Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Man Who Shakes Hands

From coach to owner:

Today's New York Times includes a beautiful profile of Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney. Headline: "Steelers Owner Dan Rooney Turns His Business Into a Family."

The profile shows Mr. Rooney's great humility and the Christ-like way he lives his life. It's the story of a true Pittsburgher -- and it made me a little homesick.

One section of Holly Brubach's superb piece:

Rooney goes to Mass every morning, then commutes to the Steelers’ training facility on the South Side. He drives a Buick. In the office by 8:15, he checks in with the coaches, the players and his son Art II, the oldest of his nine children and the team’s president. He watches practice. He eats lunch in the cafeteria with the players and the staff.

“Some owners treat you like a rental property,” said defensive end Nick Eason, who has played in Denver and in Cleveland. “They have some maintenance guy to take care of it, they just come by to check on it, they look and they leave. Mr. Rooney comes around, he always sticks his hand out to you. ‘Hey, Nick’— and I’m like, he knows my name?”

Nose tackle Casey Hampton said: “A lot of owners, this is a hobby, but for him, this is his business, what he does. He’s here, shakes your hand, talks to you every day. Every day.”

With defensive end Aaron Smith, Rooney talks about flying. With Batch, a Pittsburgh native, the subject is high school football. “With me, it’s usually my hair,” the platinum-blond kicker Jeff Reed said. Rooney asks about their wives, their girlfriends, their children. He asks about punter Mitch Berger’s dad, who grew up a Steelers fan and came to opening day. Strong safety Troy Polamalu said he treats all the players as his equal, “from Hines Ward to a free-agent rookie.” Some players have his cellphone number. One day a couple of years ago, cornerback Ike Taylor was exhausted and, at Rooney’s invitation, took a two-hour nap on the couch in his office while Rooney worked elsewhere.

Ward, a receiver, said it was Rooney’s example that taught him the importance of a handshake. “I never used to shake hands. It was always just, ‘Hi, how ya doing?’ But something about him made me realize it’s all in the handshake, and every time I meet somebody now, I shake their hand.”

NYT Photo credits: top, Reuters; bottom, Associated Press.

Caption: Dan Rooney, top, after the Steelers won the A.F.C. championship. At 76, he walks to work. Rooney, above left in 1966 with his father, Art, who founded the team.

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