Dan Rooney remembered for living life guided by faith, family and football
Faith, family, football — beliefs Dan Rooney held dear — were on full display Tuesday at St. Paul Cathedral during a funeral Mass that celebrated the life of the late Steelers chairman and U.S. ambassador.
As eldest son Art Rooney II noted, the order of importance often varied, and all three aspects were intertwined during the 80-minute service that reflected the way Rooney lived.
While delivering the homily, Cardinal Donald Wuerl observed, in football parlance, how Rooney had found the “eternal end zone” of everlasting life.
Rooney died of natural causes Thursday at 84.
Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington and former bishop of the Pittsburgh diocese, and Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik officiated the service that was attended by thousands of mourners, ranging from former President Obama to local and national dignitaries to past and present Steelers players.
Family was at the forefront of the ceremony, with Wuerl's words directed at Rooney's wife, Patricia.
Rooney's granddaughters delivered the spiritual readings and prayers of the faithful. Six other grandchildren and five great-grandchildren presented gifts for the altar, and Art gave a touching yet lighthearted reflection of his father's life.
He reminded mourners that of the three Fs, “football often interrupted other priorities.”
Two examples: When Patricia went into labor with daughter Joan in December 1968, Dan dropped off his wife at the hospital and made a detour to the Steelers offices.
“He had to fire a coach,” Art said, reminding attendees that after his father fired Bill Austin, he never had to fire another head coach over the next five decades.
Art recalled standing in line with his father awaiting communion at Mass while in New York City for NFL meetings. Dan's cellphone started to ring.
“He loved to talk on the phone, and he hated missing calls,” Art said.
Art expected his father, standing behind him, to switch off the ringer. Instead, he heard a voice say “Hello?”
After Mass, Art mentioned to his father that he had never seen anyone answer the phone during Mass.
“As if to make it right, he said, ‘I thought it was the commissioner,' ” Art said.
Mourners began filing into the cathedral about 90 minutes before the 11 a.m. service. Seated with Obama, who appointed Rooney as U.S. ambassador to Ireland in 2009, were former Secretary of State John Kerry and former Attorney General Eric Holder. Tom Ridge, former Pennsylvania governor and Homeland Security secretary, also attended.
Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and current league boss Roger Goodell attended as did several NFL owners, including Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys.
Steelers players and staffers arrived as a group and were joined by past football greats including Joe Greene, Mel Blount, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, Hines Ward and Jerome Bettis. Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, Pirates owner Bob Nutting and actor Joe Manganiello were other notables in attendance.
Pallbearers that included seven grandsons and former cornerback Ike Taylor — representing Steelers players — brought in the casket shortly before 11 a.m., and the rest of the Rooney family filed into the front of the cathedral.
After an opening hymn of “O Sons and Daughters, Let Us Sing,” Zubik delivered the greeting and praised Rooney as “a man of great faith and great vision.”
Wuerl opened his homily by noting Rooney's “huge and caring heart.”
Speaking to Patricia Rooney, Wuerl addressed the devotion and love Rooney had for his wife of 65 years.
“His love for you was evident,” Wuerl said, “even for an Irishman not given to bouts of emotional display.”
Wuerl also praised Rooney, who negotiated resolutions to NFL labor disputes and championed a rule for interviewing minority coaching candidates, for living by the following maxim:
“You can get anything done if it doesn't matter who gets the credit,” he said. “And he never sought the credit.”
After Rooney accepted his appointment from Obama, Wuerl recalled receiving a phone call and addressing the ambassador by his new title. Retorted Rooney: “It's Dan.”
“For all of his travels, he never really left the North Side,” Wuerl said. “He worked hard, was a loyal friend and a good neighbor. He was the best of us.”
Following Mass, Rooney's body was taken to Christ Our Redeemer Catholic Cemetery in Ross for a private burial.