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Roy Blount Jr.
July 16, 1973
The five Rooney boys learned to build a sports empire in the school of hard knocks, some dealt out by their dad
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July 16, 1973

An Unsentimental Education

The five Rooney boys learned to build a sports empire in the school of hard knocks, some dealt out by their dad

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As a football owner Art Sr. was notoriously indulgent. Not only did he actually defend players' interests in league meetings, but he refrained from interfering with his coaches, though they tended to err picturesquely. In fact, he went so far as to hire the most errant head coach in history—the great bon vivant and running back, Johnny Blood, who once failed to show up for a Steeler game because he hadn't known it was scheduled.

Art Sr. never had a harsh word for anybody else in the world (though he is said to have exchanged blows—"pushes" is how he phrases it—with at least one of his coaches), but he was inclined to call his sons "chumps" and "newly made." The old man says, "I always thought my coaches knew what they were doing. I knew the boys didn't."

The boys remember calling his hand only twice. One day he went to watch Tim, John and Pat play sandlot ball. Tim singled to the outfield and when he reached first he turned to the right. Art Sr. went up to him and said, "You're supposed to turn toward second."

"That's the way you old guys did it," said Tim, who was then about 12.

"Give me those balls and bats!" shouted Art Sr. "I don't want people to know you're a Rooney."

"I never watched them play ball again," he says today. "You'll have to ask them about their athletic abilities. For this reason: I never thought much of 'em."

The other moment of rebellion came more recently. Perhaps Tim was out of sorts after making the drive from Pittsburgh to Winfield, Md., the site of Shamrock Farms, the Rooneys' thoroughbred stable. "My father would sit there in the car saying his rosary," Tim says. "He wouldn't talk to you, and he wouldn't let you turn on the radio, and he'd make you leave all the windows wide open in the middle of winter."

At any rate, when Art Sr. told Tim to take off his boots inside the house at Shamrock, Tim complained. So his father gave him a good shot to the head. "Then he turned to John, but John was on the track team, he ran," says Pat. At the time Tim was into his 20s, John was in college and Art Sr. was around 60.

So if the resolution of the Oedipus complex requires the symbolic slaying of the father, the Rooneys will have to count on the Oedipus complex not applying to the Irish. It was only in the last few years that the boys dared to drink in front of Art Sr., or even to appear in public with him dressed in anything but a dark suit, white shirt and tie, such as he most always wears. But if they can't overthrow their father, they can expand upon him.

Each of the boys would have liked to take the helm of the Steelers. The family heirloom fell, however, to Dan, the oldest. Art Sr. had in mind Dan's becoming an electrician, since he didn't want to be a doctor or a lawyer; Art Sr. had an in with the union. "But Danny just wanted to go up to the Steelers' training camp and work," he says, "and there's no point in making a fella do what he isn't interested in"—anyway not when it is a matter of his life's work, as opposed to his waking up at six in the morning on vacation in Canada to go to early Mass.

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