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Steelers receptive to Stallworth's interest

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By Scott Brown and Mike Prisuta
Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Steelers' modern-day search for capital and business savvy has taken them all the way back to the 1974 NFL Draft.

And once again, John Stallworth has them intrigued.

"It was one of those conversations that just kind of came up as time went on and we were talking about where we were going with things," Steelers president Art Rooney II said Tuesday from the NFL owners meetings in Dana Point, Calif. "He expressed that he might have an interest and just went from there."

From there all the way to Monday's announcement that Stallworth had been approved by the NFL as one of three new investors, along with Bruce V. Rauner and the Varischetti family, in the Steelers' evolving ownership restructuring.

Those three follow in the wake of recently approved additions James Haslam III, the Paul family and Thomas Tull to the Steelers' corporate letterhead.

Stallworth, 56, initially joined the Steelers in the fourth round of the '74 draft out of Alabama A&M and played through 1987, winning four Super Bowls and landing in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002.

An NFL spokesman listed former Chicago Bears majority owner George Halas (E, Decatur/Chicago Staleys, Chicago Bears, 1920-28), Carolina Panthers majority owner Jerry Richardson (F/HB, Baltimore Colts, 1959-60) and Jacksonville Jaguars minority owner Deron Cherry (DB, Kansas City Chiefs, 1981-91) as having preceded Stallworth in attempting such a transition.

"It's a great thing for the whole ownership group, a great thing for the league to have a player like that come in," Rooney said.

The Steelers have been trying for the past couple of years to restructure in compliance with NFL ownership guidelines regarding associations with gambling operations such as dog or horse tracks (no longer permitted) and the required presence of a majority owner (at least 30 percent by one entity). Steelers chairman Dan Rooney and his son, Rooney II, have been working to buy out Dan Rooney's four brothers — each owns a 16-percent share in the team — while maintaining Rooney control of the franchise.

Once the redistribution of shares is completed, Timothy, Patrick, Art Jr. and John Rooney will for the most part walk away (Timothy and Patrick to continue control of Yonkers Raceway and the Palm Beach Kennel Club; Art Jr. and John will retain a limited stake in the team) and the Steelers will dial up Stallworth's number, among others.

Perhaps two or three additional investors may emerge prior to the expected closing of the deal in May.

The extent of Stallworth's involvement is unknown.

Stallworth, 56, did not return a call from the Tribune-Review to Genesis II, a family-based investment group in Huntsville, Ala., founded in 2006, for which Stallworth serves as president and CEO.

The Steelers aren't commenting regarding Stallworth's stake in the franchise or what it cost him. But they can't say enough about what it means to have him on his way back into the fold.

"He's someone we're really pleased to have with us," Dan Rooney said Tuesday in California. "He's tremendous as far as football's concerned, but as far as his business background, it will be invaluable, really."

Stallworth co-founded Madison Research, an engineering and information technology company in Huntsville, in 1986 prior to retiring from the Steelers following the 1987 season. He eventually sold it for $69 million in October 2006.

"He's been one of our alumnus that's always been active and comes back for games a few times a year, and he was just at a point in his life where it made sense for him," Rooney II said. "Glad it worked out."

Added former Steelers linebacker and former Stallworth teammate Andy Russell, "That's very exciting. It's a terrific thing for the Steelers to have him involved."

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