasco or the prior day’s finding that the owners had abused their duty to max out revenues by cutting a deal for lockout insurance, opened a face-to-face meeting with the players on March 2 with the following message to the players who attended the session.

    “I don’t think we’ve got your attention,” Jones said, according to several players who spoke anonymously to Trotter. “You clearly don’t understand what we’re saying, and we’re not hearing what you’re saying. So I guess we’re going to have to show you to get your attention.”

    Per Trotter, Jones then tapped his fists together. The players interpreted the gesture as a sign that a lockout was coming. (Maybe he was simply using Friends code for giving the finger.)

    Jones then stood up and walked out. Panthers owner Jerry Richardson reportedly prepared to leave as well, but Patriots owner Robert Kraft put a hand on Richardson’s forearm, prompting Richardson to stay put.

    If the report is accurate, it’s troubling. And it helps us understand why the deal couldn’t get done.

    And it makes us even more convinced that, if the talks were being handled by a mediator appointed by one of the two judges who have authority over the litigation between the parties, the owners would think twice before acting that way in the presence of a person who can promptly report back to Judge Doty or Judge Nelson any unreasonable or abusive or counterproductive conduct.

    Until that happens, the process would be better served if, when talks resume, some of the owners stay home and count their money.

    In short, the NFL let a few a$$holes into its ownership group, and they won't rest until they can Steinbrennerize the sport.

  6. #6

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    Re: Dan Rooney could save the 2011 season, but he's not goin

    I read a great story about revenue sharing being the main reason for the lockout.

    GB won the SB last year... we have been to 3 the last 6 years...

    but Snyder and Jerry Jones are calling the shots.. lol.

  7. #7

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    Re: Dan Rooney could save the 2011 season, but he's not goin

    On one side, you have the Mike Browns and the Ralph Wilsons and the Wayne Weavers crying poverty, and on the other side, you have the Jerry Joneses and the Daniel Snyders and the Roberts Krafts whose greed seems to be reaching Bernie Madoff-like levels. In the middle of the pack, the only hope for this lockout eventually being resolved are the moderate owners who look at the health of the league first and their own bottom line second (the Rooneys and the Maras).

  8. #8

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    Re: Dan Rooney could save the 2011 season, but he's not goin

    Revenue sharing IS the issue... quite simply, rather than keep the current system in which the 32 owners cooperate in order to maintain the health of the league as a whole, they've determined to take it out of the players' cut. The players have balked at being asked to blow up a working system and eat a 30% paycut so that Jerry and Bob can get richer. Jerry and Bob are p*ssed that they have to share revenue with Ralph and Mike so they can have somebody to beat on Sundays...

    The beauty of the current system, though, is precisely in the fact that revenue sharing in tv money, etc. combined with the salary cap evens the playing field so that savvy football people can win. That's why Green Bay and Pittsburgh were in the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the cutthroat businessmen whose egos have them believing they've got a clue about football have 5 - 11 teams... but just because their on field product sucks doesn't mean they can't and won't wield huge influence in the conference room.

  9. #9

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    Re: Dan Rooney could save the 2011 season, but he's not goin

    NFL needs Dan Rooney, Dan Rooney needs NFL to not need him

    Posted by Mike Florio on June 8, 2011

    While skimming through the Wednesday one-liners (hey, I read them . . . sometimes), I noticed the reference to Chuck Finder’s column arguing for Steelers chairman emeritus Dan Rooney to be involved in the ongoing labor talks.

    Finder is right. The game needs Dan Rooney, now the U.S. ambassador to Ireland, to be involved.

    But here’s our (or at least my) theory. Dan Rooney believes that now is the time to give someone else a chance to learn how to put the interests of the game above and beyond his own team’s interests. As the NFL continues to grow, these moments will arise more and more frequently. And the wisdom of Dan Rooney’s non-involvement comes from his faith that one or more other owners will have an epiphany during the CBA talks that will influence his (or, ideally, their) views on every other potential issue that could undermine the broader interests of the entire league.

    Currently, there isn’t a Dan Rooney or a Wellington Mara at the table for the owners. But someone can grow into that role while staring down the consequences of a lost season and understanding the sacrifices that need to be made in order to ensure that the tide will continue to rise, taking every boat in the water along with it.

    Or maybe Dan Rooney realizes that the car is headed off the cliff, and he simply decided to bail before it crashes.

    Hopefully, it’s the former.

    Meanwhile, feel free to speculate in the comments as to what Rooney said to Commissioner Roger Goodell to prompt that pre-Super Bowl belly laugh.

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