Steelers owner, chairman Dan Rooney dies at 84

Dan Rooney, the longtime Pittsburgh Steelers owner who led the NFL’s diversity efforts for decades, died on Thursday, the team announced.

He was 84.

Rooney’s first job with the Steelers, a team his family has controlled since 1933, was as a water boy at age 12 and he began working in the front office after he graduated from Duquesne University in 1955. He eventually served as general manager and ran the day-to-day operations of the club from 1975 though 2003 when Dan Rooney’s son, Art Rooney Jr., took over those duties.

The Rooneys and the Maras, which have controlled the New York Giants since 1925, are considered the first families of the NFL, it wasn’t until the NFL-AFL merger announced in 1966 that the Steelers became a powerhouse.

PITTSBURGH - JANUARY 28: Owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers Dan Rooney waves to the fans during the Super Bowl XLV Pep Rally on January 28, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

The Steelers shifted to the American Football Conference in 1970, the same season the franchise began play at Three River Rivers Stadium, and Pittsburgh became the most dominant team of the decade led by the likes of Terry Bradshaw, Jack Ham, Franco Harris and head coach Chuck Noll. The team won six consecutive AFC Central titles to close out the decade, a run that included three Super Bowl titles.

In his later years, Rooney became best known for the NFL’s effort to make the league’s coaching ranks more diverse and his appointment as ambassador of Ireland by President Obama.

“Ambassador Rooney was one of the giants of our game,” Bears chairman George McCaskey said. “His quiet counsel to league commissioners going back to Bert Bell was invaluable to the success of the NFL.”

Said Bears coach John Fox: “I am proud to have started my NFL coaching career with his beloved Steelers in 1986, and I will always be thankful for that opportunity. He was a first-class gentleman and a gold standard as a Hall of Fame owner.”

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