PITTSBURGH – When Dan Rooney gave his welcome to training camp speech to the Pittsburgh Steelers last summer, the message was different from any he or his late father, Art, previously delivered in the club’s 76-year history.
The franchise that has been a benchmark of NFL stability in good times and bad, won five Super Bowls, spawned the careers of Terry Bradshaw, Jack Lambert and Ben Roethlisberger and gained a coast-to-coast following was a bit unsettled.
Rooney, the team chairman, and son Art II, the president, were working to keep the team following months of family negotiations, but the outcome was uncertain. The news then was that Dan Rooney’s four brothers might sell their shares to Wall Street billionaire Stanley Druckenmiller, and the Steelers could be out of family control for the first time since their founding, except for a few brief months in 1941.
It was a rare unsettled moment for one of the NFL’s cornerstone franchises, one that has stayed the course – and stayed successful – for generations. Some clubs are known for being the team of the decade; the steady-as-they-go Steelers are a team for every decade.
Despite receiving the kind of news that might have disrupted a less-grounded team’s season, the Steelers accepted the challenge Rooney gave them: Don’t worry about this, we will. You guys go win football games.
“I think they did a wonderful job of not letting it become a distraction, because it was a big deal,” defensive end Brett Keisel said, revealing the meeting for the first time. “They came to us and said, ‘We hope it comes out the way we would like, and we want you to concentrate on football because we have a tough schedule, and that’s what’s important.’ That’s what we did.”
Turns out both the owners and players kept their end of the deal.
The Steelers shook off a difficult schedule and numerous injuries to reach the Super Bowl for a seventh time. If they beat the Arizona Cardinals on Feb. 1 in Tampa, Dan Rooney doesn’t need to be reminded what that will mean.
“If you win six, nobody else has ever won six,” Rooney said.
How’s this for contrast in a Super Bowl matchup of old but very dissimilar teams: the Cardinals have been in three cities since 1960. The Steelers have had three coaches since 1969.
After nearly two years of inner-family negotiating, Dan Rooney’s brothers voted two months ago to sell all or part of their shares to him. Dan Rooney will bring in some outside investors to partly fund the buyout, but the settlement satisfies an NFL requirement that the primary owner has at least a 30 percent stake.
The deal also satisfies NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who gathered the brothers in New York in late August and made it clear the league wanted one of the most successful, stable and well-run franchises in pro sports to remain in Rooney family control.
“They’ve run a model franchise,” Goodell said.
The way the Rooneys rule the Steelers is relatively simple: spend wisely. Don’t throw big money at players who are productive but may be past their prime early in their new contracts. Hire good people. Be patient, because patience often pays off in production.
“They do a great job of letting their personnel do their jobs,” Keisel said. “They take care of things on their end and let the people they’ve hired for their positions do their job. That’s what’s special.”
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