From Obama to Tagliabue, dignitaries say goodbye to Dan Rooney
Dozens of mourners Tuesday filed into Saint Paul Cathedral in Oakland as early as 90 minutes before the 11 a.m. memorial Mass for Dan Rooney.
One by one, they scaled the two sets of steps and approached the three pairs of large, wooden doors at the main entrance of the stately Catholic church at Fifth Avenue and Craig Street.
The service was open to the public, and thousands of Pittsburghers came to pay final respects to Rooney, the Steelers' former president, principle owner and chairman.
That was fitting for a man who, since dying of natural causes at age 84 last week, many have eulogized as an everyman — a picture in contrast to his stature as the steward of a billion-dollar, high-profile organization.
“Walking down the street, he just was another Pittsburgh guy that would just come up and put his arm around you and ask you how you're doing,” U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, said minutes before walking into the church. “There was no pretense about him at all. I think that's why Pittsburghers loved him so much.”
Inside, dozens of former Steelers; the majority of the current team, coaches and staff; other NFL owners; politicians and celebrities sat in pews interspersed with Steelers fans and other Western Pennsylvanians.
“He was a remarkable human being — humble, understated,” said former Pennsylvania Gov. and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge. “He loved his Steelers, and he loved his city and I think he reflected the best values of both: hardworking, really committed to the team.
“It's a sad day, not just for the NFL and not just for Pittsburgh, but Pennsylvania lost a great citizen. And frankly, the country lost a great patriot.”
Current Steelers players and coaches emerged from a motorcade of five buses about an hour and 15 minutes before the service began. A block of Fifth Avenue was closed in front of the church, and police on motorcycles and on foot patrolled the area throughout the warm late morning and early afternoon under cloudless blue skies.
Passersby stopped, lining temporary barriers to snap photos and watch as dignitaries walked in. Several dozen stood on both sides of the street as Rooney's casket was carried into the cathedral.
Besides Doyle and Ridge, other dignitaries attending were Allegheny County executive Rich Fitzgerald and NFL owners Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys and Jim Irsay of the Indianapolis Colts.The most notable figure was former President Barack Obama, who entered and exited the service via a door near the front of the sanctuary.
Many emerged afterward wearing a lapel pin featuring a Steelers logo on an Irish clover — a nod to Rooney's proud Irish heritage..
“I never really had a football hero,” said Curtis Martin, a Hall of Fame running back with the New York Jets and New England Patriots who starred at Allderdice and Pitt. “My heroes weren't Walter Payton or Franco Harris or anyone like that. ... It was Dan Rooney.”
“I just admire what he stood for,” said Martin. “I admire the way he ran his organization, and I just admire the impact that he's had on so many people's lives.”
Longtime NFL journalist Peter King remembered Rooney as “a giant” and “someone who had so much more to give than just sports.”
“Clearly he is the most influential single figure among all the people I have covered in the 33 years I have covered the NFL,” said King, who writes for Sports Illustrated and its affiliated websites.
On the day Rooney died, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell called his relationship with Rooney “inspiring and irreplaceable.”
Goodell was at the service Tuesday, as was his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue. Since retiring in 2006, Tagliabue has served as chairman of the board of directors at his alma mater, Georgetown.
“Everything we do, I always ask myself, ‘What would Dan Rooney do in this type of a situation?' ” Tagliabue said. “We just hired a basketball coach at Georgetown, and I have found in the process always thinking a lot about, ‘How would Dan Rooney approach this?' ”