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Remembering Rooney: A gentleman to the end

Jerry DiPaola
| Friday, April 14, 2017, 4:33 p.m.
Dan Rooney walks off the practice field on the South Side Jan. 2006 before the AFC Championship game.
Dan Rooney walks off the practice field on the South Side Jan. 2006 before the AFC Championship game.

I think Dan Rooney was surprised to see me.

Yes, it was Tuesday, and I was always at Three Rivers Stadium on Tuesdays for Bill Cowher's news conference.

But this wasn't any Tuesday. It was the day after I buried my father, Guy DiPaola, and I was back at work less than 24 hours later.

Rooney respected the work ethic. Still, the gentleman inside him thought it was too soon.

Rooney walked into the media room that morning to chat with reporters, something he and his father, Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr., always enjoyed. I don't remember many days when Rooney didn't stop to, at least, say hello.

When he saw me, he immediately walked to the back of the room – he normally just stood in the doorway – put his arm around me and said I should be home with my mother. I told him my dad would expect me to be at work. So I was.

I thanked him for the flowers he had sent to the funeral home on behalf of the Steelers, and we both went on with our days.

Never mentioned that day was the Steelers' 24-13 loss two days earlier to the Tennessee Oilers (now Titans) in Nashville's Vanderbilt Stadium. It was the only game I missed in my 11 seasons covering the team for the Tribune-Review. My uncle Jimmy and I caught the fourth quarter on TV while taking a break from the visitation.

Rooney never met my dad, who was seven years older, although they both grew up, lived and worked on the North Side. He never said so, but I think Rooney liked having someone with North Side roots covering his team.

When I heard Dan Rooney died Thursday at the age of 84, I thought about that day at Three Rivers and many others, including dinners at the NFL owners' meetings with his family, some NFL officials and other media members. Roger Goodell was there, too (before he became commissioner), and I remember Cowher insisted on sitting next to him.

One year, the meetings were in Arizona, and I took my wife and daughter with me. When Rooney spotted them having breakfast in the hotel (without me; I was chasing Cowher, I think), he walked over and asked them if they needed anything.

A simple act, but that's what gentlemen do.

Like everyone else, I remember Rooney standing in line behind sportswriters, who really didn't need the meal, at the team's cafeteria. I always thought he did it because it was his nature never to rush things, whether it was eating lunch, walking from his home to Heinz Field or signing an overpriced football player.

He did it all eventually, but always on his timetable and always on his terms. That's the way to live a life.

Rest in peace, Mr. Rooney. Maybe my dad and you finally will meet in heaven. Two North Side guys. I think he'd like that.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com.

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