This week’s inductee into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” is … Dan Rooney.
As a lifelong Steelers fan now living in the DC area, I get to spend a lot of time gloating about my team’s superior ownership (and subsequent success), especially since billionaire brat Daniel Snyder took over the team and began entertaining Redskins haters with his annual off-season, salary cap shredding spending sprees on big-name future Hall of Famers whose hall-of-fame play transpired in another team’s uniforms during the previous decade.
Once again this year, he and yes-man general manager Vinnie Cerratto went and promised Skins fans that their plan was to build a winner from the inside with wise draft choices, then last Friday, Daddy Long Pockets, apparently unable to resist hearing the Redskins name in the off-season news, went and signed superstud Tennessee Titan Albert Haynesworth to a $100 million contract. This after committing 50+ mil to DeAngelo Hall, a player so allegedly cancerous that Al Davis booted him off the thuggish Raiders in mid-season.
Steeler fans revel at news like this, especially while still euphoric over our second Super Bowl win in the past four years. And I, like most other Steeler fans, in my post-Super Bowl frenzy, sucked the black and gold dong (figuratively, of course … ahem) of long-time Steelers owner Dan Rooney, whose steady leadership and fiscal restraint have kept the Steeltown studs competitive on an almost yearly basis for the past 37 years.
Our Danny Boy deserves every bit of the credit he gets for the way he runs the franchise. He has let big stars go free agent instead of paying them more than what they’re worth. He’ll still pay huge fair contracts to star players. He builds through the draft. His free agent signings are never of the big name variety, but instead are of good players who fill team gaps. He has had three coaches in the past 40 years, none of whom, when hired, has the name recognition of a Steve Spurrier. He didn’t hire the latest whiz kid assistant from whatever team won a recent Super Bowl or two. (In other words, no Norv Turner or Romeo Cremel or that fat bastard who has led Notre Dame to a delicious mediocrity.) He has stayed humble, walking to Sunday’s home games and driving himself around town. (No helicopter arrivals at practice for our Danny.) The Burghers love the Roonester, and with good reason.
But even with all those positive attributes and bust in the NFL Hall of Fame, Dan Rooney (and his lovable pappy Art, Sr.) can’t escape induction into the Ned Bitters Overrated Hall of Fame. Here are a few reasons why we might not want to grant sainthood to the old man just yet:
- Where was Dan Rooney’s voice of reason and leadership when his dominant teams of the 70’s were winning four Super Bowls behind a slew of offensive linemen with bodies the size of Checkered cabs? You won’t find any records of admission any of them “enhancing” their physiques with more than just steak, greens and barbells, but do you think that the Rooney family didn’t find it suspicious that 550-pound-benching, 6′ 2″ Jon Kolb could push Ed Too Tall Jones up an down the field in two Super Bowls? Maybe he was blinded by the glare of those four Lombardi trophies, which apparently were won at any cost.
- And while we’re on that syringey subject, why does the Rooney family get a pass on the treatment of Hall of Fame center Mike Webster, a member of the NFL’s all-time team, protector of Terry Bradshaw, and gaping hole opener for Franco Harris? Iron Mike, demented of mind and brittle of body, died almost penniless after spending a few post-retirement years living in his car and in train stations. I don’t know if the Rooney family offered Webby any help. I heard Webster refused help from some former teammates. It took two prolonged court battles to get the NFL to award Webster’s family the disability pay he was owed, since his problems were a result of his NFL career. I wonder which side of the suit Rooney was on. Something tells me he sided with the NFL.
- And while we’re on the treatment of former NFLers, why isn’t St. Dan at the forefront of the fight to get retired players a bigger chunk of the mega-billions the league makes? Seems that the Rooneys love their boys when they’re busting heads on national TV every other week, but once they’re out of the black and gold, well, time to get on with your life’s work, fellas. Thanks for destroying your body for 10 years in this no-guaranteed-contract league. Good luck finding meaningful employment, what with those wrecked vertebrae and arthritic joints and multi-concussioned brains.
- While St. Dan gets some deserved eponymous credit for the Rooney rule, which ensures that NFL teams interview minorities for coaching and front office openings, I wonder how many African Americans he interviewed before settling on Chuck Noll in 1969, when the NFL coaching ranks had fewer African Americans than a Jonas Brothers concert. (Okay, this one is borderline unfair, what with him having the big Irish balls to hire Mike Tomlin, but the Equal Opportunity Commission was onto this stuff long before the NFL, who caught the Up With Black People only after years of being bashed in the press with scalding editorials.)
- Finally, this past fall, Dan Rooney broke a long-standing tradition of shutting the hell up about politics and openly endorsed and campaigned for Barack Obama. He even thanked Obama in his Lombardi Trophy acceptance speech, a bizarro moment for which he got a stunning free pass from both the media and Steeler fans. Perhaps Rooney backed Obama because he was genuinely moved by the Obama tidal wave. I know I was. But there have been whispers that an ambassadorship to Ireland might be in the works for his public Obama backing. If so, it’s an in-front-of-the-curtains act of politics that should have been beneath someone of Rooney’s reputation as the best owner in pro sports.
If this last item comes to pass, perhaps he and the Redskins’ Danny Boy will have more in common that we Steeler fans like to think. Rooney might bleed black and gold, but like every other NFL owner, he lives for a different color: Green.
Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.