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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