Duquesne alumni and Steelers owner Dan Rooney remembered

Kaye Burnet|Editor-in-Chief
Onlookers wait outside St. Paul’s Catherdral, where the April 18 funeral for the DU alum and former Steelers owner was held. The Steelers owner graduated from DU in 1955.

Raymond Arke | Asst. News Editor

Former President Obama, several NFL owners and Steelers past and present attended the funeral for Duquesne alumni and former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, April 18 at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in Oakland.

Rooney, who was also a former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland and Duquesne graduate of 1955, died April 13 at 84 years old.

Alongside the former President, other attendees included former Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State John Kerry, former Attorney General Eric Holder, National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell and a variety of NFL owners such as Cincinnati Bengals’ owner Mike Brown and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

A number of Steelers were also in attendance, such as Antonio Brown and David DeCastro. Ike Taylor served as one of the pallbearers, reported CBS Pittsburgh.

President Ken Gormley also attended the funeral, calling it a “moving service and a beautiful tribute,” in a statement to The Duke.

“It was a sad day for us, in losing one of the greatest alums in the history of Duquesne,” he said. “But it was also an uplifting day, because it reminded us that all of those great qualities forged through a life of devotion to faith, family and friends can truly change the world for the better.”

Rooney graduated from Duquesne’s business school with a degree in accounting in 1955. He remained active with the university specifically with creating the football field, according to a university statement from President Gormley.

“Ambassador Dan Rooney was a giant among Duquesne University alumni, just as he was a giant in professional sports and on the world stage … Dan helped to spearhead the development of Duquesne’s football stadium,” the statement read.

Robert Healy, an assistant professor of multimedia journalism and former Duquesne football player credits Rooney for saving Duquesne’s football program.

“Rooney Field would not be here without Dan Rooney, the Rooney family. I don’t think the football program would be here without the Rooney family,” said Healy, who teaches sports media classes.

When Duquesne was reviving its football program through the 1970s by moving the team from club level into Division III and then bringing the team back to the Bluff in the 1990s, Healy credits Rooney for giving a lot of support, since Rooney’s father once played for Duquesne.

“Dan didn’t play here … he has still felt the connection to Duquesne’s football program because his father played here. The Rooneys stepped up and built that home field,” he said. “And without them I don’t even know if we have a football program.”

Healy said Dan Rooney’s investment with Duquesne football impacted his development as a Duquesne player and student, since being a student-athlete opened many doors for him.

“Without Dan Rooney, maybe I don’t get to play football here and maybe without that experience on the football team I don’t get jobs after I graduate here,” Healy said. “Without me being a football player here … I wouldn’t be sitting here.”

Brian Staines, the former Dukes starting quarterback in the 1993 and 1994 seasons, also recalled the impact of Dan Rooney.

“The presence of the Rooney family, in particular Art Sr. and Dan, was felt every time we as players took the field … The love Dan had for Duquesne was strong and we were proud to share our University with a man of such class and integrity,” Staines said.

Gormley expressed his “sincere condolences” for the Rooney family.

“The ways in which Dan Rooney has helped to lift up the people of Western Pennsylvania, his alma mater and those fortunate enough to have known him are far too great to enumerate,” he said.

Rooney began taking over the reins of the team in the mid-60s and officially succeeded his father as president in 1975, according to the Post-Gazette.

In 2003, Rooney handed over presidency to Art Rooney II and became chairman of the team. Also in 2003, he had the league adopt what became known as the Rooney Rule. The rule required teams to interview at least one minority when they hire a head coach. He and his son would hire Mike Tomlin, the Steelers’ first minority head coach, in 2007.

Rooney was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

One of Rooney’s biggest accomplishments outside of football was serving as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland from 2009 to 2012. He was appointed by former President Obama, who Rooney had campaigned for in 2008.

The President of Ireland, Michael Higgins, remembered Rooney fondly.

“I have heard with sadness of the passing of Dan Rooney, former U.S. ambassador to Ireland and co-founder of the Ireland Funds,” he said in a statement.

Higgins also recalled Rooney’s work with Ireland Funds, a “global philanthropic network established … to promote and support peace, culture, education and community engagement throughout the island of Ireland,” and promoting Irish causes world-wide, according to its website.

“He was a major contributor to the Ireland Funds. Thanks to his contributions and those of others many projects promoting peace and reconciliation in Ireland were initiated, leaving a real and tangible legacy,” Higgins’ statement read.

Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny of Ireland also released a statement on Rooney’s passing, calling him a “personal friend.”

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Dan Rooney … During his time as American Ambassador to Ireland, Dan visited every county in Ireland and his work brought both the United States and Ireland closer together,” Kenny said in the statement.

A public viewing was held April 17 in Heinz Field where many Pittsburgh residents came out to pay their respects.

Part of the love for Rooney was how alike he was to the average Pittsburgher, Healy said.

“The Rooneys are basically Pittsburgh’s royal family,” he said. “Especially considering their Irish ancestry and their Catholic religion, they are like so many of us in Pittsburgh, me included.”

Healy said that because of Rooney’s work with diversity in the NFL, he made every Pittsburgh resident feel close.

“Dan has made the Steelers feel like a shared family Pittsburghers have — black, white, Catholic or otherwise,” Healy said. “There are black families in Wilkinsburg that feel like they know the Rooneys because [they’ve] bonded over the Steelers and everything they stood for.”

Zachary Landau contributed reporting.

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