PITTSBURGH — Dan Rooney’s priorities were clear. Family. Football. Faith. Ireland.
It’s the order they came in for the longtime Pittsburgh Steelers president and chairman that occasionally became blurry. Often in the best way possible.
The evidence was found Tuesday in the pews at St. Paul’s Cathedral, a cross section of a singular life that stretched far beyond his native city yet never seemed to stray from its roots.
The 90-minute funeral celebrating Rooney, who died at 84 last Thursday, offered a glimpse into a man who turned a moribund franchise into a dynasty; helped refine the vision of the modern NFL; and tried to ease regional tensions as U.S. ambassador to Ireland. All while remaining the guy from Pittsburgh’s North Side neighborhood simply known as “Dan.”
“He was a Pittsburgher,” Cardinal Donald Wuerl said. “He was the best of us.”
To the right in the massive sanctuary sat hundreds of current and former players – from Hall of Famers Joe Greene and Franco Harris, to current stars Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, to alums whose careers were far more modest – that Rooney treated as surrogate sons and grandsons. In the middle sat Commissioner Roger Goodell and his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, men who relied on Rooney’s counsel. In front sat good friend and former President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, there to pay tribute to Rooney’s legacy and offer comfort to his wife Patricia, son Art II and the rest of what is considered the city’s first family.
Scattered throughout were friends, well-wishers and strangers who filled the crowded sanctuary to say goodbye.
“He never lost the common man touch,” Wuerl said.
Maybe because Rooney never considered himself anything else, not even as he oversaw the Steelers’ transformation from also-rans to champions. Not even as he joined so many of his players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000. Not even as he became the first U.S. ambassador to visit all 32 counties in Ireland, intent on creating unity out of division.