Today the Steelers play at taxpayer-owned Heinz Field, near where Three Rivers used to be (on the Northside, where Art Rooney Sr. lived his whole life and where his sons grew up), but they do all that other stuff (only with a big cafeteria replacing the little kitchen) on the Southside, over the Hot Metal Bridge across the Monongahela, at a lavish training facility with myriad flat full-length fields that they lease from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which operates a research and rehabilitation facility next door. Once steel mills belched smoke and glowed blast-furnace blood-orange. Now the Steelers share an athletic-medical complex with leading experts on concussions and damaged limbs. The Steel City's economy depends much more on health care than on steel. The tallest skyscraper is called the U.S. Steel Tower, but its biggest tenant will soon be the UPMC. If the Steelers were named for the hot action in town today, they'd be the Pittsburgh Healers.
In fact, there is a kind of continuum to the Steelers-UPMC complex. Smashmouth football feeds research, and vice versa. It's a little bit like the veterinarian and the taxidermist who went into business together. Their motto: Either way, you get your dog back.
The Three Rivers offices were "homier," Dan concedes. "I could walk there from home." And they had Art Sr., the Chief, who died in 1988. He was a man who, once he made your acquaintance, looked almost comically happy to see you again, and his acquaintance was extraordinarily wide. The first thing that struck me about the current offices was, no cigars. The Chief was always smoking one cigar and distributing others. Art Rooney II, Dan's son, who is now team president, says, "I remember when the team plane would land after a victory. Whoever opened the door would be overwhelmed by cigar smoke. When we built Three Rivers, each locker had an ashtray beside it."
Back then, in or around the Chief's office (even in the lobby, without p.r. approval), I was introduced to everyone from Billy Conn, the old light heavyweight champion, to Horse Czarnecki, the groundskeeper at Pitt, and Jack Warner, of Warner Brothers. But all a student of Pittsburgh human interest needed was Art's brother Uncle Jim Rooney, who had known many wonderful Pittsburghers.
"She was as fine a lady as I ever knew," Jim recalled one day in the lobby, referring to a local barkeep. "And she ran a tough joint, and nobody ever got out of line. Big, fine woman. Johnny Brown of New Orleens played piano in her place. He was a wonderful man. Sold his body for $120. To the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. All in ones. Came into the place countin' em out. Johnny Brown of New Orleens. Weighed 120 pounds. Dollar a pound. They brought in one of those pianos that play themselves. It put Johnny out of work. He didn't have nothing to do. He got a rock and came in and put it through the piano. Johnny Brown of New Orleens."
"Where is he now?" I asked.
Uncle Jim spread his arms and looked upward. "The University of Pennsylvania Medical School."
Maybe that's where I should be. Eddie Haskell? Where do I get off saying that? Did Eddie Haskell ever catch a pass over the middle? Did he ever have a big bushy beard?
Maybe I come off as Ward Cleaver. Or Ward's dad. In the 1943 English movie The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Clive Wynne-Candy is a fat old blowhard, a veteran of World War I who has been relegated during World War II to a Home Guard command. Having decreed that mock-battle exercises will begin at midnight, he is relaxing in a Turkish bath at 6 p.m. when an impudent young lieutenant bursts in, declares that up-to-date warfare doesn't go by rules, tells Clive that he's fat and has a silly mustache and takes him captive. Clive is outraged. "You have no idea," he sputters before wrestling the lieutenant into the pool, "what kind of fellow I am!" Or was.
Who reminds us of who we are? People who knew us when. I went to see L.C. Greenwood, the former defensive end. L.C. is the one Steeler not in the Hall of Fame who most should be. (No. 2: Donnie Shell.) In the first Steelers Super Bowl he blocked three of Fran Tarkenton's passes, and in the second one he was even better. He had more career sacks than Joe Greene. I wrote in my book that L.C. might leave practice wearing a blue pullover sleeveless suit, brown pantyhose, a shoulder bag and a necklace a lady had given him that said TFTEISYF, which stood, of course, for "The first time ever I saw your face."