The Rooney family may be the best owners in professional sports history.
One of only two third-generation owners in the NFL, the Rooneys have owned and operated the Pittsburgh Steelers since their formation in 1933.
Arthur J. Rooney Sr. – The Chief — was the founding owner of the Steelers from 1933 until his death in 1988. Rooney’s great-grandparents immigrated from County Down, Ireland, to Canada during the Irish potato famine in the 1840s. By the 1880s, they had established American roots in Pittsburgh.
Born in 1901, Art Rooney grew up above a saloon his father owned and operated on Pittsburgh’s North Side. An AAU boxing champ who tried out for the 1920 Olympic team, Rooney played minor league baseball and semi-pro football before purchasing an NFL franchise for $ 2,500 in 1933.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are the seventh-oldest club in the National Football League. Founded in 1933 as the Pittsburgh Pirates — where they played second fiddle to the city’s baseball team of the same name — the franchise was renamed the Steelers in 1942.
With six Lombardi Trophies, the Pittsburgh Steelers have won more Super Bowl titles than any franchise in NFL history, but the team was mostly futile during its first four decades of existence.
In Art Rooney’s first eight years as owner, the Steelers managed only 24 victories and lost money every year. In their first 39 seasons, they posted a winning record only eight times and never sniffed a championship, losing the only playoff game in franchise history in 1947.
Steelers’ blunders included cutting Johnny Unitas, a ninth-round draft pick the club believed was not smart enough to quarterback an NFL team, and trading the third pick of the 1965 NFL Draft to the Chicago Bears, who promptly selected Dick Butkus.
The franchise’s fortunes began to change when Art’s eldest son, Dan, took over day-to-day operations in 1969. Dan Rooney personally hired Chuck Noll, the most successful coach in team history, and by the early 1970s the Steelers began to take shape as a pro football dynasty.
The Yellow and Black won their first playoff game in 1972. Two years later, led by the “Steel Curtain” defense, Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl – and repeated as world champions in three of the next five seasons.
One of the most beloved owners in NFL history, The Chief served as president of the team until 1974, when he handed the reins to Dan following the Steelers’ first Super Bowl championship. Arthur Rooney remained chairman – and ultimate source of authority – until his death.
The mastermind behind the construction of Three Rivers Stadium and Heinz Field, Daniel Milton Rooney took over control of the Steelers upon his father’s death in 1988.
One of the main architects of the NFL’s salary cap, Dan Rooney ended the 1982 players’ strike with a new collective bargaining agreement.
His greatest legacy is spearheading the “Rooney Rule.” Established in 2003, the mandate requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operations jobs.
Confidant to three NFL commissioners, Dan Rooney served as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland from 2009 to 2012.
Dan and Patricia Rooney had nine children, the eldest of whom is Arthur Joseph Rooney II. A graduate of Duquesne University School of Law, The Chief’s grandson served as vice president and general counsel of the Steelers before being named team president in 2003.
Art Rooney II serves on several NFL committees and assumed control of the Steelers upon his father’s death in April 2017.
The Rooneys are related to the NFL’s only other third-generation family, the Maras, founders of the New York Giants. Tim Mara and Kathleen Rooney have four children, two of whom are actresses. Patricia Rooney Mara starred in The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo as well as Carol, while Kate Rooney Mara has appeared in House of Cards, Brokeback Mountain and The Martian.
In 1931, Art Rooney married the former Kathleen McNulty. The couple had five sons, all of whom later served as directors of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Originally, the five Rooney brothers equally shared the 80 percent of the franchise their father had owned – 16 percent each – and the McGinley family controlled the other 20 percent. The brothers have subsequently sold and the Steelers’ majority owner is Art Rooney II.
Under the patriarch’s leadership, the Steelers won four Super Bowls. Dan Rooney was part of eight AFC championship teams and winner of six Super Bowls. In 17 seasons as team president, Art Rooney II has guided Pittsburgh to three conference titles and two world championships.
Art Rooney, who was instrumental in landing the Penguins for Pittsburgh as part of the 1967 NHL expansion, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1964. Nearly four decades later, Dan Rooney was enshrined, joining his father in Canton, in 2000.
Tomorrow marks the 117-year anniversary of the birth of Arthur J. Rooney Sr.
“The biggest thrill wasn’t in winning on Sunday but in meeting payroll on Monday.” – Art Rooney Sr., on his early years as owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers