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The Winning Ways of a Thirty-year Loser
Gerald Holland
November 23, 1964
When Art Rooney founded pro football's Pittsburgh Steelers a black notebook served as his office, a handshake closed his deals and he dreamed of championships. Since then he has become a millionaire, made a million friends, built a million-dollar racing interest and has given up trying to run things from a black book. But he and Pittsburgh are still looking for that title
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November 23, 1964

The Winning Ways Of A Thirty-year Loser

When Art Rooney founded pro football's Pittsburgh Steelers a black notebook served as his office, a handshake closed his deals and he dreamed of championships. Since then he has become a millionaire, made a million friends, built a million-dollar racing interest and has given up trying to run things from a black book. But he and Pittsburgh are still looking for that title

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"Oh, that Rooney! You know what he'd say? He'd take a sip of his beer and point a finger at the lads giving me the bum's rush and he'd yell, 'Throw him out!' I even went to the extreme one day of refusing to drink anything at all. But did that stop Rooney and his gang? It did not. Cold sober, I was thrown out. That is man's final degradation—to be thrown out of his own place, sober."

Now Owney McManus would pause, figuring his audience needed a chance to stick in a "you don't say" or a "you tell 'em, Owney," depending on whether they happened to be strangers or friends. Then he was off again.

"I think," he would say, "that I am the only Democrat who ever managed a Republican candidate's campaign. That was the one time Art Rooney ran for public office. The office was Register of Wills for Allegheny County. I thought Art was a shoo-in—he was that popular—until he made his one and only speech. I could hardly believe my ears. Art got up and said he didn't know the first thing about being Register of Wills, he didn't even know where the office of the Register was located. But, he said, he thought he could find his way to the office by consulting the phone directory and also that he was confident he could find assistants able to execute the functions of the office.

"That was when I took over his campaign. I gave Art a stiff talking-to. 'You've got to try to make up for that disaster of a speech, Art,' I said, 'and there's not much time. We've got to put on an intensive campaign and take this matter to the voters on a man-to-man basis. Art, we've got to make a whirlwind tour of every saloon in Allegheny County. That's where we'll find the voters in their most receptive mood.' Well, sir, Art agreed and off we went on our whirlwind tour. In each place, after buying a round of drinks, I would get up and give out various versions of Art's life story. I would tell how his father ran a respectable saloon, no women allowed, across from Exposition Park, as tough a neighborhood as there ever was. I told how Art and his brother Dan were the unofficial champions at street fighting and how Dan, the saintly man who now wears the holy robes of a Franciscan priest, had knocked out more men in street fights than Harry Greb and Jack Dempsey had in the ring.

"In some places the voters would call for a speech from Art, but I knew he would ruin everything, and so I would say, 'Have another drink, boys, other voters await the candidate.'

"In some of the better places, where the sawdust was changed daily, I would touch on Art Rooney's intellectual accomplishments. 'The man is entirely self-educated,' I would say, 'although there are certain enemies who are spreading the ugly story that Art is a college man. Now, it is charged that Art Rooney attended Duquesne and Georgetown universities and Indiana State Normal. We admit, gentlemen, that Mr. Rooney did indeed visit these institutions, but we can prove that he was merely a student-in-transit and never stayed after the football season.'

How did Art Rooney lose the election with all my guidance? The answer is that I made a slight miscalculation on our whirlwind tour of the saloons. I was in a place that I hadn't ever seen previously and I was making a rousing speech, something to the effect that if the voters wanted a fighting Register of Wills for Allegheny County, Rooney was their man. The bartender called me aside. 'Did you say your man was running for office in Allegheny County?' I replied, 'Of course, of course, where else?' 'Well,' said the bartender, 'you've overshot your mark, friend. You are now in Washington County.' I was aghast when I realized what I had done. In modern political talk, as Art's campaign manager I had peaked too soon.

"I'll tell you what kind of scoundrel Rooney really is. The old kind. He still lives in his house in the 22nd Ward where all his children were born and raised. It used to be a grand neighborhood, the mansions of the Fricks and the Mellons were there. But no more. The mansions have become hot-plate rooming houses. Rooney's neighbors today are mostly hillbillies and sword swallowers. If you are invited over some evening, it might be wise to carry a ball bat."

Owney would let you reflect on that for a moment, let you wonder if a ball bat was enough to win a duel with a sword swallower. Then he would conclude:

"Well, most of us slow down as the years go by. But not that Rooney. Not only does he make all the football trips with the Steelers, he's on the go all the time all year long. Before there was a speed limit on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, he'd hit a hundred miles an hour at the wheel of his car. Now he's down to 70, but only because of the cops, I don't see how he does it. 'Slow down, Art Rooney,' I keep telling him. 'Stop to think about things. Slow down.' But he won't. Of course, I get him to as many wakes as I can for recreation, and there's always a game of pinochle with Father James Campbell and me one night a week. He'd rather win 50� from me at pinochle than win the Kentucky Derby."

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