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Money men (cont.)

Posted: Monday July 2, 2007 12:15PM; Updated: Monday July 2, 2007 4:42PM
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9. Dan Rooney (Art Rooney II), Steelers

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Last year I had Rooney ranked 10th, and many of you folks reacted like I'd just rated democracy as the 10th-best form of government. I'm pretty sure this year's move up to No. 9 won't prevent a similar response. Still, I'll start with the positives.

Rooney is a great man who does his community and league proud, and we all know who knocked on Goodell's hotel-room door to give him the good news last August. Best of all, Rooney resisted both conventional wisdom and the vehement urgings of his son, Art II, and passed over a pair of strong in-house candidates (Ken Whisenhunt, Russ Grimm) to succeed coach Bill Cowher, instead choosing 34-year-old Vikings assistant Mike Tomlin. Regardless of how well Tomlin does in his new job -- and he'll have time to grow into his role, thanks to Rooney's legendary and commendable patience -- we know now that the man who inspired the Rooney Rule truly is committed to advancing the causes of minority-coaching prospects.

OK, now for the not-so-perfect news: Rooney could've retained Cowher had he been willing to pay market value, but his frugal tendencies wouldn't allow it, which is a recurring theme when it comes to Pittsburgh players. He also waited too long to force the issue, creating an obvious lame-duck situation that helped contribute to the Steelers' squandering of their championship edge.

Finally, I'm thoroughly baffled that a boss with Rooney's values would allow his offensive line coach (Larry Zierlein) to remain employed after the recently hired assistant forwarded a pornographic video clip (of a Britney Spears impersonator, by the way) to every high-level executive in the league and his/her secretaries. Ask yourself this question: If someone in accounting had done the same thing, would that person still have a job?

10. Pat Bowlen, Broncos

Bowlen's teams do a lot of winning on the football field -- though, as Broncos fans are all too aware, they've only managed one playoff victory since John Elway retired after the '98 season. And Bowlen has strongly supported the coach and de facto GM, Mike Shanahan, who guided the franchise to back-to-back Super Bowl titles in Elway's final two years.

But Bowlen, another big spender with a good stadium situation and who is influential in league matters, recently bore some responsibility for an embarrassing defeat in the courtroom. In May the New York Supreme Court ruled that Comcast is free to relegate the NFL Network to a premium all-sports tier, potentially keeping a large amount of fans from viewing regular-season games. Bowlen, who chairs the NFL's broadcast committee, had sold his fellow owners on heeding the advice of NFL Network boss Steve Bornstein, who last fall advocated suing Comcast rather than trying to work out a settlement. Oops.

11. Jimmy Irsay, Colts

It's tough not to lavish praise on Irsay right now; this is his moment. The Colts are Super Bowl champions, Peyton Manning is the league's most marketable player and they're building a plush new stadium in downtown Indy that opens next fall. I could complain about the franchise's Draconian approach to media relations, but I'm going to let it slide, because this is one owner whose company I thoroughly enjoy. A former ball boy who inherited his late father's team -- but none of Bob Irsay's gruffness and other negative personality traits -- Jimmy treats his employees well and maintains a painstakingly positive outlook. Do you believe in karma? I'm pretty sure Irsay does.

12. Paul Allen, Seahawks

A few months ago, a startling event occurred. Allen, the Microsoft co-founder who shies away from involvement in league business like a nerdy computer geek walking past cheerleader practice, called Goodell and asked to be on the league's new digital media committee. Goodell was so pleasantly surprised that he made Allen the chairman. Never mind that Allen hasn't yet bothered to attend a meeting (he did participate in one session by telephone); at least he's paying attention.

On a team level, Allen is everything you'd want in an owner. He's got more money than some sovereign nations and he's willing to spend tons of it to try to win. He also knows to get out of the way so the football people can do their jobs. His new stadium is sweet, the Seahawks' fans are more fired up than they've ever been and, naturally, the wireless feed in the press box is unrivaled.

13. Steve Bisciotti, Ravens

Bisciotti, by all accounts, is rich, fun and wise. The one thing he's not is overly present, instead preferring to spend the bulk of his time in South Florida working on his perpetually killer tan. When Bisciotti is in the state where the Ravens play, it's often because he's attending Maryland hoops games, another one of his passions.

Things could be a lot worse in Baltimore: Bisciotti is a relatively big spender and a smart manager. The football operations department is in great hands, with Ozzie Newsome, one of the league's best general managers, firmly in charge. Bisciotti also seemed to have successfully re-energized coach Brian Billick before the '06 season, one possible reason the team went 13-3 (before losing in the playoffs to Indy).

14. John Mara/Jonathan Tisch, Giants

As they step up to replace their recently deceased fathers, Mara and Tisch are taking different approaches, the latter co-owner staying largely in the background. Mara, one league insider says, has a lot of promise, "a chance to blend his dad's best qualities with a modern flair. He's calm and loyal and respectful of the tradition, yet he understands that the league has evolved."

Mara impressed many league honchos when, during last year's debate over the proposed revenue-sharing agreement, he stood up to several old-line owners and told them, "You're not being realistic." And though he couldn't pull off a stadium deal in Manhattan, Mara did a nice job of making do with a new facility in Jersey, where a significant slice of the team's fan base resides.

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