American Football Wiki
Art Rooney
Pittsburgh Steelers
Arthur "Art" Rooney
Date of Birth:
January 27, 1901
Coulterville, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Date of Death:
September 25, 1988(1988-09-25) (aged 87)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Alma Mater:
Ownership/Management Information
Former position:
Founding owner and chairman, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1933-1988 (his death)
Career Highlights
Championships Won:
Super Bowl XIV (1979)
Super Bowl XIII (1978)
Super Bowl X (1975)
Super Bowl IX (1974)
Family Information
Kathleen McNulty, (?-1988, his death)
Dan Rooney (Steelers' owner and CEO, 1988-present) and Art Rooney, Jr.
Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1984

Arthur Joseph "Art" Rooney, Sr. (January 27, 1901 – August 25, 1988), often referred to as "The Chief", was the founding owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers American football franchise in the National Football League.

Family history[]

Rooney's great-grandparents, James and Mary Rooney, were Irish Catholics who immigrated from Newry in County Down, Northern Ireland to Canada during the Irish potato famine in the 1840s. While living in Montreal, the Rooney's had a son, Arthur (who would become the grandfather of the subject of this article). James and Mary later moved back to the British Isles, not to Ireland, but settling in Ebbw Vale, Wales, where the iron industry was flourishing, taking their son Arthur, then 21, with them. This Arthur Rooney married an Irish girl, Catherine Regan, (who was also Irish Catholic) in Wales and they had a son Dan. Two years after Dan Rooney was born, the family immigrated back to Canada and eventually end up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1884. Along the way the family grew to include nine children of which Dan was the second.[1]

Dan Rooney remained in the Pittsburgh area, and eventually opened a saloon in the Monongahela Valley coal town of Coulter, Pennsylvania (or Coultersville). This is where Dan Rooney met and wed Margaret "Maggie" Murray, who was the daughter of a coal miner, and where the couple's first son, Art, was born. Dan and Maggie would eventually settle their family in Pittsburgh's North Side in 1913 where they bought a three story building at the corner of Corey Street and General Robinson Street. Dan operated a cafe and saloon out of the first floor with the family living above. The building was located just a block from Exposition Park, which had been home to the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team until 1909.[1]

Early life[]

Art Rooney was the oldest of nine children (six boys and three girls) of Dan and Maggie Rooney.[1] From an early age he was an exceptional athlete, participating in football, baseball and boxing all of which he pursued with passion.[2] He played on a number of sandlot baseball and football teams and participated in AAU boxing, where he twice lost National AAU Championship bouts. Although he didn't attend the Olympic trials, many felt he could have made the U.S. boxing team for the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. He fought and beat the gold medal winner of those Olympics in his weight class, Sammy Mosberg both just before and just after the games. Some speculated that Rooney declined to participate in the Olympics to avoid questions about his amateur status, since he had been participating on semi-professional baseball teams since the age of 15.[2]

Rooney graduated from Duquesne Prep High School at Duquesne University. He turned down multiple scholarship offers from Knute Rockne to play football at the University of Notre Dame.[3] Instead he attended (and played sports) at Indiana State Normal School, Georgetown (DC) University, and Duquesne University though he never completed his college degree.[3][4] Since then, many members of the Rooney family have graduated from Duquesne and have made many endowments to the university.

Pittsburgh Steelers[]

For more details on this topic, see History of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rooney's affiliation with the NFL began in 1933 after he bought the new Pittsburgh Pirates franchise for a “princely sum of $2,500” as a gift to his son Dan Rooney on his very first birthday. He soon used that $2,500 to pay the required National Football League franchise entrance fee for a club based in the city of Pittsburgh, which he had named the Pirates (also the name of the city's long-established Major League Baseball club, which Rooney was a fan of as a child).

Template:Quote box Since the league's founding in 1920, the NFL had wanted a team in Pittsburgh due to the city's already-long history with football as well as the popularity of the Pittsburgh Panthers football team, an NCAA national championship contender during this period. The league was finally able to take advantage of Pennsylvania relaxing their blue laws that prior to 1933 prohibited sporting events from taking place on Sundays, when most NFL games take place.

The Saratoga Race Course parlay occurred in 1936 where he won about $160,000. He used the winnings to hire a coach, Joe Bach, give contracts to his players and almost win a championship. The winnings funded the team until 1941 when he sold the franchise to NY playboy Alex Thompson. Thompson wanted to move the franchise to Boston so he could be a five hour train ride to his club. At the same time, the Philadelphia Eagles ran into financial problems. Rooney used the funds from the sale of franchise to get a 70% interest in the Eagles, the other 30% held by Rooney friend and future NFL commissioner, Bert Bell. Bell and Rooney agreed to trade places with Thompson. Bell took the role of President of the Steelers that he relinquished to Rooney in 1946 when Bell became Commissioner. Rooney got his good friend and his sister's father in law, Barney McGinley, to buy Bell's shares. Barney's son Jack, Art's brother in law, retained the McGinley interest that passed to his heirs when he died in 2006. (from Screamer: The Forgotten Voice of the Pittsburgh Steelers by Murray Tucker)

Rooney sent shock waves through the NFL by signing Byron "Whizzer" White to a record-breaking $15,000 contract in 1938. This move, however, did not bring the Pirates a winning season, and White left the team for the Detroit Lions the following year. The club did not have a season above .500 until 1942, the year after they were renamed the Pittsburgh Steelers.

During World War II, the Steelers had some financial difficulties and were merged with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1943 and the Chicago Cardinals in 1944.

After the war, Rooney became team president. He longed to bring an NFL title to Pittsburgh but was never able to beat the powerhouse teams, like the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers. Although the Steelers were reasonably popular in the city during this time, they would remain second-fiddle to the Pittsburgh Pirates until the 1970s and were known in the NFL as the "lovable losers". The team also made some questionable personnel calls at the time such as cutting a then-unknown Johnny Unitas in training camp (Unitas would go on to a Hall of Fame career with the Baltimore Colts) and trading their first round pick in the 1965 draft to the Chicago Bears (who would draft Dick Butkus with the pick), among others.

Nevertheless, Rooney was popular with owners as a mediator, which would carry over to his son Dan Rooney. He was the only owner to vote against moving the rights of the New York Yanks to Dallas, Texas after the 1951 season due to concerns of racism in the South at the time.[5] (Ultimately, the Dallas Texans failed after one year, and the rights were moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where the team became the second incarnation of the Baltimore Colts; that franchise is currently in Indianapolis.) In 1963, along with Bears owner George Halas, Rooney was one of two owners to vote for the 1925 NFL Championship to be reinstated to the long-defunct Pottsville Maroons.

Later life[]


Art Rooney statue outside of Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The "Gate D" sign behind the statue is the last surviving relic from the Steelers former home, Three Rivers Stadium.

Following the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the Steelers agreed to leave the NFL Eastern Conference and joined the AFC Central Division.

Through expert scouting, the Steelers became a power. In 1972, they began a remarkable 8–year run of playoff appearances. In Rooney's 41st season as owner, the club won the Super Bowl. They followed up with Super Bowl victories following the 1975, 1978 and 1979 seasons.

After the 1974 season, Rooney relinquished the day-to-day operation of the club to his son Dan. He remained Chairman of the Board of the club until his death in Pittsburgh in 1988. In memory of "The Chief," Steelers wore a patch on the left shoulder of their uniforms with Rooney's initials AJR for the entire season. The team ended up finishing 5-11, their worst record since a 1–13 showing in 1969. He is buried at the North Side Catholic Cemetery in Pittsburgh.[6]


Art Rooney received many awards during his career. In 1964, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Duquesne University named their football field in his honor in 1993. In 1999, The Sporting News named him one of the 100 most powerful sports figures of the 20th century.

A statue of his likeness graces the entrance to the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Heinz Field. He also has a street named in his honor on Pittsburgh's North Side.

During Rooney's life, the Steelers would often use a late-round draft pick on a player from a local college like Pitt, West Virginia, and/or Penn State. Though these players rarely made the team, this practice was intended to appeal to local fans and players. The team has occasionally employed this practice after Rooney's death. However, they now focus more on talent than geography throughout the entire draft. Rooney also supposedly liked players from Notre Dame due to his Irish Catholic background, hence why he allegedly had the team keep Notre Dame alumnus and wounded Vietnam veteran Rocky Bleier around. Bleier would go on to become one of the key members of the team's success in the 1970s; however, Bleier was ironically a German Presbyterian.

Art Rooney was inducted into the American Football Association's Semi Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

Rooney is the subject of, and the only character in, the one-man play The Chief, written by Gene Collier and Rob Zellers. The play debuted at the Pittsburgh Public Theater in 2003, and has been revived on three occasions since then. All productions have starred Tom Atkins as Rooney.

Today, Rooney is one of the city's most beloved figures. Few are talked about with as much reverence as Rooney. At Steeler games, (Especially during the Super Bowl XL season) there is a sign that shows a picture of Rooney with his characteristic cigar and under the photo, the word "Believe."

Rooney was married to Kathleen McNulty, and was the grandfather of United States Congressman Thomas J. Rooney (FL-16), and the great-grandfather of actresses Kate Mara and Rooney Mara.

Further reading[]

 The Chief: Art Rooney and his Pittsburgh Steelers,O'Brien, Jim (2001). . James P. O'Brien - Publishing.  ISBN 1-886348-06-5.



Klavon, Jacqueline E.. Rooney, Arthur Joseph (The Chief) bio. Pennsylvania Center for the Book. Retrieved on May 4, 2011.

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Ruanaidh:The Story of Art Rooney and his clan,Rooney, Arthur J. (Jr.); Roy McHugh (2008). pp. 2–5. Art Rooney, Jr.. ISBN 978-0-9814760-3-2.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Rooney, Jr. & McHugh (2008), pp. 6–8.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Tuma, Gary. "From the PG Archives: Steelers' Art Rooney in retrospect", October 14, 2007. Retrieved on 2010-05-16. 
  4. The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives (Thematic Series): The 1960s,Campbell, Jim (2002). The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives (Thematic Series): The 1960s. Charles Scribner's Sons. ISBN 978-0684806662.
  5. 75 Seasons: The Complete Story of the National Football League, pg. 103
  6. Arthur "Art" Rooney (1901-1988) - Find A Grave Memorial

External links[]

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