SI Vault
Edited by Steve Wulf
September 05, 1988
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September 05, 1988


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The Chief, Art Rooney, was 87 when he died, and he left behind a legacy of kindness, loyalty and, above all, family. He is survived not only by his five sons, 29 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren, but also by his other family, the Pittsburgh Steelers. He purchased the franchise for $2,500 back in 1933 and then patiently saw it through 40 largely unsuccessful seasons. All things come to those who wait, though, and in 1975, 1976, 1979 and 1980, the Steelers won the Super Bowl. Still active in the affairs of the team, Rooney was in his office at Three Rivers Stadium when he suffered a stroke on Aug. 17. Said Mary Regan, the Chiefs secretary since the mid-'50s. "There weren't big people and little people to Mr. Rooney. There were just people, and he wanted to help everyone. I never saw him say no to anyone in need."

The Chief missed seeing one of the greatest plays in Steeler history. Franco Harris's Immaculate Reception in the 1972 playoffs, because he was hurrying down to the locker room to make sure he was there to console the team. He was seldom in the clubhouse when the Steelers won, but often there when they lost. And the players loved him for that and other graces. The Pittsburgh Press periodically runs nostalgic "Where Are They Now?" stories about former Steeler heroes, and each and every player asks, "How's Art?"

There are countless examples of the Chiefs compassionate nature, of players getting unasked-for bonuses, of grounds crew members getting trips to the Super Bowl. One story illustrating Rooney's generous spirit concerns Johnny Unitas, the Pittsburgh native whom the Steelers cut. Rooney's sons kept telling him that the team should keep Unitas, but the Chief did not want to interfere with his coach, Walter Kiesling. As chance would have it, shortly after the quarterback had been let go, Rooney's car—with Kiesling and Art Sr. in the backseat—happened to pull alongside Unitas's car. Art Sr. leaned across Kiesling and yelled over to Unitas, "Johnny, I hope you become the greatest quarterback in football." That wish, along with many others, came true for the Chief.

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