I think that the most fascinating fact about the life of Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney is the fact that he almost literally had some type of personal relationship with every single person who has ever worn a Steelers jersey. For many decades, of course, he was near-solely responsible for signings, though he has taken more of a backseat in the past decade while remaining intimately involved.
Rooney was an ever-present fixture at the Steelers’ facilities, which the players entered for the first time yesterday since his passing. And for the few who would speak to it at the moment, it was clear that walking into the building will never be the same again.
“I saw him every day in this building”, Vince Williams told Teresa Varley yesterday for the team’s website. “Today is the first day you come in and don’t shake his hand, don’t see him in the building. It’s odd. I think everybody is feeling the same way”.
I think that is a pretty safe proposition. There are so many stories of players who were at one point in time seemingly nothing more than camp bodies, later telling the story of how he was the first person to greet him and that he knew his name.
Ryan Shazier said that he would always ask him how the Buckeyes are doing, and when he asked, you would know that he was not simply making small talk, but was genuinely interested. He took an interest in the personal lives of his players—among others, of course—and tried to make their lives easier, like giving Jerome Bettis’ parents his own tickets when they traveled on the road.
“It’s never going to be normal”, said Cameron Heyward, who recently recalled a time late last season when he was undergoing physical therapy after landing on injured reserve. Rooney walked up to him, despite going through issues of his own at the time, and asked him how he was doing, and said they would always have his back.
“We know Mr. Rooney would want us to get back to work and accomplish our goals here”, Heyward continued to tell Varley. “The only way to do that is starting on day one”. And that, too, was a common theme on the day.
“Being back here, this is what he would want us to be doing”, Ross Cockrell said. “This is a baby that he built, and grew and nurtured. We are going to do our best to sustain it for him”. For Heyward, it was a matter of showing “thanks, whether it’s in winning the Super Bowl or accomplishing other goals”.
“We want to accomplish all of those in his light”, he said. “I think the most important thing you can do is continue the tradition and the legacy that was left”, said Williams. “There is no better way to do that than coming in and focusing on what we have to get done”.
Even if the day doesn’t start off with that handshake any longer.